Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
I love New Year's resolutions. I relish putting together long lists of ambitious goals every December 31st, and waking up on January 1, ready for my new, perfect, problem-free life! Needless to say, I never have quite found the resolution list that actually accomplishes all of that; in fact, I usually end up forgetting half of my New Year's goals, and only partially hitting the others.
Nevertheless, I still find making resolutions to be a fruitful exercise: It's a chance to take a high-level look at where my life is compared to where I'd like it to be. It's a day to sit down and ask hard questions about whether or not my actual priorities are in line with my stated priorities. And, even when I fall short of my own goals, I find that even coming close to them makes things better. For example, there was that year that I said I'd lose 20 pounds and I only lost five -- yet in the process I learned a ton about nutrition, discovered some food sensitivities I had, and paved the way for the next year when I actually would lose the weight.
But this year things are different. When a friend called to ask what resolutions I'd made, she expected for me to jump into action and zealously recite a mile-long list. Instead I said with a sigh, "I think I'm just going to try to survive this day."
An undiagnosed issue with my pregnancy has left me fatigued to the point of barely functioning, and over the past few weeks the house has slid into chaos. Even with my husband helping as much as he can, mountains of unfolded laundry pile up in the bedroom, the sink always has at least a few dirty dishes sitting in it, and I'm sure that somewhere in the mess of papers on the inbox on my desk are bills that are about to be late. I'm sure this is my fatigue-induced pessimism talking, but sometimes it feels like I'm so behind on everything that I'll never catch up again. In a phase like this one, grand resolutions can feel pointless.
I had decided to scrap the entire concept and spend my New Year's Eve wallowing in some extra-rich self-pity, but my husband encouraged me to find some small resolution I could make. He pointed out that it would probably make me feel better to accomplish one or two things, even if they were small. His idea sounded a little more inspiring than my current New Year's Eve plans, so I decided to give it a shot.
Being as overwhelmed as I am, the main problem was that I didn't know where to start. When I thought of "things in my life that could use improvement," I would become overwhelmed by the flood of options that came to mind. So I made up a little life inventory list that included all the most important areas of my life (not necessarily in priority order):
- RELATIONSHIP WITH THE KIDS
- SPIRITUAL LIFE
- SOCIAL LIFE
- WORK / OUTSIDE COMMITMENTS
There were only a couple of areas where I felt that all was going well and few improvements could be made. For each of the others, I asked myself the following questions:
- What is the biggest problem I am I having in this area?
- What are the causes of that problem?
- What has been preventing me from solving that problem?
To give you an example, here were my answers for the Spiritual Life section:
- What is the biggest problem I am I having in this area? I'm not starting the day with prayer. This always leads me to have a lax attitude about prayer (and many other things) for the rest of the day.
- What are the causes of that problem? I've been sleeping in because I'm staying up too late.
- What has been preventing me from solving that problem? The kids have gotten totally off schedule during the holidays, and are staying up way too late. I desperately need an hour or so of wind-down time to myself after the little ones are in bed, so that means that I'm always up late too.
This was quite revelatory for me: I had never made a connection to my children's drifting nighttime schedule to my prayer life, but through this exercise I realized that things had gone off the rails in that department exactly when we started getting lax about when everyone went to bed. Even more interestingly, that same issue kept coming up in other areas of life: The examinations for Relationship with the Kids, Housekeeping, Health, and Work all revealed connections to this issue of everyone's nighttime schedule being in disarray.
And there I had a clear goal for the new year: Establish reasonable bedtimes for everyone in the house. It's simple, it's doable, and I expect that if we can see improvements in this one small area, they will radiate out toward many other areas of life.
I found a couple of other issues that, like the bedtime chaos, kept coming up over and over again during my New Year's life inventory, and have added them to my small list of resolutions. Unlike other years, I don't have fantasies that I'm going to recreate Eden at the Fulwiler house with my ambitious resolutions list. But I'm feeling more energized than I have in a while, knowing that I've identified a few small changes that will make a big difference.