Old Year's Resolutions

This article was originally published on Voices of Aging.

Throughout my adult life, I have had a problem with the notion of New Year's resolutions. When I was younger I would search my brain to find a possible change so I could feel virtuous.

I can't recall any of those bygone resolutions, except for the perennial promise to lose a few pounds and exercise more. The fact that I no longer remembered any previous goals, led me to believe that one-time resolutions didn't work for me. Perhaps other people were more dedicated than I was when they set their year-end vows. In my resolution-making days I would feel guilty when I looked back after six months had passed and noticed that I didn't do any of what I said I would. "OK, I'll do it again next year," I thought. Of course, the pattern continued and I was perpetually disappointed with myself. Ultimately, I stopped worrying about the unfulfilled short-term promises because it struck me that they couldn't have been that important to me.

So, after many years, I set aside the notion of one-time resolutions. It didn't work with my personality. My psyche began to realize that it needed to see the results of anything I took on. Making resolutions that never went anywhere wasn't satisfying to my spirit. I began to think differently and decided to embed resolution-making into daily existence. I didn't want to abandon resolutions entirely, but create aims to accomplish over my life-time. I did that, they are with me every day, and they stay the same from year to year. Certainly, I may add or eliminate an objective once in a while, but that will happen when one of them becomes less important, or I discover a new compelling one.

Having said that, here are the things I resolve to do. First, I want to stay connected to the people who mean a lot to me - my friends, family, and of course kids and grandkids. Therefore, I try really hard to respond to daily brain pop-ups. "I haven't connected with Harriet in a month or so, and I miss her. I need to call or e-mail her right now!" "I wonder how Miriam is doing - I'll check in with her." "My grandkids have school vacation next week. I need to make a special plan for our regular day together."

Second, I want to try to make a positive contribution to people I know and many whom I have never met. For the people I know, I can do this on an individual level when someone asks for a bit of help, and I respond in simple ways - often just listening carefully to their worries. For those I don't know, I try to help through my writing, because people let me know that what I write resonates with them on a very personal and meaningful level.

Finally, I want to take what I learned from my own experience, what I gleaned from others, and from on-going study, and apply that knowledge to help my community, especially around issues of aging. But I don't limit these efforts to elder issues. I care a lot about the challenges of lack of affordable housing, safe outdoor environments for people of all ages to walk in, loneliness and isolation, respecting and welcoming diversity, and supporting an inviting atmosphere in the city where I live.

I admit I still have the seemingly unreachable goals of losing a few pounds and moving my body more than I am doing now. I shouldn't give up on these ancient goals because, without these, I could end up being chunky and slothful. That doesn't fit with who I think I am. Keeping goals of good health engenders just enough guilt to prevent me from putting them to rest permanently. I have to keep emphasizing that staying in good shape is critical to my ability to carry on with my larger goals.

Thus, I really don't have to invent new resolutions. The overarching ones that I set a while back work from each year to the next. The more I work on them the more important I think they are, especially when I see some tentative impact. Staying connected gives me a comforting sense of belonging, even with people I only see every now and then; I know we are together in shared attitudes. Being able to reach out to people when they are troubled gives me great satisfaction. One of the best parts of this is that I usually don't know when it is happening. I only know once in a while when people seek me out and tell me. But I cherish the mystery of not knowing what positive impact I may have had out there in a larger realm. I am very pleased with some of the progress on making my city livable and all-age-friendly, but there is a tremendous amount to do. I will remain immersed and keep working; after all, that is what I have resolved to do for as long as I can.