I saw a recent article in Forbes online magazine with the provocative headline, “Why Your New Year’s Resolution Will Fail by February 1.”
The article goes on to say that if Gym Membership is an indicator, a third of resolutions are dropped by February 1. And while the Forbes headline seems cynical and maybe even insulting, we sense from personal experience that this statistic is accurate.
When we’re motivated enough to commit ourselves to any type of resolution, I suspect we all have the tendency to be overly optimistic just from energy and adrenalin of making the commitment. But change is hard and meaningful change is even harder.
Those positive feelings can be deceiving when we haven’t taken the sobering step of considering all the obstacles we’re bound to encounter and have a plan to combat them.
Serious contemplation and mental preparation are actual work, and since real work is not so enjoyable, we skip the work and count on our good intentions to sustain us.
And sure enough we begin to grow tired or bored with the new workout routine… or the new diet…or the new commitment to daily prayer, weekly Mass, or whatever we had committed to. Now the enthusiasm begins to wane. The will begins to crumble.
At this point we should ask ourselves if we really determined to do and give all that we had or had we lapsed into something that the saints call velleity?
1: the lowest degree of volition
2: a slight wish or tendency
noun, plural -ties.
[from New Latin velleitās, from Latin velle to wish]
A velleity is a ‘wish’, but a deceivingly weak one. It lacks a fervent enough desire to change and it fails to adequately motivate. A velleity lacks resolve.
We can contrast the word ‘wish’ (veilleitas) with the word ‘will’ (voluntas). I will quit smoking, I will start exercising, I will lose weight, etc.
To ‘will’ something is much stronger than to ‘wish’ something. To ‘will’ something implies that the goal or achievement is so much desired that *all* necessary means – including and in addition to – God’s grace – will be employed to effect the outcome.
Contrary to common opinion, the saints were very practical people. Many of them realized that a goal not adequately reflected on was often just a velleity.
St. Francis de Sales says in his classic An Introduction to the Devout Life,
“Consider beforehand what occupations, duties and occasions are likely this day to enable you to serve God; what temptations to offend Him, either by vanity, anger, etc., may arise; and make a fervent resolution to use all means of serving Him and confirming your own piety; as also to avoid and resist whatever might hinder your salvation and God’s Glory. Nor is it enough to make such a resolution,—you must also prepare to carry it into effect.”
And Saint Josemaria Escriva says, in his writings,
“Be definite. Don’t let your resolutions be like fireworks that sparkle for a moment, to leave behind as hard reality a blackened, useless stub that one throws disgustedly away. Make few resolutions. Make them definite. — And fulfil them with the help of God.” From The Way by Saint Josemaria Escriva.
In His mercy, Christ bestowed upon us a faith that is built on continuous conversion. He has offered His help. Every Advent … every New Year … every Lent …every Mass … every Sacrament of Reconciliation, … every prayer … every new day, is just another opportunity for renewal.
So, what if we are one of those people who has failed their resolutions by February 1?
It’s surprisingly simple but urgent. In the words of Saint Josemaria Escriva,