Encouragement to Persevere
Every January there’s a buzz and a tension as we feel the sense of newness, of starting fresh, of hopes for the coming year. And so we reflect on last year, consider the present, and resolve to be better, have more, do more this year.
We commit to things like:
- Lose weight.
- Read my bible every day… for an hour!
- Save money.
- Go to the gym six days a week.
- Pray more.
- Eat healthy, no more junk food.
- Watch less TV, read more books.
All of these are generally good goals: to be healthier, to break bad habits, to learn something new. As a Christian, setting goals like this are important to me—”pray more.” But seeing new year’s resolutions come to fruition is a sadly rare occurrence. Many regular gym-goers can attest that the first few weeks of January, the gym is full, but by the end of the month there are only a few new recruits left. (Yes, the cliche example.) Though some may persevere a bit longer, statistics suggest that only 8% of people are successful in their New Year’s resolutions (forbes.com). That is a discouraging thought, and honestly makes me not want to make any resolutions at all!
First, let’s take a pause. Why do we all feel the need to make “New Year’s Resolutions” at all?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for wellness, personal growth, and success. And I do think the beginning of a new year gives us a chance to stop and consider how we want to improve. But instead of a long list of vague and ambitions resolutions that are often doomed to fail, I want to suggest something more attainable. Here are 7 ways to make your resolutions a reality. (Make sure to check out #6—the simplest of all!).
1. Make it Count
First, pause. Think over your resolutions/goals. Be honest with yourself: do you really care? I’m sure they are mostly good things, but if you’re not emotionally invested, if you’re not resolute now, I advise you to let it be. You can circle back and pick up that particular goal up later, but at the present choose to pursue the things you care about most deeply. It is better to excel in a few things than to do a mediocre job at many.
As you discern this, pray. Commit your goals to the Lord. God cares about your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational and financial health. Check your heart motivation for doing these things and align it with His heart for you.
2. Dig the WIGs
Some weeks at church I’m overwhelmed after the sermon just thinking about applying it to my life. It can be exhausting just thinking about making multiple major changes at the same time.
Goals are like this too. You have a lot on your plate. You’re ambitious. Like you, I have about a thousand things that I want to add to my goals list: drink more water, exercise regularly, cook healthy meals, read more books, work on my blog, learn Korean, memorize Scripture, learn how to play the ukulele… you know. Some are big goals, some are small. The problem is, I can’t manage all those things at once. At least, not right now.
So before we go any further, consider your priorities. You need to determine: which goal is most important? What are your “Wildly Important Goals”? Choose 1-2 WIGs and just start by working on those for a bit.
3. Avoid Tripping Over the Starting Line
Good intentions don’t always lead to good results. And sometimes what you don’t do is just as important to success. Before you get started on the next step, here are some common pitfalls to avoid:
Reach for the Stars – Newsflash: you don’t have a rocket. Don’t set unrealistic goals. Know your limits, set achievable goals, and accomplish them. It’s wonderful to be ambitious, but consider making many consecutive baby-step goals instead of overwhelming yourself with an intimidating, doomed-to-fail end goal.
Drown in Expectations – Often we are the ones who put the highest expectations on ourselves, and many times they are too high. If you demand perfection and burden yourself, failure can often result in unhealthy shame. It’s a bad cycle. Free yourself from expectations (from yourself and others) and give yourself grace when you fall short.
Grin and Bear It – If you hate every step along the way to crossing the finish line, chances are you’ll give up along the way. Craft your goals in such a way that you will enjoy pursuing them day-by-day, instead of just daydreaming about that magical moment at the end. I get that it can’t always be “easy,” but as much as possible love the journey!
Compare – Comparing yourself, your goals, your progress and your accomplishments to others is always a lose-lose. Being proud of yourself for doing better than someone else is a sinful farce, and despairing over being “not-as-good” breeds self-contempt and discouragement. So put it away. The only time comparing is helpful in the process is when you compare your “present self” to your “past self.”
