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New Year’s Resolutions

December 28, 2019
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I’m a New Year’s resolver. The week between Christmas and New Year’s almost always sets me in a reflective mood, and New Year’s resolutions are the usual result.

But I’m in the minority on this. If the research is reliable (and I have no way of determining otherwise) way more than half of us won’t make New Year’s resolutions. The gazillion reasons for this come down to one thing, really. We won’t keep them, so why make them? They’re just another thing to feel guilty about when the second week of January rolls around.

I get that. I don’t need anything more to feel guilty about. But I have a theory about why so few New Year’s resolutions are kept. It comes down to two things: too many, too grand.

I think the people who give resolutions a try write up a list of lots of things they want to change about their life in the coming year. You’d be a rare person is you didn’t have a fairly extensive list of these things. If you are this person, please let the rest of in on your secret, because it would be awesome to know how to pull it off. The rest of us will just keep on either making a list or rejecting the idea of making a list. But for Resolutioners, the lists we make quickly get out of hand. We’ll have eight or ten things on the list. Good things that would be incredible to achieve. This seems reasonable right up until we try to go to work on eight or ten things. Reality sets in fast, and before long, most people will abandon working on any of them, because they’re overwhelmed by failure.

My advice on this is to observe a time-tested maxim. “Less is more.” You’re far more likely to make changes in your life that matter when you identify fewer of them. And I mean a lot less. Narrow your list down to one or two items. If you can, whack it down to one. You’ll be able to work meaningfully on one thing. And you’ll be able to cross the goal line with it.

This makes good theological sense. The Apostle Paul wrote, Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

Obviously, you have to be thoughtful about the one or two things you come down to. Huge, global changes are really hard to follow through on. World peace is too big. So is getting down to your high school graduation wright.

Another essential key to doing the things you resolve to do on your New Year’s resolutions list is making them do-able. This is difficult. There will be a tension between aiming too low and aiming too high. Too-low resolutions aren’t meaningful, and too-high resolutions aren’t attainable.

This dynamic tension is vexing, but essential. The resolutions that are difficult, but doable are the ones you’re most likely to pursue until you achieve them. I have no formula for striking the golden chord on this. Sorry. But I know from my personal experience that the effort is sometimes more important than the outcome. The good news is that whatever you come up with is good. If you follow through on it, it will be great. And one thing, as opposed to even 3 or 4 things, is doable, and your odds for getting there are exponentially higher.

I’ve got a couple of other advice nuggets on this.

First, make your own resolutions. It can be very hard to follow through on someone else’s. I’m not saying you should never take up someone else’s if it fits your life and aspirations. But most of the time, the resolutions you make will give you more bang for your buck than somebody else’s. Let someone else’s resolutions inspire you, but don’t feel obligated to take them for your own.

And then turn you resolutions into goals. The difference between a resolution and a goal is really only one thing. Boundaries. A resolution states an objective, but a goal sets up parameters. A goal is a dream with a due date. I read that somewhere years ago. A goal answers a couple of important questions: how much, by when? And the more specific you can be with the answer to these two questions, the more powerful your goal will be.

Let me give you an example. I want to lose weight in the coming year. That’s my resolution. My goal is to lose 15 pounds by next Christmas. This is a reasonable goal, but will take effort and discipline to accomplish.

I’ll make it more doable by breaking it into a series of short-term goals. By Ground Hog Day, I will have lost 5 pounds. Then, after Ground Hog Day, I’ll set another reasonable short-term goal. And on through till I drop the 15 pounds. You get it.

And then one last thing about this. Write your goals down. Pen on paper or pecked away on your computer. And read them every day. Some psychologists say reading them out loud will give them more power. Whether you read them out loud or not, read them every day. Preferably at the start of the day. There’s no magic in this, but it will help you keep your goals at the front of your mind, and that leverages your attention and will to work on them.

Let your goals simmer a little. Your plans for reaching your goals will present themselves. If you read your goals every day, your mind will work on plans for achieving them. It does this often without your conscious thought, believe it or not.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying: It works if you work it. The same is true of pressing on toward your one-thing resolution. I’m not a Goal Achievement Guru, but I know what’s worked for me, and this model works. If you work it.

And here’s a final piece of good news. Really good news. You don’t have to do this on your own. If your resolution will draw you closer to Him, no one is more interested in helping you achieve it than God is. So partner with Him and press on into 2020 with a confident hope.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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