As we begin a new year, we may find ourselves ready and resolute to make changes. Resolution is a “fixed purpose or determination of mind; as a resolution to reform our lives; a resolution to undertake an expedition. The effect of fixed purpose; firmness, steadiness, or constancy in execution, implying courage.” (Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language 1828)
I am going to invite you to reform your life. Begin a new expedition. Our watchwords will be noble purpose, firmness, steadiness, constancy, and courage in execution. A resolution to better educate yourself—to “exit your current cave” for 15 minutes each day.
Perhaps the most important ingredient to resolution is to identify our thoughts. If we desire change or improvement the same type of thinking we have always done will no longer do. Thoughts inform our words, and words direct our actions. Therefore, we will begin with our thoughts so that we first become conscious of our ideas and actions. We can then minimally say we are consciously incompetent but on our way to becoming consciously competent.
A few years ago I began reading the journals of John Quincy Adams who eventually became the 6th President of the United States. This is what he wrote:
“Have you kept a regular Journal? If you have not, you will be likely to forget most of the Observations you have made. If you have omitted this Useful Exercise, let me advise you to recommence it, immediately. Let it be your Amusement, to minute every day, whatever you may have seen or heard worth Notice. One contracts a Fondness of Writing by Use. We learn to write readily, and what is of more importance, We think, and improve our Judgements, by committing our Thoughts to Paper.”
I have found early on Sunday mornings as a time when I can reflect on my week and minute my actions. The act of writing down how Providence blessed and guided me the past week has become one of my greatest tools for improvement and change.
While waiting for commencement and graduation at age 20 from Harvard John Quincy Adams noted, “I do not relish this life of idleness and expectation. I am very desirous that Commencement should be over, and shall certainly, not feel easy , till then. And indeed not after that, till I get settled at some business, I shall not be contented….this day completes my 20th year; and yet I am good for nothing, and cannot even carry myself forward in the world: three long years I have yet to study in order to qualify myself for business: and then—oh! And then; how many more years, to plod along, mechanically, if I should live; before I shall really get into the world? Grant me patience ye powers! for I sicken, at the very idea; thus is one third of a long life employ’d in preparing to act a part during another third; and the last is to be past in rest and quiet waiting for the last stroke, which place us just where we were 70 years before. Vanity! Vanity! All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
I find his ponderings similar to many young men in their early 20s as they seek to find their path in life. As he prepares for his life he is constantly discussing great ideas with older men who act as sounding boards and mentors. He also reads the classics during his preparation time from such authors as Gibbon, Shakespeare, and Blackstone. But then we come upon this interesting entry five years later as Adams approaches age 25.
Adams writes in his journal, “I am not satisfied with the manner in which I employ my time. It is calculated to keep me forever fixed in that state of useless and disgraceful insignificancy which has been my lot for some years past. At an age bearing close upon 25, when many of the characters who were born for the benefit of their fellow creatures have rendered themselves conspicuous among their contemporaries and founded a reputation upon which their memory remains and will continue to the latest posterity, at that period I still find myself as obscure, as unknown to the world, as the most indolent, or the most stupid of human beings. Fortune indeed, who claims to herself a large proportion of the merit which exhibits to public view the talents of professional men at an early period of their Lives, has not hitherto been peculiarly indulgent to me….my future Fortunes in Life, are therefore the objects of my present Speculation, and it may be proper for me to reflect further upon the same subject, and if possible to adopt some Resolutions, and prescribe to myself some regulations which may enable me to answer the great ends of my existence.”
Interesting thoughts and words coming from a man who had already lived in Europe for six years and was ambassador to Russia at the age of 16. I think it is the natural yearning of mankind to desire to reach for the full measure of their creation as early as possible. Life is a journey of becoming and fulfillment. Writing weekly in a journal—electronically, digitally, or with a pen and paper—is where we begin.
What a tragedy to live in America and not discover who we are or take best advantage of 2023 and flourish in the abundant life. I find it interesting that John Quincy Adams moved forward by first noting and chronicling his actions of the past to inform and be accountable to his future. Adams noted in March of 1821, “Let me advance cheerily to meet the dispensations of time; pursuing with singleness of soul the path of duty, imploring for the faculty to will and to do—to move in charity, to rest in Providence and to turn on the poles of Truth.” Our past is our first step to recognition and resolution to change and take charge of our future.
“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
Happy New Year!