I love a fresh start.
Perhaps it’s because grace is the doctrine I’ve needed so much, but there’s something about a clean slate that motivates me toward achievement.
I’m like this with my desk at the office. I create stacks. Magazines to be read. Notes to be written. Lists to be completed. Bulletins from other churches. (I am always looking for better ideas.) Stacks, stacks and more stacks. When the stacks are at capacity—I call it organized chaos.
But, then one day I’ve had enough of the stacks and I go on a cleaning spree. I sort. I file. I trash until the top of my desk shows far more wood than paper. Ahhh… Finally, I’m inspired to work again.
I love a fresh start.
I think this may be why I’m one of the people who appreciates New Year’s resolutions. It’s like a line on the calendar that screams to me: FRESH START!
But, as much as I appreciate the value in them—beginning new things, stretching myself, making my life better—I’m like everyone else. I find it easier to make resolutions than to keep them.
How do we make resolutions we will actually keep?
Because resolutions—even the strongest ones—aren’t going to improve anything if you don’t follow through with them. And, they probably just make you more frustrated than before you made them. Who needs more frustration?
So, what can you do? Let me try to help.
First, write them down. This is huge. I’ve heard people say you are twice as likely to keep a written resolution than one you simply state in your mind.
Second, try not to have too many. You will be overwhelmed and give up before you start.
And, then, here are some suggestions for the type of resolutions that seem to work. This helps me.
Five criteria for making resolutions you can actually keep:
Another word might be attainable. The resolution must make sense for you to actually be able to do this year. Saying you want to read 50 books in a year—because you heard someone else does it—and yet you didn’t read any this past year, is probably going to be a stretch. You might be able to do it, but it likely isn’t a reasonable goal. Don’t be afraid of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). The key is you’re trying to achieve something that makes your life better. If you’re successful this year you can set a higher goal next year.
To be successful in keeping a resolution you need some way to monitor success toward it—certainly a way to know when you’ve achieved it. If your resolution is simply to lose weight you won’t be as motivated as if you say you want to lose a pound a week. You can track that goal and see your progress. Obviously it will still require discipline, but there is something about a measurable goal which—for most of us—drives us to meet it.
This one doesn’t apply for every resolution, but does in many. Ultimately I have found I’m more motivated to reach goals that change my life for the better over a longer period of time. It’s great to meet those milestones, once in a lifetime type of achievements—such as running a marathon, or writing a book. And, we should have those type of goals in our life—and maybe a milestone resolution is reasonable for you this year. The problem I have seen is if we get off track on reaching them it’s easy to simply give up—maybe even write it off as an unreasonable goal. We feel defeated and so we quit making any resolutions. In making New Year’s resolutions, I find I’m more successful if it’s something that I can possibly adopt as a new lifestyle. Some examples would be changing my eating habits, beginning to exercise more often, Bible-reading, journaling, etc.—again reasonable and measurable—but something I will sustain beyond the New Year.
This is key. Weight Watchers is a great example here of this principle. There is something about their system that works, and part of it is the reporting portion—where you have to be accountable to others for your progress. If you don’t build in a system of accountability—whether it’s with other people or some visible reminder of your resolution and progress—it’s easy to give up when the New Year euphoria begins to fade.
And, this may be the most important and the least practiced. One secret to actually achieving your resolution may be to find the “carrot” that will continually motivate you to stretch for the finish line. If losing weight is a goal, it could be a new suit or dress when you reach a pre-determined number. If it’s running a marathon (and if this is a reasonable resolution for you this year), it could be you run the marathon in some destination city you can’t wait to visit. If it’s reading your Bible through in a year, promise yourself a new Bible at the end of the year. The reward should fit the degree of stretching and effort it took to accomplish the resolution, but this often serves as a good incentive to helping you reach your goals—especially during the times you are tempted to quit trying.
I hope this will help. It does for me. I have some daily disciplines in my life now that started as New Year’s resolutions. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found resolutions can help me start the year with fresh goals, and the discipline toward achieving them helps me have more discipline in other areas of my life.
Here’s to a great New Year! God bless!
This article originally appeared here.