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The Most Important Resolutions You Can Make -- and Keep

03/27/2015 11:55 am ET | Updated May 27, 2015

I arrive late to the workshop, on goal-setting. So much for my vow to be more punctual. But, you see, I haven't slept much. My wife has strep throat, and needed TLC ministrations from hubby throughout the night. Then I had to make a passable breakfast for my daughters, and whip together a lunch for them for later on, before taking leave.

I know, excuses, excuses.

I hope I haven't missed much.

Participants are seated around tables, most engaged in animated exchanges. It looks as if there are no seats available for a latecomer. Then I spot one forlorn seat at the far end of the room. I make my way there, meekly take the seat. I notice that this group is stone silent. Not because of my arrival; indeed, my presence appears to be a welcome relief.

"Each of us is supposed to share a resolution we haven't kept," I'm told by one. What goes unsaid is that so far no one has fessed up. "Do you have one?"

Oh, I do, I do. I have an embarrassment of choices when it comes to unrealized resolutions -- learning Greek, finishing up novels in various stages of completion, playing soccer with some regularity, spending more quality time with my wife, saving for retirement. But what I blurt out to these strangers share with me a failure to follow through on goals dear to our hearts is, "I vowed I'd write a regular blog, and I haven't honored it."

This captures their attention. Everyone leans forward. I'm met with a chorus of, "Why?"

The rationales spew forth: Well, I'm used to writing books, to worrying over words and sentences for as long as it takes until I've convinced or duped myself that my writing and thinking is as good as it is going to get. They seem to find this convincing, and nod understandingly. I go on: All of my 'Socrates books' took a minimum of two years to complete. Then I became a father. After my first child entered the world, I rejected the intense way I'd been living. All I wanted to do was stare at her, revel in her gurgling and sleeping and pooping and caterwauling. So it took over three years for me to birth my Constitution Cafe. With my latest manuscript, which I've just turned in, it took 3 1/2 years -- chalk up a new bundle of joy to the family for the even more protracted period.

But to write a blog, to turn something over rather quickly, I tell my commiserators? I have not found it an easy transition. Most of my first series of blogs posted at Huffington and elsewhere were a year in the making. It was a worthwhile experience, but exhausting.

I look at my past entries: in one blast, I came out with a series in about a month's time. They had germinated over years. That approach isn't sustainable. So I haven't posted in six months or so. So what. There are only so many hours in a day, right?

Sure, I'm disappointed, in myself, in my inability (or unwillingness) to write more quickly. But so what? I still do a lot, maybe even more than most, though I'd never wade into the counterproductive and debilitating process of comparing myself and my achievements to those of anyone else. Still, is the uncomfortable truth that I'm just less disciplined than I care to acknowledge?

But wait, I might counter, I've written all these books, and a doctoral dissertation on top of that, earning a PhD at the ripe age of fifty. I'm an overachiever if anything, right? Maybe, but I gave my word, to myself, that I was going to write a regular blog. And I haven't. I dispense with the rationales, the clever excuses.

The fact remains that there are piles of time that I waste in trivial acts. No, I'm not one of those who feels he always has to be 'productive.' I do not subscribe to Socrates' putative view on idleness, namely that "one is not only idle who does nothing, but he is idle who might be better employed." Nothing wrong with being employed in meaningful idleness, whether meandering daydreamy thoughts or whiling away the hours in the company of loved ones.

Be that as it may, understanding and empathy ooze from my cohorts after I admit my shortcoming in producing a regular blog. They morph into a support group. I've triggered an upwelling of fellow feeling. Everyone else, upon realizing they're not alone in their own failings to follow through with many cherished hopes and dreams, is inspired to share what they have aspired to make and do and say, and have fallen short of realizing.

Some share how they fear that if they really gave all they had to their professional projects and outside pursuits, their personal relationships would take too much of a hit, and they're not willing to risk that. There is now a pervasive sense that it's okay to fall waaaay sort of our goals and aspirations.

The confessional parade doesn't soothe me. Just the opposite. There are so many more hours in the day than I put to meaningful or rewarding use. When I think of all the additional books and essays, poems and works of fiction that I might have crafted, when I think of all the additional quality time I could spend with my family, if only I didn't allow things like obsessive social media gazing to siphon away so much time.

Walter Kaufmann, the philosopher who most influenced everything I do, had this moving and jarring insight in his timeless classic 'The Faith of a Heretic':

Let people who do not know what to do with themselves in this life, but fritter away their time reading magazines and watching television, hope for eternal life. If one lives intensely, the time comes when sleep seems bliss. If one loves intensely, the time comes when death seems bliss.

Kaufmann challenges the notion that most of us live with anxiety about death. To him, knowing our mortal moment comes to an end at some point is the essential impetus for inspiring a person to make the most of however much time she has on this earth. It's a shame he needlessly diminishes his otherwise keen insight by taking to task those whose belief systems include a notion of eternal life, since this does not necessarily have to be any impediment to living fully here and now.

But even if one is resolute to live fully, one can be irresolute about how to best go about it. One can question deeply what living and loving fully actually amounts to.

I look up the meaning of the word irresolution on Dictionary.com: "lack of resolution; lack of decision or purpose; vacillation."

Curiously, it doesn't mention in the definition anything about commitment, much less the inability to make one or stick to one's commitments. Yet commitments and irresolution are entwined. One might well waffle about what, if anything, one should really commit to, but even that represents a certain stance toward one's life.

Now I look up resolute: "firmly resolved or determined; set in purpose or opinion."

In my case, what I'm resolved about, what I'm determined to do, the purposes I set for myself and the opinions I harbor, are subject to change based on continual scrutiny of whether I've made the 'best' commitments. As a Socratic sojourner who engages in inquiry of people of all ages and walks of life across the globe, I am routinely exposed to bracing new stores of knowledge and wisdom ways, to a wide variety of objections and alternatives to any given way of seeing things, and to new possibilities for 'living fully.'

Dictionary.com's second definition characterizes a resolute person as someone with "firmness and determination, as the temper, spirit, actions." I can go along with that for the most part. But I'm more resolute (or like to think I am) in the way that someone with a childlike temperament would be -- resolute yet open to changing course, based on new insights and experiences, when it comes to what I should be most resolute about.

Yet I imagine that certain core resolutions will not change -- to revel in the company of my loved ones, to cherish our moments together, to fend off as best I can any encroaching thoughts that would keep me from being there with and for them with all my mind and heart.

As soon as I get home from this conference I'm attending, I'll show my oldest daughter, Cali, what I've posted. She has written more books in her 8 1/2 years, and even sold them at the local Barnes and Noble, than her daddy has written in over half a century of existence. She comes up with an idea, and sets about at once to put thought into deed, her imagination turning and churning as she composes works of beautiful words and tales and drawings of her own making, giving it her all. Hesitation, vacillation, procrastination, withering doubt, are alien habits of mind to her. I hope to be more like Cali as I grow up -- less slothful, more able to live and love and create as intensely.

But first, I must post this. I'm filled with the childlike delight of having done what I set out to do. Not perfect, mind you, always capable of further sculpting, but something to build on, something that can lead to further discovery of what resolutions, and the commitments that proceed from them as a matter of course, that emerge down the road.