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Meeting the goals of a New Year’s resolution Print
Guest column
Written by Ask IPS   
Thursday, Feb. 05, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Question: “I expect so much of myself each New Year. How do I make my resolutions last?”

Response:William McKenna, M.S., Clinical Extern at the IPS Center for Psychological Services

It happens every New Year. The lists being made, the goals set, and the resolutions firm.

This year, I had the unique experience of being in Death Valley, Calif., with my family.

There was very little access to modern conveniences such as cell phone reception, satellite television, and a solid Internet connection. Therefore, I had a lot of time to think over my New Year’s resolutions.

How do I make sure my resolutions endure for longer than six weeks?

I began to realize a vital piece to the resolution puzzle. Making resolutions is futile unless you first resolve to acquire the particular virtues that are necessary to propel you toward and support your resolutions. There has to be a foundation, a grounding in virtue.

Growing in virtue

What psychologically is needed for a person to grow in virtue? Positive Psychology (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) has provided a three-tiered system to answer this question.

Positive Psychology defines virtue as a core characteristic that is universally valued.

The first tier consists of the actual virtues, while the second consists of certain character strengths that a person can focus on gaining in order to ultimately attain a particular virtue.

Finally, there are situational themes that are habits that manifest themselves during certain circumstances.

An example displaying this system could be the virtue of fortitude. According to Peterson and Seligman, the character strength that accompanies this virtue is valor; therefore, if a person resolves this year to become more courageous then they should focus on acts of valor.

A person should then practice certain habits (such as speaking out against an evil) within particular situations that will allow him- or herself to exercise valorous actions that will lead them to gain the virtue of fortitude.

Altogether, this system provides a person with a concrete road map to gaining virtues that are vital for being successful during this coming year.

Improving ourselves

In all, each of us desires to improve ourselves this coming year.

Such an aspiration is good theologically and psychologically; however, we need to set ourselves up for success.

Making New Year’s resolutions without the virtues necessary to bring them to fruition will only leave us feeling upset and inadequate.

We not only need a goal and a plan of attack, we need the tools necessary to flourish. Those tools are the virtues, which are acquired by doing the right thing, at the right time, and for the right reason.

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