Chances are, you have made a New Year’s Resolution at some point in your life—only to give up on it by the end of January. The new year acts as a cultural starting line, and as soon as the first day of January rolls around, we are off to the races. We envision this race as a marathon, but it usually ends up being a short sprint as we trip over hurdles and fall far behind.
I stopped making traditional resolutions a long time ago, but this year I am trying something new. Instead of a resolution, I am making a New Year’s commitment to growth. Reframing a resolution as a commitment shifts our perspective from a shame-based aspiration into a forward-seeking goal.
Here are five steps that will transform how you think about your goals and hopes for the new year.
- Discover the “Thing Behind the Thing”
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. (Psalm 139:23)
Author and podcaster Rob Bell frequently asks a question when he digs deeper into a commonly understood experience: “What is the thing behind the thing?” Instead of taking life at face value, this question invites us to consider the deeper meaning behind our assumptions or ideas.
In Practice: If your New Year’s resolution is “to lose weight,” think about what that means to you. Why do you want to lose weight? What is the driving force behind that resolution? Your motivation will inform how you approach your commitment. Perhaps your goal in losing weight isn’t so much about fitting into an old pair of jeans as it is about being able to be active and playful with your young child—that would be your “thing behind the thing.” If that is true, instead of scale-watching in hopes of reaching a certain number, try enacting lifestyle changes, measuring your growth by the new habits of health you are able to build. In this case, your commitment to growth could be: “I am making a commitment to live a healthier lifestyle by eating well and moving more in order to more fully participate in life with my son.”
- Seek Growth, Not Perfection
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
Perfectionism is the number-one killer of resolutions and commitments. According to bestselling author and career coach Jon Acuff, having an “all or none at all” mindset when making—and keeping—resolutions sets us up for failure. The idea that we should “aim for the moon” because if we fail, we’ll “land among the stars” may be a nice sentiment in a graduation card, but it doesn’t actually reflect how we react to failure. When we invariably stumble, we get discouraged and throw in the towel. This is why I recommend your goals be practical, realistic, and achievable.
In Practice: Your New Year’s resolution is to clean your house, top to bottom, every month. Your whole house? Cut that goal in half, and give yourself permission to clean a few rooms every month. Not only will this be more reasonable and practical, you may find yourself motivated to throw in an extra room or area once in a while. Your commitment to growth could be: “I am making a commitment to cleaning the bathrooms and bedroom every month.”
- Try Habit Stacking
…the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:8)
Our habits impact us so much more than we think. But what if there was a way to make new healthy habits one small change at a time? There is a fascinating book by S. J. Scott called Habit Stacking. Scott teaches how to implement a life-changing morning routine one small habit at a time. The idea is to take a habit that you already have—say, brushing your teeth—and “stack” a new, simple, and achievable habit on top of it. And once that new habit has firmed, you can add another. And then another. It would definitely be worth checking out and trying Scott’s method!
In Practice: You may want to spend time reading Scripture more this next year. What if before you allow yourself to brush your teeth, you read five minutes of Scripture? Your commitment to growth would be: “Every morning, I will read Scripture for five minutes before brushing my teeth. Once that habit is solidified, I will add a new five-minute habit that contributes to my spiritual health—like five minutes of silent meditation or writing in a prayer journal.”
- Expect to Fail—and Keep Going Anyway
The Lord helps all who fall; he raises up all who are oppressed. (Psalm 145:14)
Don’t expect smooth sailing as you set out on your journey. In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Acuff writes that “accomplishing a goal is a lot less like taking a train across country and a lot more like driving a bumper car.” Remember, growth is not deterred by failure and struggle but recognizes that they are both part of the process. Lean into them and allow yourself the space to fail your way toward your goals.
In Practice: A New Year’s resolution to go on a run three mornings a week before the workday can lead to frustration if you miss a day of running. Your commitment to growth could be: “I am making a commitment to exercising three days a week before work. When I am unable to meet that commitment, I will keep moving forward and give myself grace.”
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
It used to be that whenever I’d hear people say that I should reward myself for sticking to a commitment, I felt like a child with a potty-training rewards chart. I thought the idea of giving yourself rewards was childish, but I’ve come to see it as a celebration. As you set out on your commitment, keeping track of your progress and setting up celebration checkpoints along the way will keep you motivated and encouraged.
These checkpoints also help you to focus on what you have achieved and are good chances to adjust your routine based on what you are learning about yourself and your growth process. This will help you stay committed for the long haul.
In Practice: A New Year’s resolution to read a new book every month can include a fun practice at the end of each month that ties into your commitment. Your commitment to growth could be: “Every month (or so), after reading a new book, I am going to buy a bookmark or small trinket that reminds me of the book I just finished.”
Remember that life is more than a to-do list. Your value isn’t tied to your productivity or the accomplishment of your goals. As you start thinking about your New Year’s commitment to growth, remember that these goals are setting you on a direction, not a destination.