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But My Intentions Were Good!

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Boy lying in snow holding a white flag of surrender
Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

This year, International Quitters Day, also known as Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day, fell on January 17. This is the date according to studies by which one in three people have given up on their New Year’s resolutions. If you are still hanging in there, go you!

If you have quit, welcome to one of the world’s biggest clubs.

When I reflect on failing once again to . . . whatever I had intended to do . . . I reflect on a meditation from Marcus Aurelius. His Meditations are notes to himself, often admonitions to get back on track. One goes like this:

Don’t be dissatisfied, disappointed, or disgusted when you fail to live up to your principles. Fairly close is not bad. Now, get back to your philosophy, not as if philosophy is work, but as if it is a poultice for a sore eye. In that way you will be obeying reason and resting in it.

Remember this: philosophy requires only what your own nature requires. Don’t be looking for something else. You might be saying, No, wait — philosophy is no fun! That’s how short-term thinking deceives us.

Think about it: isn’t magnanimity, freedom, simplicity, equanimity, and reverence preferable to momentary pleasure? After all, when you think about the benefits of understanding and knowledge, isn’t it clear that wisdom is the way to go? (Meditations 5.9)

The British humorist Quentin Crisp once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.” Witty. But in terms of life choices, ill-advised. Rather, we do well to follow an older saying: “Get back on the horse.” That’s all of the proverb we hear nowadays, but the complete proverb goes: “That bucked you.”

Get back on the horse that bucked you. Or, as playwright Samual Beckett wrote, “Fail better.”


The Roman philosopher and politician Seneca wrote:

Ovid said, “Philosophers do not always practice what they teach.” True. But philosophers do affect some for good through their talk of lofty principles. Indeed, philosophers would be much happier if they could live up to their own words! (from “Of a Happy Life”)

To tell the truth, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Because I don’t want to disappoint myself. But I do see every day as another shot at being and doing a little better.

And if you fail once again? Remember the wisdom of the ages:

Don’t be dissatisfied, disappointed, or disgusted when you fail to live up to your principles. Fairly close is not bad. (Meditations 5.9)

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