New Years Resolutions for a Strong Citizen

Seth Zeren is a founding member of Strong Towns. Today, he's sharing his new years resolutions with a Strong Towns twist.
We'll be back with our usual three-articles-per-day schedule after the holiday.

Seth and his family take stock of the food they already have and make plans to use it over the next month.

Seth and his family take stock of the food they already have and make plans to use it over the next month.

Every year in our household—like a lot of people—we make new years resolutions. This year we wanted to try something a little different. In this time of great civic fear and uncertainty, we wanted to make new years resolutions that will help us be stronger citizens and better live the lives we want. To do this, we needed more than just abstract “get in shape” style resolutions. We needed something with focused intensity and year-long structure to make positive changes in our lives.

We ended up borrowing from Ben Franklin the idea of focusing on cultivating virtues. Aristotle perhaps first articulated the virtue ethics framework, which emphasizes training our character—our habits and reflexes—rather than focusing on specific duties or cost benefit analyses. Franklin supposedly kept a little notebook with a list of virtues (temperance, frugality, industry, justice, etc.) down one side and each day evaluated his actions by them. Each week he would consciously focus on improving on virtue in turn, thereby seeking to improve his overall character.

Our second inspiration was the Uber Frugal Month challenge by a pair of Mr. Money Mustache disciples in New England. Their idea is a crash course in frugal living, but just for a month. Hey it’s going to be painful, but you can live without your lattes and Amazon Prime for just one month, right? By focusing on just one aspect of improving your life (frugality) and not also fitness and meditation and… you can really dig deep and make major changes. A month is long enough to see some of those changes impact your life and help you evaluate what aspects of your extreme practice to carry forward into your routine. Another example of this kind of one-month challenge is Whole-30, a sort of crash course paleo diet. (The chief benefit? Really coming to terms with your addiction to sugar.)

So we started making a list of both virtues we wanted to practice more in our lives and challenges we wanted to take on. Then we lined these up with the twelve months. Each month has a virtue theme (seasonally appropriate) and a list of specific activities or challenges that we will focus on during that time. Here's what we came up with for 2017:

January: Frugality - Use what we have, spend as little as possible

February: Mindfulness - Daily meditation

March: Temperance - Lent, Whole 30, no dessert/alcohol

April: Cultivation - New raised beds, mulching, fence repair, planting, garden party

May: Health - Daily exercise, dentist, physical

June: Simplicity - Purge and clean out the house

July: Craft - Build things, window seat, garden furniture

August: Art - Play music, game design, print making

September: Resilience - Planning, stocking up, household repairs

October: Play - Adventuring in the woods, leaf piles in the park, forts, Halloween

November: Generosity - Volunteering

December: Hearth - Coziness, holidays, family, cookies

Our hope is that over the course of this year, we will practice living our values more fully, save money to invest in improving our neighborhood, make our home, garden, and neighborhood more resilient and antifragile. So far, Frugality Month is off to a good start. It’s hard—really hard—but when you see your savings rate soar you realize how quickly you could be saving for that business venture, home, or real estate project.

This is a bit of a departure from the typical Strong Towns terrain, but in our movement, getting the “right answer” or understanding the problem is only half the battle. If we are not able to change our own behaviors to respond to our predicament, if we only ask what hypothetical “other people” should be doing differently… we’re never going to get there. We need to develop a practical path to becoming stronger citizens, for our families, neighborhoods, and cities. So what other virtues should be part of the strong citizens resolutions? Write your ideas in the comments below.

(Top photo: The family painted a wall in their kitchen with chalkboard paint to help keep track of their goals for the year.)

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