According to a few studies, around 50% of people make at least one New Year’s resolution, yet 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. Yikes. Yet I think the effort and self-assessment involved with resolutions dovetail so well with Christianity and should be strongly pursued.
Consider the 18th century American philosophical and theological prodigy, Jonathan Edwards, who at a young age came up with a list of personal, lifelong resolutions, including this one: “Resolved, To ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.”
Those who are unfamiliar with Edwards (whose writing on love, beauty, and the pleasures of God-centered faith have largely gone unmatched since) might see this attitude as legalistic and a sure track to low self-esteem. No doubt many people who promise to spend more time in the gym or put in more hours with their kids do so to “fix” themselves up – finding social redemption through a slimmer body or the reputation of being a respectable dad.
Yet the Christian worldview is reversed: we pursue growth not in order to be loved, but because we’re already loved in Christ, and the growth we pursue is not just any growth dependent on our own preferences, but a growth that brings us into the likeness of Christ. Yet at times we lose track of where we were and where we are going.
Like Edwards, we can set apart the end of the day, week, or year to evaluate our progress and adjust accordingly, not out of fear or pride, but out of joy, knowing that we are safe in God and that his unfailing love for us is just that.
Even with having the right motivations in place, we still need practical guidance to avoid our common pitfalls. Here are a few ways you can make your resolutions stick for 2017.
1. Be realistic, practical, and precise. Know the difference between a resolution and a wish. You may wish in 2017 to spend more time reading your Bible, getting outside and exercising, or getting that promotion. Those are all great, but vague. How much time do you want to spend reading each day? What will you do when its 120 degrees outside and it is time for your jog? Are you willing and able to put in those extra hours at work, and if so, what will you cut out of your schedule instead? Resolutions seem straightforward until a hiccup in our plan tempts us to give up. Think through the possibilities, and develop strategies accordingly.
2. Don’t overdo it. Often we can dream up a whole new “us” – and in the process come up with too many resolutions which inevitably overwhelm us. Relax! Just pick one or two. If after a few months it looks like you’ve got those down, consider adding more, but having too many goals can severely compromise your success.
3. Anticipate the rough start. They say it takes 30-60 days before a habit is formed. Until then, don’t expect your resolution to fall into place after your first week. Take extra precautions to ensure you can make it past the danger zone: schedule extra time, have others check in with you, etc. A lot of people start hitting the gym just after the holidays, but when school or work kicks into gear, they go back to their default habits and the occupancy at the gym returns to past levels.
4. Make a plan. This corresponds with previous points, but is worth emphasizing. Merely telling yourself, “I’m going to read my Bible more,” is a resolution doomed to failure. You need a plan. What will you read? How long do you expect to read? What will you do if you are sick and miss a day? Will you read in the morning, at night, or both? Having a definite plan separates the well-intended from the resolute. Though I would be hesitant to offer advice on exercise routines, I would recommend the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan, which includes reading four chapters a day from four different books a day (January 1st would have Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Matthew 1, and Acts 1). The plan takes you through the Old Testament once, the Psalms twice, and the New Testament twice in a year (or do two chapters a day for a two-year plan).
5. Do it with others. Let’s face it. Some days we don’t want to buy healthy foods, or run a few miles. But there is wisdom in Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Find someone else who will go hard after the same goal with you, or at least one who will hold you accountable: “Did you make your calorie count today?” Give them permission to be a little invasive: “I’m coming over to steal all the ice cream from your freezer.”
6. Pray. Blogger and author Tim Challies has written a lot about productivity, and is worth quoting here. “Pray as you consider all the resolutions you could make, pray as you choose one as your area of special focus, pray as you begin to work toward new habits, pray when you face temptation to slip away from those habits, and pray to thank God when you see success. Bathe your life in prayer, and make those changes for God’s glory, not your own.”