Forget about New Year's resolutions this year; here's how to reach your goals by living more intentionally
“The future starts today, not tomorrow.”
– St. John Paul II
Here we go again…
It is now my 43rd year of life and probably my 33rd year of consciously making resolutions for the New Year. And what have I found?
Year after year I make the same resolutions – a long list of them – which are written with passion and undertaken with zeal. And then, as the days of January give way to February, my resolve peters out. The idealistic goals born from delicious, restful Christmas vacation give way to the workaday schedule of professional responsibilities, helping with homework, shuttling to activities, early mornings and late nights. Idealism is battered a bit by the prizefighter known as Reality. Before long, it is June and I come across a crumpled-up list or a forgotten iPhone note that reminds me that, just months ago, I was going to revolutionize my life.
But this year, I am going to be different (uh, oh – that sounds like a resolution…). And I am borrowing my approach from the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I am a sinner. I will always be a sinner. No matter how hard I try. When I go to Confession with a priest or quietly approach God for forgiveness, I feel (and am made) clean.
But I know I will be back.
No matter my best intentions, sin insinuates itself back into my life. As a good friend once noted, “Every day I rise a saint and retire a sinner.” But that doesn’t mean I should despair and quit. Instead, it means I should redouble efforts while simply and humbly standing in awe of the immensity of God’s Grace for a screw-up like me.
So this year, instead of making a series of all-too-forgettable resolutions, my simple goal is to be more intentional in my relationships and responsibilities. But how do I do this? First, I need to have an honest assessment of what my priorities are and, second, I need to undertake an honest appraisal about how I live those priorities every day.
Here are my priorities: Faith, Family, Fitness, Faculty, Fulfillment.
And, if I am serious about my priorities, here are the five questions I must ask myself every day:
1. What have I done today for my Faith?
C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” I believe in the truth of Christianity, so have I lived it today? Have I prayed? Have I asked for help, forgiveness, offered gratitude or simply engaged God in conversation? Have I read Scripture, the Catechism, the saints or apologists? Have I lived out Christ’s love in my interactions with family, friends, colleagues, strangers and enemies? Have I set my eyes on the True, Good and Beautiful and shared that with others in my words and deeds? Did I rise with God, work with God and retire with God?
2. What have I done today for my Family?
St. Teresa of Calcutta once remarked, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Have I stopped in my tracks to look at my wife and children and wonder at the incomparable blessing they are in my life? Have I helped, encouraged, supported and loved them in their best and worse moments? Have I asked forgiveness for my worst moments? Have I listened to them – truly listened – in the midst of a world of infinite distractions? Have I been a model of faith, honor, hard work and good humor for my children? Have I spent quality AND quantity time with them? Have I supported their dreams and goals to become their best and truest selves? Do I experience joy in the all-too-fleeting moments that can easily be taken for granted?
3. What have I done today for my Fitness?
In his Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminded, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Am I taking care of myself? Do I eat well and appropriately? Have I exercised? Am I avoiding habits that are bad for me (smoking, chewing, drinking to excess, overeating)? Have I tried to walk more when able and engage in more active hobbies?
4. What have I done today for my Faculty (my profession)?
St. John Paul II once said, “It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” Have I listened, labored and advocated for patients, colleagues and staff? Have I kept abreast of the latest science in my field? Have I modeled sound medical judgment and thoughtful humanity for students and residents? Is my career a vocation and not simply a job?
5. What have I done today for my Fulfillment?
Pope Benedict XVI encouraged, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” What is the mark I feel called to make on the world and how, in concert with Faith, Family and Faculty, am I working to achieve this? Have I taken time to read, to write, to engage in conversation, to learn from wise mentors? Does this mark comport with, if not enhance, my relationship with God, my family and help me improve in my career?
This year I will stop making resolutions and start living more intentionally.
I will begin and end each day reflecting on how I live out my highest priorities (“the 5 F’s”) in my life. If these are truly my priorities, I should be able to say that I attended each of them in some fashion or other. Now, things get busy. I can get distracted. And I am a sinner. So, surely, at times I will fail. Remember, every day I rise a saint and retire a sinner. But I will try. And by living with greater intentionality, I plan to savor more of life’s passing moments so they will add up to a fuller, more faithful life.
Okay. It’s time to get started.
“The future starts today, not tomorrow.”