Every January, people come to me, their counselor, to discuss their New Year’s resolutions. It’s supposed to be a tradition in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life. That sounds technical, but doesn’t it also sound great? I’ll finally stop doing X and start doing Y. This is my year. I know I can do it!
Although the ideas and intentions are usually great, they’re also usually short-lived and fail within the first month! This can leave people discouraged, frustrated, and feeling like a failure. Maybe it’s not my year after all.
So, how can people, realistically, turn their New Year’s resolutions into actual behavior or lifestyle change? Is it possible to start the new year off with victories rather than defeat?
First, choose New Year’s resolutions that are meaningful to your whole being.
When considering the changes you want to make, don’t forget to think of your whole self. Don’t just think of improving your physical health, but also your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 reminds us to allow the gracious God of peace to keep our spirits, souls, and bodies pure.
Consider writing a health goal for each of these domains.
- Maintain healthy exercise routines (maybe aim for 20 minutes of daily activity instead of an hour at the gym daily)
- Decrease unhealthy eating habits (think lifestyle change, not weight loss)
- Schedule a visit with your doctor for a routine check-up (not just when you have a health emergency)
Now that we’ve figured out some healthy New Year’s resolutions, let’s look at the science behind behavior change and introduce methods that can increase your chances for success. Because you’re not going to be another person who makes New Year’s resolutions—you’re going to be someone who keeps their resolutions.
Here are five steps I suggest to keep in mind when developing your New Year’s Resolutions.
- Set realistic goals. Don’t set yourself up for embarrassment by setting goals you’ll never be able to keep. In Luke 14:28-29 NIV Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you …” Ouch! Okay, so what if you really thought learning Mandarin by July was an appropriate goal for you? Don’t forget to sit down and estimate the cost, like Jesus said. How much daily time will that realistically take you? Is your significant other cool with that time commitment? Has anyone else ever mastered Mandarin in six months? Setting the bar too high only increases your chances of failure and shame. Be realistic and reasonable in setting your goals.
- Have a specific plan. It’s one thing to have goals. But without a plan to reach those goals, they often remain out of reach. A specific plan must be made in order to succeed. A weight loss goal will never happen if there is no specific diet or exercise plan to follow. A goal to read daily Scripture will be short-lived if there’s no structured or designated time set aside to read it.
- Ensure accountability. When should you tell someone about your goals? When you want to achieve them. Have someone keep you accountable. They can help you with points 1 and 2 by helping you choose something realistic for you and develop your plan. Ask a friend to send you a daily text reminder about your goal. See if you can find someone who shares the same goals as you. Don’t let yourself forget your goals, either. Set reminders on your phone, around your house, on the dash of your car, on your desk—wherever you need the reminder most.
- Keep God in your plans. Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV lays it out pretty plainly: Trust in the Lᴏʀᴅ with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Want to hear some of the best advice I give as a counselor? You cannot achieve your goals on your own. The human willpower is too weak. You need God’s strength. And the best part? God’s power is made perfect in our human weakness. When you rely on Him, you’ll be the strongest you’ve ever been.
- Be persistent and consistent. Research suggests it takes 21 days to set a new habit. Be consistent, expect difficulty, and don’t give up easily when you fall short. Focus on the long-term, lifestyle changes. This isn’t about temporary fixes. And remember point 4? You and God have got this!
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 NIV
You can make goals that you will achieve this year. Yes, you! Make your resolutions a permanent change for the glory of God. This year, you’ll be that person who actually keeps their New Year’s resolutions.