Wait for the Finish Line to Celebrate – You might be waiting a long time. Set up benchmarks, plant flags as you make progress, and celebrate at significant checkpoints. This is important! You have made meaningful progress, so rejoice!
Leave a Void – this has to do with breaking bad habits. If your resolution is to complain less or to quit junk food, it’s hard to “just stop.” Replace it with a good habit—find things to be grateful for or eat a healthy snack, like fruit or nuts.
Broadcast – In the age of social media, when we are excited about something, our reflex is to share it. With everyone. Accountability is actually a good thing, but social media is not a good approach. Psychology Today shares, “People tend to make their goals public, but research has shown that publicizing intentions might jeopardize chances to achieve our goals.”
Do it Alone – On the other hand, recruiting a close, supportive friend to be your accountability buddy can have a very positive effect on progress according to Dataquest: “sharing [your process goals (eg. I want to go running three times a week”)] with […] a friend [probably helps], and may be particularly helpful if that friend is careful to give you process praise [eg. “great effort, you hit your target!”] rather than praising your innate qualities [“you’re so smart”], and is willing to switch from focusing on positive feedback to more negative feedback as you progress through your studies.”
All this being said, there’s no perfect path to walk. But it is nobler to have tried well and failed than never to have tried at all. So in the words of Magic School Bus’ fabulous Miss Frizzle, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”
4. Play it SMART.
You need a system. you need a methodology. If your goal is “learn Korean,” you can’t just willy-nilly take a whack at it and expect to be fluent. You need to do your research, break it down into steps, gather your resources, and chart a course. Success is in the planning. So invest some time up front in a good plan!
One good approach is to set SMART goals. “SMART”= Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, Trackable/Time-Bound. (Or something like that.) When you set a goal like “lose weight” or “save money” you are setting yourself up for failure. Big goals (perhaps your WIGs) should be broken down into smaller steps. Look online for examples of SMART goals and tips. Here’s one site I found.
5. Get Trackin’
Write down your goal. Post it up somewhere you will be sure to look at daily. Add a note at the bottom about why you are doing this—remind yourself why this is important and keep you motivation up! Pick a verse that relates to this and write it down, too.
Use a calendar, planner, or goal tracker app. I like doing things on paper, but my favourite app for this is “Habit Bull.” The free version only allows five goals, which is more than enough to get started.
6. Resolutions are Hard, Habits are Effortless
Even on mornings when I’m a total zombie, when I finally come to my senses I have a hot cup of coffee in front of me. Making myself a morning coffee is so ingrained in my morning routine that I do it on autopilot.
I think you see where I’m going with this. Form new little habits. At first, it takes some discipline to introduce these new changes into your day, but soon they can become as effortless as brushing your teeth. Add one new habit at a time. Keep it small. Give each new habit a few weeks to catch on. Don’t get discouraged if you forget, just start fresh tomorrow.
While it may seem insignificant, the little things add up!
To up your chances of success, attach this new habit to a routine you already have going. Some ideas:
- Exercise more – do squats (or a simple exercise) while showering or brushing your teeth
- Moderate food intake – drink a tall glass of water before every meal
- Save money – prepare tomorrow’s lunch right after dinner (so you don’t need to eat out)
- Memorize scripture – stick a verse on your dresser and recite it as you get dressed
- Read more – have a book handy to read while you eat breakfast or get into bed 30 minutes earlier, silence your phone, and read!
Make investing in your goals a way of life.
7. Stop Calling Them “New Year’s Resolutions”
Resolutions are what Jonathan Edwards made to guide his life. (Pure gold, by the way.)
What you have are goals, and goals do not have to be tied to the new year. So don’t worry about breaking your new year’s resolution. You can set goals at any time, you can conclude goals successfully at any time.
There’s no need to wait for another new year: you can start fresh today!
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:15-20 (NIV)