We imagine ourselves making vows in rare and specific situations. When we're getting married, for instance, or when we're taking religious ordination (which, of course, most of us never do). By contrast, those vowlike things we make at New Year's we don't call vows: we call them "resolutions." And we don't "take" them, we "make" them. Vows are different. They seem not to come from us; instead, we take them in, accepting them from outside. In taking vows we open up to something larger than ourselves, and we do this so seldom that vows remain extremely powerful motivators for us.

So, what are vows, really? Vows are conscious acts consisting of speech. Yes, speech is an act, and a speech can change things. Vows are words we put to our aspirations to change or grow. Harnessing the power of vows is one way to support these processes. When the minister asks whether you vow to have and to hold your partner, and you say "I do," the power of your vow supports your aspiration. Why not put some new words to some new virtuous aspirations?

Start small. Vow to be grateful throughout a meal. You don't need to be elaborate, after all, you're just vowing to do something for a half an hour. No need to make a big production. Try putting your hands together respectfully and saying, "I vow to remain grateful throughout this meal." Vow to smile at the next person that looks at you. Vow to root for your sports team with positive energy instead of moaning and swearing when they mess up. If that works, then perhaps vow to root for your work team with equal energy throughout a whole meeting. (Oh, yea, this is tougher.) These are vows you can take or keep, as you do, your strength will grow.

When you've learned how vows can move you and inspire you in such everyday actions, you can choose to take this practice further. The power of small vows is brief but strong. The power of large vows extends beyond ourselves. Consider the power of vows you cannot keep but cannot forget. How about making an "impossible" vow, like stopping global warming. You will not succeed in this life, but is that so bad? Success is a process. Vow to love your partner always. Vow to end war. Vow to start saving all living things. It's a start.

Franz Metcalf in Just Add Buddha!