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Secret to successive resolve – self-mastery

We associate the New Year with new beginnings, and so we often enter it with particular resolutions to amend our lives by setting goals for personal achievement or self-improvement.

Yet it’s easier to make resolutions than keep them. Most require interior strengths such as temperance, prudence, or patience — in other words, virtues. We need virtues to overcome vices: self-control to trump gluttony, fortitude to combat laziness, and perseverance to succeed at practically anything.

“Habit is overcome by habit,” states Thomas à Kempis in the 15thcentury spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ. He knew how difficult that can be.

“If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon become perfect,” writes à Kempis. Instead, we often grow lax in practice over time, whereas “our fervor and progress ought to increase day by day.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that virtues “govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life” (1804). Resolutions are largely about self-mastery — and therefore virtues

Here are a few bits of wisdom that might assist us in our New Year’s resolve this year

1) Make just one resolution

Perhaps taking a cue from à Kempis, Dominick Albano, a speaker for Dynamic Catholic, suggests keeping things simple by focusing on making a single resolution.

“Because you have chosen just one effective, efficient habit you can adhere to, you are much more likely to be successful,” Albano writes. “And success builds on success. Before you know it, you will begin to see results, which will propel you to further success.”

2) …and make that prayer

David Torkington, a British spiritual theologian, echoes the one-resolution idea but goes a step further: “[W]hy not just make one that will eventually enable us to keep them all,” he writes on the Catholic Stand website.

We have limited energy to expend and must manage it well. So give up some of the bandwidth you use for less vital pursuits and create quality space and time for regular prayer, Torkington suggests.

3) Persevere

Sister Mary Columbiere, a Carmelite sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, cautions realism in that prayer goal.

“Perhaps you’ve resolved to pray more this year, to set aside a block of time for regular prayer,” she writes on her community’s website. “That’s a good thing. But if you want to succeed, don’t bite off more than you can chew – at least not right away. The time we spend in prayer is not about our success at it; it is rather about our relationship with Him who loves us.”

4)  Seek holiness

Setting a reasonable, achievable length of time for prayer will help us persevere. “It may be less than what we had hoped to do,” she advises, “but as time goes on and we find ourselves looking forward to those moments, we can always increase the length of time that we spend in prayer.”

As Christians we are called to pursue holiness, which constitutes a fine resolution. But “however determined you are to be a saint, you will not become one if you rely on your own strength of mind,” writes Dom Hubert van Zeller in his 1963 book Sanctity in Other Words. “The only thing that can get you to sanctity is God’s grace.” We must cooperate with grace, but “if you imagine that making good strong resolutions will carry you the whole way, you are wrong.”

We must have sufficient humility to recognize our need of divine assistance.

5) Tolerate those who irritate

Returning to The Imitation of Christ, à Kempis urges that we get along with those who annoy us. If we want people to put up with us, after all, we need to bear with them too.

“It is no great thing to associate with the good and gentle, for such association is naturally pleasing,” he writes. But “to be able to live at peace with harsh and perverse men, or with the undisciplined and those who irritate us, is a great grace, a praiseworthy and manly thing.” (Womanly, too.) Toleration has its limits, but exasperating companions provide opportunities to practice patience, fortitude, and charity.

6) Curb the tongue

Pope Francis frequently notes the evils that result from engaging in gossip, which he likens to terrorism: the gossiper throws a bomb and destroys reputations. It’s the devil’s way of creating divisions, he adds.

“Every time your mouth is about to say something that sows discord and divisiveness and to speak ill of another person, [just] bite your tongue!” Pope Francis said in a 2015 homily. You may wind up with a swollen tongue, he noted, but exercising prudence beats doing the devil’s work.

7) Fast as you can

For Catholics in the United States every Friday is a penitential day. According to norms set by the U.S. bishops, abstinence from meat is the preferred Friday observance, but outside Lent we may substitute other “works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance” in remembrance of Christ’s Passion.

Catholic blogger Gretchen Filz suggests we recommit to Friday penance in some form. “Maybe it is tried-and-true abstinence from meat, or perhaps another penitential practice such as praying the Stations of the Cross, or even acts of service for the less fortunate,” she writes. “Remember that penances aren’t meant to be pleasant at first, but the graces that come from them grow sweeter with time.”

