Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? How’s it going? Are you sticking with the plan? Or have you already abandoned it completely?
A couple weeks into January, the majority of people are ready to give up. Actually achieving New Year’s goals requires uncommon grit. Researchers put the number of resolution makers who succeed at a scant 8 percent.
Giving up is so common, in fact, that we even have a day dedicated to throwing in the towel: Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions Day. And it’s coming up soon, on Jan. 17.
Yet giving up would be a mistake.
You had good reasons for wanting to make positive changes in the new year. Don’t lose sight of them. And don’t base your continued efforts on sustaining a success streak free from slip-ups.
Maintaining a flawless record is not what’s most important. If any of us were capable of doing that, we wouldn’t need Jesus. The important thing is to get up, dust ourselves off and try again when we fail. Hop back on the wagon. Remount the horse. Step up to the plate.
All by the empowering grace of God.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. But practice does make progress, as one wise person observed. It’s all about incremental improvements — little by little, inch by inch, step by step.
So keep chipping away at those new habits you want to establish, regardless what kind of track record you’ve maintained thus far. Keep turning away from the bad habits you want to break, even if you occasionally goof up.
The more you practice these things, the more ingrained they’ll become into your routines. And eventually, they’ll seem second nature.
Some of the resolutions I used to make annually have become so much a part of who I am, I don’t even have to think about them anymore. In my 20s, getting up early, making my bed and reading my Bible every morning required a tremendous amount of effort and determination. In my 50s, I couldn’t sleep in if I wanted to.
My goal these days is to maintain the good habits I’ve formed in the past as I work on additional goals for the future. On my list this year? Exercise five days a week. Eat more plants and less sugar. Floss faithfully. Memorize more scripture. Enjoy tech-free Sundays. Give my kids and grandkids more of the undivided attention they crave.
If you’re ready to keep working on your own goals instead of throwing up your hands in defeat, the following five secrets may help:
First, make it easy to succeed. The more convenient you make your resolutions, the more likely you’ll be to keep them.
For instance, in addition to flossing, I want to be more consistent about taking my vitamins and rinsing with mouthwash. To ensure success, I put the Listerine in a tilt-to-pour oil dispenser and store my floss and vitamins in decorative jars with lift-off lids right next to the sink. Not only does that make everything easy to access, but also provides a pretty visual reminder of my intent.
Second, narrow your focus. Tackle only a handful of habits at a time. It’s better to make consistent progress on a few than to burn out trying to change everything at once.
My daughter Rachel came up with a fun way of doing this. She made a resolution box this year. She wrote down everything she wants to work on — one item per slip of paper — and tucked them into the box. Every morning, she draws out a “resolution” and makes that her focus for the day.
Third, break your goals down. Don’t let the magnitude of big goals paralyze or discourage you. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Break big goals into small chunks. No more procrastinating. No over-analyzing. Pick a course of action, set to work and make any needed adjustments along the way.
If my goal is to write a new book in 2020, I’ve got to come up with a game plan. It could be writing for a certain number of minutes each morning. Or churning out a daily quota of words. Or setting myself deadlines for outlining the book, completing a rough draft of each chapter, then proofreading and polishing each section of the manuscript.
Having a detailed course of action is vital to success. What particular form those details take is entirely negotiable.
Fourth, review your goals regularly. Post a list in a prominent place. Put a photo on the fridge. Keep them visible and take time to read through them at least once a week. Otherwise, you may get distracted and forget all about what you originally set out to accomplish.
Last, but not least, pray for endurance. Building endurance is one of the purposes God has in mind when He allows us to encounter trials in the first place. (James 1:2-3) Remember Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That being said, we need to pray hard, work hard and trust God with the results. You can write the book, but you can’t guarantee it will be a best seller.
You can eat right and exercise daily, but you can’t dictate how quickly you drop unwanted pounds.
You can study hard, make great grades and get glowing recommendations. But it won’t get you into the school of your choice apart from God’s blessing.
In all these things, God calls us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Jennifer Flanders loves the fresh start new years (and new months, new weeks and new days) represent. This will be her last column for a while, as she is taking a break to focus on a few pressing New Year’s resolutions of her own. In the meantime, you can follow her family through their website (https://www.flandersfamily.info) or find more of her goal-setting tips and tricks in her 2020 Life Balance Bundle (http://bit.ly/LifeBalanceBundle).