I enjoy making personal resolutions for each year. I find the reflective and visioning process invigorating and challenging. I use a mind mapping process to celebrate what I've accomplished and what I hope to be true in the next year. Like many people, my resolutions span from personal health goals, learning new things, improving personal relationships, and growing in my personal spiritual life. There is a real sense of discernment and prayer that is involved in this extended period of making resolutions.
I realize that for many this is not their experience with making resolutions. With New Year's Day behind us, many people are feeling guilty about their progress towards their new year's resolutions. Even those with the greatest intentions and resolve may have thrown in the towel in the recent "Ditch New Year's Resolutions Day" (every January 17). Business Insider reported that 80% of New Year's resolutions are abandoned by the second week of February.
Implementing change in our life is not easy. A walk through most bookstores can provide a glimpse of just how much can be said about how to approach personal and organizational change. Some of my favorite science about understanding change is presented in Chip and Dan Heath's book Switch. The book uses the metaphor of an elephant and rider (originally presented by psychologist Jonathan Haidt). It describes your brain is like an elephant with a rider perched on top. The rider does the planning and analyzing. The elephant provides the emotional energy. To create change, the elephant and rider must cooperate. Charles Duhigg's book The Power of Habit is another favorite that deconstructs habits to its parts (cue, routine, reward) and offers some practical approaches to leveraging these powerful elements.
Regardless of how you approach change, the dynamic of change is central to our Christian belief. It is impossible to separate our lived daily experience from the Christian call to change. We read in the Scriptures about the profound change and conversion God calls us to:
Ezekiel 36:26 - I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
2 Corinthians 5:17 - So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
Mark 2:21 - Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.
As Christians, we are constantly seeking to change and draw closer to God. I find the new year resolutions serve as one way to make intentional progress towards that change. Below are some practical tips I would offer for making the dynamic of change more encouraging and life-giving.
Be practical. One of the first things I learned about productivity years ago was to be action-oriented. David Allen's methodology of Getting Things Done was a huge help to embracing this in all parts of my life. While I was a fan of lists, I learned to make them more effective by beginning each item with a verb (e.g. "call Ted about upcoming meeting" vs "meeting"). A task is any single thing that needs to be performed and projects are more than one task. If interested in learning more about practical insights to Getting Things Done, visit his website.
Be accountable. Like most things in the spiritual life, we need to grow in community. There is a lot of wisdom and practicality in Jesus sending out the disciples in mission two by two. Accountability for new year's resolutions has gone high tech with options to bet against yourself or making public posts about your progress. I find the low-tech option of connecting with people over lunch or coffee every couple of weeks works wonders as well.
Begin with baby steps. Visioning for the future can create lots of energy and excitement. This usually means we try to take on more than we can chew. Rather than 'losing 50 pounds this year', we can try 'eating less', 'going to the gym three times this week', or 'drinking water rather than sodas'. Baby steps are important to make change achievable since studies have found self-control and willpower are finite and can be depleted.
Be ready to get back on track. Many of us recognize and are familiar with the value of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It's an important sacrament the brings healing and a pathway to get back on track. Likewise, with our resolutions, we should have pathways to get back on track. I know many people who slip on their personal resolution to diet or change and just throw in the towel all together. They miss the gym one morning and forget about going ever again. They fall off their diet and just binge on junk food. It's a sort of "all is lost" attitude that is destructive and hopeless. While it can be frustrating to fail and slip up, it is important to cling to hope. "Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer." - Romans 12:12
I pray this new year be full of promise, hope, and change for each of you. May you find newness in your spiritual life, relationships, ministry, and health. As Joyce Rupp's New Year's Prayer goes, may we pray: "God, surprise us again."