8) Practice gratitude

Gratitude and compassion can motivate us toward greater self-discipline and perseverance in our resolutions, writes David DeSteno, psychology professor at Northeastern University, in a New York Times commentary. That’s because these “social emotions” redirect our focus away from ourselves, inspire us to short-term sacrifices for others, and “push us to behave in ways that show self-control.”

Studies have tied the cultivation of these virtues to better academic performance, increased willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and reductions in consumerism, impulsivity, and tobacco and alcohol use.

9) Forgive someone

We all suffer hurts, and we might hold grudges toward someone who has wounded us. Yet our faith calls us to “forgive those who trespass against us.”

“Make a resolution to forgive somebody for whom you’ve been harboring resentment, then do something tangible like offering every Friday Mass” or pray daily for the grace to forgive that person, recommends Catholic blogger Meg Hunter-Kilmer. “For most of us, a year of such actions will move the forgiveness from our will to our hearts. For the rest, it’s still a good start.”

10) Ask for help from Mother

January 1 is also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and as such “is a fitting time to entrust our resolutions, and indeed our very lives, to her care,” writes Gretchen Crowe, editor of Our Sunday Visitor. We should pray for her assistance “for a fresh start with a deeper resolve to be people of joy, prayer and gratitude.”

Thomas à Kempis wrote: “There is one thing that keeps many from zealously improving their lives, that is, dread of the difficulty, the toil of battle.” Resolutions are never easy. But with a focus on growth in virtue and a faith perspective, they might just be possible.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

10 ways to make 2015 a heart-healthier year

SUSAN LOCKE writes that staying heart-healthy should be a priority for everyone . . .

Susan Locke

Susan Locke

You may have set resolutions in January, but have you kept them? How about resolving to modify your lifestyle to lower your risk factors for heart disease? Modifiable risk factors include smoking, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

1. Quit smoking. Half of the risk of developing coronary heart disease disappears within one year of quitting. After 10 years, the ex-smoker has a risk identical to that of a non-smoker.

2. Lower your LDL cholesterol. If you have coronary heart disease, LDL should be 70 mg/dL or less. If you have major risk factors, LDL should be 100 mg/dL or less. Read labels on food and choose poly- or monosaturated fats and high fiber. Avoid saturated and trans fats. Exercise regularly. If needed, treat your cholesterol with medication.

3. Raise your HDL cholesterol. Exercise, weight loss and smoking cessation will help you get to a good level (men: over 40 mg/dL, women: 45 mg/dL).

4. Keep blood pressure down. Ideal range is less than 130/80. If diet and exercise do not achieve an ideal blood pressure, treat with anti-hypertensive medication.

5. Lose weight. Decrease your cardiovascular risk by losing pounds if you are overweight or obese.

healthnet6. Choose the right foods. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry and fish, low-fat or non-fat dairy, olive oil. Avoid trans fats, high sodium, sugary beverages and processed meats.

7. Consider red wine in moderation. Men can have fewer than two drinks per day, women less than one drink per day.

8. Exercise! Your program should include aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes per day, five times per week, and resistance training two days per week.

9. If you’re diabetic, it’s important not only to maintain a stable glucose level, but also to keep LDL cholesterol and blood pressure in good control, lose weight and quit smoking.

10. Reduce your stress. Strategies for stress reduction include exercise, biofeedback, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Depression should be treated with antidepressants if necessary.

As you consider making a lifestyle change, you will have greater success if you …

Create manageable goals: When making healthy lifestyle changes,  set only those goals you know you can keep.

Keep it simple: If you aren’t used to running for an hour every day,  start with smaller time limits and gradually work up to your goal.

• Maintain perspective: Changing a lifestyle habit requires hard work. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall back into an old routine, try to maintain perspective and get back on track.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. The American Heart Association states that for some, a fatal heart attack is the first and only symptom of heart disease.

The good news is that you have control to modify your risks. Once you identify your risks, you can manage them. To discover how we can advocate for you, please see below to contact us today.

SUSAN LOCKE, MD, is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.

HEALTHNETWORK is a Legatus membership benefit, a healthcare “concierge service” that provides members and their families access to some of the most respected hospitals in the world. One Call Starts It All: (866) 968-2467 or (440) 893-0830. Email: help@healthnetworkfoundation.org