It’s that time of year: the time to wonder what will be in store for us over the next twelve months; and the time when many of us will start New Year’s resolutions.  Right now you may be planning to start or have already started something that will enhance your life.  Unfortunately, far too often these resolutions end up lasting for less time than it took to think about and plan them.

I am not typically someone who starts New Year’s resolutions, but a few years ago I set out determined to read the Bible in one year.  I had great intentions and had never done it before.  So, I set out on January 1 to read Old and New Testament in the course of twelve months.  I started in Matthew and actually read the whole New Testament.  I was enjoying myself and that enjoyment continued until I reached Leviticus-I wish I could say I got further than that, but I didn’t.  When I started missing a day, I started missing two days and so on.  It was hard to get back on track and I was somewhat overwhelmed at the task.  Today, over two years later, I am in Ezekiel.  While there are many things that contribute to the problem I have had, one thing I am certain of, I tried to take on too much and didn’t have a good plan of how to get to where I wanted.  So, let’s take a look at how to have some success if you are setting a New Year’s resolution this year.

Make it specific I will lose five pounds is more specific than I will lose some weight.

Make it observable I will smile and offer a greeting to each person I meet today is more measurable than I will be nicer.

Make it realistic Tomorrow I will run for 10 minutes is more realistic than tomorrow I will run a marathon.

Make it public Writing it down would be a good step toward making it a reality.  Sharing with someone can be helpful as a way to have some accountability.

Understand your motivation If your motivation is based on something that is external to you, then when that external thing is gone your desire is likely to go as well.  Find a way to make the goal motivating for you personally.  Ask yourself who the goal benefits?  If you are not at all in the equation, then you might need to rethink it, because chances are you will not continue the behavior especially if no one notices.  It is okay if you also think of others, just don’t leave yourself out.

Take small steps Some of you may have seen the movie “What About Bob?” that pokes fun at a therapist and the relationship he has with one of his more outrageous clients.  While it is a comedy, the movie actually holds some great advice about trying to make changes-take “baby steps.”  Remember that losing 50 lbs. requires you to lose one pound, running a marathon requires running one mile, and getting from the 1st to the 2nd floor means you have to take one stair at a time before you arrive at your destination.

Take action  Management guru, Peter F. Drucker, says “Plans are only good intention unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

Reward yourself At the time you establish your goal and steps to achieve it, decide how you plan to reward yourself.  Think about something that you really enjoy and that would be worthy of the hard work you will put in.  Perhaps it is a word of affirmation of your accomplishment, treating yourself to a favorite food, buying something for yourself, or a big party attended by all your family and friends.  Whatever it is, celebrate the small steps and decide ahead of time how you will reward yourself when you complete a step and/or finish your goal.  Sure there are internal rewards for a job well done, but it doesn’t hurt to add a little extra incentive-after all, our God appears to enjoy celebration.

Give yourself some grace There will likely come some times where life interferes with your goals.  If you see this as a failure, then it probably will become one.  If you negatively evaluate yourself as a result, then you probably will give up.  Instead, consider viewing it as a roadblock.  Be curious about why the road is blocked.  It might give you valuable information.  If the road is blocked ahead because the bridge is out, then it wouldn’t be prudent to smash through the road block.  If it is out because an accident is being cleaned up, then proceeding forward may not be so bad once the road is clear.  Once you spend a little time understanding what the roadblock is look for a way to resume or modify your goal.  Remember that change is hard and takes time. Experts say it takes around 21 days to change from an old habit to a new one (although, if you ask me, it seems that unhealthy habits form much quicker).  Be patient and persistent and see if the above guidelines are helpful.

Something to try: If you want to start something but are confused about where to begin consider 4 areas to take stock of: your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  In what areas would you like to improve?  Identify the one you think is your weakest area.  Rate it 1 (not doing it) to 10 (doing a super job) on how well you are doing.  Now think of what it would take to move you to the next number-not to a 10 (e.g., if you rate a five, think about what it would take to be a six and the try it).  Without small successes, we tend to give up.  Reward yourself, then consider moving to the next number or addressing another area.  I wish you well in your endeavors.

By the way, my resolution will be to finish reading the Old Testament this year.  Each day I will read a passage of scripture from the books I have left to read starting in Ezekiel.  My reward will be a visit to our local Cold Stone Creamery for a “Gotta Have It” portion of whatever ice cream creation sounds great at the time.  Then, I will start my new resolution of cutting back on sweets.  Happy New Year!

Used with permission.

Brett Sparks is a  Licensed Psychologist and Certified Intensive Lead Therapist at the (Smalley) National Institute of Marriage

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