We have all heard the statistics: 50% of people make some kind of new year’s resolution, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. That is more than a little discouraging. But I still believe in new year’s resolutions. I believe in them as a convenient opportunity to evaluate life and to make choices about living life better. I have done a fair bit of reading on how to make resolutions work, and it turns out that though there are many reasons your resolutions may not work, the most common ones are easy enough to avoid.
Here are some tips on making wise resolutions and on making them stick.
Make Resolutions, Not Wishes
The most likely reason your new year’s resolution will fail is that you haven’t actually made a resolution—you have made a wish. On December 31 you may decide that in the year ahead you will lose weight, or read your Bible more often, or finally stop smoking. Those are all good desires. But this is not the time to wish upon a star and hope that you will magically change; it is the time to firmly resolve to change your life. Make sure that you are resolving, not wishing.
Make Just 1 Resolution
With that heightened sense of optimism that seems to come with the dawning of a new year, it is easy to believe that this is the time to change everything you dislike about yourself. But January 1 is not a realistic time to change every part of your life. You will dramatically increase your chances of success when you force yourself to make just 1 resolution. At the very most, make no more than 2 or 3.
Convert Your Resolution To Habits
Willpower is enough to get you started, but you will need habit to sustain it. Though you are more than your habits, you are certainly not less. Through most of life you follow your habits—you do those things you have wired yourself to do. Whatever your resolution is, you need to prepare to turn it into a habit. Willpower is enough to get you started, but you will need habit to sustain it. Resolve to change your bad habits while also developing new and better habits. But be warned: Changing habits takes both time and patience, so you will need to prepare yourself for a long and difficult battle.
Make a Plan
You will almost certainly fail in your new year’s resolution if you do not enter the new year with a plan to succeed. Do not decide that you will exercise more; determine that you will exercise for 30 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon at 3 PM. Do not hope to read your Bible more; choose a reading plan, determine how many days a week you will read your Bible, and decide when and where you will do it. Plan how you will build your new habit and then stick to your plan. It will take 2 or 3 months for that new habit to form, so be patient. Reward can be a powerful motivator in building new habits, so consider building in a system of small rewards.
Share Your Resolution
These well-known verses from Ecclesiastes give us a helpful tip: “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!” Resolutions work best when they involve another person. Tell a friend about your resolution, and ask him to hold you accountable; his involvement will strengthen your resolve. Even better, pair up and make the same resolution as your friend so you can work toward a shared goal.
Plan For Temptations and Setbacks
You will fail if you do not expect to be tempted and to experience setbacks. Your resolutions may fail because you have not anticipated and planned for the inevitable temptations and setbacks. If you are trying to live with virtue, you can expect to face all kinds of temptations to slip back into your old ways. Plan in advance how you will respond in those moments when you are tempted to revert to that behavior you hate. Also plan in advance what will happen when you actually succumb to the temptation, so you will not slip into despair and give up. You will fail if you do not expect to be tempted and to experience setbacks.
Finally, as a Christian I want to offer this: Pray. 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.
Tim Challies is a pastor, author and book reviewer living in Canada.