Resolutions and Ignatian Reflection

Posted on: January 5th, 2018 by Terry Moy

With the arrival of a new year, we are often buoyed by the promise of new challenges, renewed efforts and exciting adventures. We make resolutions detailing how we plan to improve or change or grow in the next year: dusting off the gym membership card, eating a healthy diet, resetting our research and writing as priorities, changing a teaching strategy.  But too often our best-laid plans quickly become another thing we need to find time for as the reality of our lives closes in around us. What’s missing in this cycle that inhibits successful resolutions?

Perhaps our results stem from the fact that we cut corners in the process of determining resolutions. In order for the process to be successful, we need to understand why it has not been successful in the past. And here is where Ignatian reflection comes in: when we add meaningful reflection to our resolutions we are getting at the crux of why we have determined we need a change and why we have not been able to make this change before now. When we ask ourselves what worked well in 2017 and then determine WHY it worked well, we begin getting to the foundation of what has value to us.

Eileen Chadnick blogged an interesting set of questions related to New Year’s resolutions that can be a great starting point for reflection.  Her list includes reflections on what went well and how we grew, but goes on to challenge us to identify the peaks of the year and to name a theme for the coming year. Taking these questions a step further to ask why may help provide a deeper understanding of the significance of our actions.

Studies done at Northeastern University by David DeSteno find that people tend to be more successful in completing resolutions and other goals when they feel an emotional connection to the project. Social emotions and the connection to personal efficacy play an important role in goal completion. But as DeSteno points out, “In nudging the mind to be more patient and more selfless, they benefit everyone whom our decisions impact, including our own future selves. In short, they give us not only grit but also grace.”

In Ignatian Pedagogy, we are challenged not only to reflect on what we learned but how this knowledge changes how we understand ourselves and the world, “nudging” us to be more selfless. It is reflection that provides the impetus that leads us to act on our convictions, the selfless goals of our Jesuit roots: men and women for others.  Through our personal reflections we can become better teachers, better colleagues, better people.

As educators in a Jesuit institution, we strive to model learning behaviors we want to encourage in our students. Extrapolating DeSteno, we want students to make an emotional connection to their learning. By crafting meaningful assignments and through personal example, we guide our students to understanding the value of analyzing how our learning and experiences are changing who we are.

When students see the value of analyzing their learning, they have a deeper understanding of what makes a Jesuit education unique: becoming an informed person of action in mind, body and spirit. But in this process of modeling positive reflection, faculty, too, foster the personal resolve to make transformations leading successful resolutions.

Chadnick, Eileen. “12 Questions To Reflect Upon As You Start a New Year.” The Blog. HuffPost. December 31, 2015.

DeSteno, David. “the Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions.” New York Times. Dec. 29, 2017.

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