Here we find ourselves at the beginning of another new year and the time when we resolve to be better people for the coming year. So often we come into the New Year longing to change—a longing that is helped because it often comes with a few added pounds from the holidays, credit card bills from the Christmas season, and a workout routine that has been sufficiently interrupted to be nonexistent. And so we decide to be different people because we think that it is just a matter of making the choice to change. But at some point in adult life we finally come to terms with our inability to change ourselves and thus we resolve to never make New Year’s resolutions again. After all who needs to add the self-loathing that comes with breaking resolutions to the long list of things to change about oneself.
But I wonder if one of the reasons we are so lousy at actually keeping these resolutions is because we give very little attention to changing the context of our lives. We deal with our unhealthy behaviors as people trying to solve the problem of weeds with a weed-eater, cutting away at the top without ever getting down to the roots.
I heard it said a once that we are inter-dividuals. As much as we might like to think we are not isolated individuals but rather people connected and formed by our relationships with others. It is these relationships more than anything else that constitute the context of our lives. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous figured this out a long time ago. Recovery in AA isn’t about pulling oneself up by the boot-straps and trying harder not to drink but rather working on recovery in a community of people in recovery. The alcoholic who swears off drinking and commits to sobriety on his own will rarely make it very far, but the one who joins a community of recovery and gets a sponsor is on a much better path to freedom because, with the help of others, he will be getting at the root issues that manifest in addictive behavior.
One of my resolutions for last year was to write more songs. In the last couple of years I have not written as many songs in the past and really wanted to see things change. Looking back on last year I realize that it was one of my most prolific years of song-writing in a long time. So why all the new songs? I believe it is because rather than simply trying to write more songs I changed the relational context of my life. For me this meant being a part of an online songwriting group as well as setting aside more time for working on songs with others in person. The reality is that most of the songs I wrote didn’t happen within the songwriting group yet being a part of a community that was working to create new songs kept me more attuned to the gift of songwriting within me. What’s more is that I saw an improvement not only in quantity of songs but also in the quality of songs I wrote.
New Year’s resolutions aren’t bad but I think we can start in a better place to experience real change in the coming year. So here’s a few ideas on a different way to approach resolutions that gets more at the context of life rather than behavior modification. Instead of resolving to run 3 times a week, try resolving to build relationships with folks who are runners. Resolve to find a community of runners of which you can be a part. Instead of resolving to get out of debt, resolve to make time in your life to build relationships with others who are currently working to live debt-free. Instead of resolving to be a better husband or wife, resolve as a couple to spend time in the coming year with people who have walked through tough times in their marriage and who love each other. I think these types of resolutions have the potential to help create a healthy context in which good things can grow.
Happy New Year!