New Year’s Resolutions That Stick
The New Year is perhaps best known for our good intentions. February is known for accepting our failure to follow through and giving up. Why do we have such a hard time following through with our resolutions and how can we see them through to the finish line?
Problem: There is nothing magical about a New Year.
New Years has long been my favorite time of year. However, unlike other holidays, there is no Holy or spiritual significance. Human civilization simply needed a way to keep track of history. January 1 is not physically any different than December 31, or June 20, or any other random day. Likewise “resolutions” are just goals like the ones you start any other time of year. Just like any other goal we set, if we want to make resolutions that actually change our lives, we have to create a habit change.
Solution: Habit Change
1. Create Meaningful Goals: Don’t create a resolution just to have one. As an enneagram one, I can hardly imagine not having about a dozen self-improvement goals. But if you are someone who doesn’t have anything specific you want to change about your life, don’t copy someone else’s resolution our of guilt or competition.
Don’t allow your resolutions to be arbitrary! Enneagram Ones, now I’m taking to you. Don’t create a list of nine goals you actually have and then make up a random one because 10 is a nicer number. In fact, even if you have 10 legitimate goals, that might be too many. I won’t damper your ambition, but make sure you are being realistic and allowing room for your humanity.
If you want to copy someone else's idea, personalize it to fit your life. If someone else’s goal is to save $10,000.00 this year, that’s great! You can also have the goal to save more money, but if they are making three times your salary, surviving on a joint income, and don’t have car payment while you’re single, live alone, have other expenses and don’t make that kind of money, take the pressure off yourself to compete with them. Success is not the same for everyone. Consider how much you can reasonably save without regard for what your friend or your sister is doing.
2. Make sure your goals are actually achievable: Getting married is not a resolution. Having a baby is not a resolution. Winning the lottery is not a resolution. Throw out anything that is dependent on others, God, fate, the weather, or anything else subject to change without your consent. If you set goals that your perfect compliance alone cannot achieve, you open yourself up to be disappointed and feel like you have failed. That doesn’t mean you can’t still do those things, set a date, and plan for them. Just don’t think it of it as a goal to be achieved if it isn’t within your power to achieve it.
Speaking of achievable goals, not only should your goals be possible, they also need to be reasonable. There is a difference. Here’s why: If your goals are too ambitious, you will not stick with them, or even if you do, you might feel that it wasn’t worth it to begin with. Back to the money analogy, if you make it your goal to save $10,000.00, but in order to do it, you can’t eat out a single time for a whole year or spend any unnecessary money on things you want, you probably will not succeed. Even if you do, you might spend a whole year feeling restricted and stressed out about money. I have heard all the same stories you have about people paying off exorbitant amounts of debt in a very short amount of time with what seems to me to be extreme measures. I’m not saying it can’t happen. I’m not even saying not to push yourself toward discomfort. Discomfort is a necessary catalyst for growth. Just make sure it’s worth it and allow yourself grace to be imperfect.
3. Don’t idolize perfection: Something is better than nothing and 9/10 days is better than 0/10. I’m talking to myself here. If I mess up, get behind, or skip a day, it I so easy to give up and wait until next year. Even though that is so silly, giving up seems less like failing than striving daily and not measuring up. Don’t do this. If you have a goal and you don’t think about it until January 27. Make an action plan and do it. You don’t need to wait until next year. If you want to read your whole Bible in a year but you miss several days, stick with it. Ask yourself this question: Is it any less valuable of an achievement if it takes me 13 months instead of 12? Don’t waste all that time between June and January to be working on something that is important to you. Goals don’t have to begin on the first day of a calendar year and they don’t have to take precisely 12 months to complete.
4. Give yourself the freedom to change your mind. Giving up on something you really want is not the same as deciding you don’t really want that thing. It’s okay to change your mind and you don’t have to feel guilty or like you have failed. Abandoning a project can be a step forward in defining your priorities and living into exactly who God has called you to be. Don’t waste a minute pursuing someone else’s priorities.
You have everything you need to start on the path to the life you want to live. It won’t be easy. It won’t be free of discomfort, but it will be worth it and future you will thank present you for taking the first step. Remember to create achievable goals with reasonable action plans and wait for the gradual change of course to become your new normal. Remember to spend a few moments in gratitude today, for the progress you have made over the last 12 months and thank God for bringing us through another year.