Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.
- Proverbs 26:11
Have you ever noticed our tendency to do the same thing over and over again and yet never truly accomplish different results? We are indeed creatures of habit. We will perform rituals and routines that have no real merit or impact in our lives again and again looking for a secret breakthrough. Every year that passes we evaluate the year and do a bit of self-inventory. Based on our finding, we look at the year to come with renewed vigor for change. We use this assessment to create resolutions for the new year. This year I'll..."Lose 20 pounds," "finish that remodel project," "get my finances in order," "be a better friend," "work on my marriage," etc.
Every year these resolutions roll out, and every year they seem to crash and burn by Easter. Though we come out of the gates in January with vigor and passion, our motivation succumbs to the drudgery of life, and we find these resolutions fading away. Well at least there is next year!
Solomon once wrote that there is a time for everything: a time to be born and to die, to plant and to harvest, to break down and to build up, to wrap and to laugh, to mourn and to dance, etc. (Ecclesiastes 3). Practical wisdom would add that there is a time to evaluate and a time to review, a time to consider and a time to resolve to change. This process is a wonderful tool for self-improvement. The examination process triggers goal setting and desired adjustments for the upcoming year. This too is a healthy process. So why is it that these resolutions typically fade away? Why are so few resolutions seen through to completion?
Let me suggest four reasons why most new years resolutions crash and burn:
- They're Ambiguous
If our resolutions are qualitative, they will be very difficult to measure and even more difficult to accomplish. These type of resolutions leave us frustrated and discouraged. Sure, becoming healthier in the coming year is a good resolution, but how in the world will you know how you did next December? These type of resolutions fail to answer the "How" question.
- They're Unattainable
As much as we would love to "end world hunger" or "bring peace to the world," these resolutions are wonderfully ineffective. Sure there is a bit of motivation at the outset, but the actual chance of accomplishing this is so minute that these type of resolutions typically fail to sustain long-term motivation. These resolutions leave us feeling incapable and overwhelmed.
- We Lack Follow-Up
Resolutions are always important when they are first conceived in our minds. However, over time, the value and importance seems to drift into obscurity. Unless it's in front of us from time to time, our motivation seems to fade. Most of us can't remember what we had for dinner last week, let alone our resolutions from last year.
We are our own worst enemy. We have talked ourselves into becoming self-made, independent, strong-willed individuals. This deception has stolen the joy of life from hundreds over the years. This isolationism causes us to come up with resolutions that are kept for us and us alone. The problem is that since we are alone in the process, we are also more apt to abandon the journey and take an easier path. Why is it that athletes perform better in front of the crowds? The motivation of others cheering you on can bring out strength in you that you did not know existed.
Here are are five steps toward a more effective process:
- Have Clear, Quantitative Goals
Motivation comes from the ability to "win." When you are setting resolutions, goals, or anything of this nature, set yourself up to win. Make sure your goals are clear, objective and measurable. Give yourself a proverbial scorecard that you can fill in. Set dates, times and actual quantitative goals along the way. Even if you need to break them down into bite-sized pieces. If your resolution is big, then set some quarterly or monthly benchmarks.
- Make Goals Specific and Attainable
Schools give progress reports for a reason. These updates either affirm the student is on track and doing well or reveal they are in need of improvement. Setting specific and attainable resolutions will ensure that you are focused and on track toward accomplishments. These scorecard moments also allow you to celebrate the process. The accomplishment of these resolutions is almost as much about the journey as it is about the destination. As you celebrate benchmark accomplishments and experience progress along the way, your motivation will rise and the chances of actually completing this resolution will rise.
- Schedule Regular Review
It was Socrates who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." It's an oft quoted and seldom applied concept. Most resolutions die in the realm of good intentions. If there are not scheduled reviews, the resolution becomes something of the past, not a north star for a preferred future. These resolutions are things that could and should be, and are important enough to check up with now and again. The best laid plans are evaluated, adjusted and reconsidered on a regular basis. A thorough review system will ensure that these resolutions are an ongoing part of the year. Quarterly, monthly and weekly reviews are a crucial step toward accomplishment. The process can vary in intensity depending upon the context:
- Quarterly Review: High-Level Evaluation
- Monthly Review: Ongoing Progress
- Weekly Review: Making sure any action items are hitting our calendar
- Invite Someone Into the Process
Life is best lived in community. It's no secret that we are better together than we ever could be alone. This concept is crucial to the accomplishment of resolutions of any sort. To invite someone into the process with you is to set yourself up to win. Motivation can fade quickly when we are alone. However, with the help of another, our chance of success increases greatly. For some, this might mean joining forces with someone else and working together toward the accomplishment of a shared resolution (couples working for debt reduction, workout partners sharing a fitness goal, etc.).
- Write Them in Pencil
Life very rarely moves in a straight line. The ebb and flow of circumstances forces us to develop some sea legs. As things move to and fro, it's good to have goals; it's better to realize that God has the authority to change them midstream. As we lay out our plans, it's important to realize that as good as our resolutions may be, God's plan for our life is even more important.