It’s St. Basil’s Day on the Old Calendar. January 1. It’s not New Year’s, liturgically speaking. That would be September 1. But folks on the Old Calendar might be thinking about making New Year’s resolutions today. Folks on the New Calendar might be thinking about the New Year’s resolutions that they’ve already failed to keep.

Me? I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

It’s not that I don’t have lots of things in my life that I need to improve. I do. But I’ve made it to January enough times now that I know a resolution won’t help me improve anything.

From what I’ve read, they don’t help other people very much, either. Most New Year’s resolutions have gone by the wayside before January is over.

The problem is that resolutions are too vague. “I’ll exercise more. I’ll keep the house tidier. I’ll read more. I’ll pray more. I’ll spend more time with the family.” Those are all laudable things. But how and when would I do them? How will I know when I’ve done enough for it to count? What would I quit doing instead?

I remember one year, many years ago, when I had little time, little money, and little kids. I was working full-time, and when I got home from work, the children needed dinner, and baths, and stories, and prayers.

A friend thought he could help the situation by signing me up to sell cleaning products and supplements through a multi-level marketing program. I’d make lots of money that way, he said.

But when would I do it? “Oh, it doesn’t take much time. An hour or two a day would be plenty. All you have to do is quit watching TV.”

At least he acknowledged that to do this, I’d have to make room for it in my schedule by cutting out that. The problem, of course, was that I didn’t watch TV. Not an hour or two a day. Not even an hour or two a week.

I told him that. I told him that the only thing I had in my schedule that was remotely optional was housework.

“Oh,” he said. “I thought you’d already stopped doing that.”

Ouch. That hurt.

But if I’m going to make any sort of change in my life, I have to figure out the specific things I need to do to make the change. I can’t just say, “I’ll keep the house tidier.” That isn’t specific enough. Not for me.

And I can’t make a change by starting with saying what I’ll do. It’s better, for me, to start by identifying the result I want. Then I can figure out what has to happen to get to that result.

“I want the house to be presentable enough that I won’t be embarrassed if someone drops by. And maybe I could even invite someone over after church on Sunday.”

That’s better. But it’s not quite specific enough. How clean does the house have to be for me not to be embarrassed? Well, bedrooms don’t matter. We can just shut the door on those. But the kitchen and the living room and the bathroom – those matter.

So “I want the kitchen, the living room, and the bathroom clean and tidy most of the time. Especially on the weekend. That will let us invite people over without having to worry about how the house looks. And we’d be comfortable if someone just dropped by.”

Good. Now what does it take to get there?

Maybe it takes setting a timer to get off the computer at a certain time in the evening, to make time for cleaning. Maybe it takes delegating more to the kids. Maybe it takes hiring a housekeeper.

Whatever it takes, if you want to make a change, instead of a resolution, you need a specific, clear goal. At least I do. And I need to identify the specific tasks it will take to get me there.

Small steps work better for me than big steps. Chaining the tasks to something I already do anyway helps, too. I make a cup of tea every morning, so if I have a small thing I want to start doing –- unloading the dishwasher before I leave for work, for example –- I can choose to do it when my tea is brewing. Making tea will remind me to do it.

If I just make resolutions, I end up feeling defeated. If I decide to make a huge change all at once, that will defeat me, too. I might do it for a day or a week, but I won’t stay with it.

But I know, if I think about what I really want, I can take small steps in the right direction. And those small steps may eventually, by the grace of God, with the help of friends, help me get closer to the place I want to be.

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Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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