Every year, millions of people make New Year’s resolutions to try to change their lives in some helpful way. This often takes the form of weight loss, exercise, or reading more. By and large, these attempts fail within weeks and almost never make it the whole year. While I’m sure you aim to be the exception and not the rule, here are some practical ways you can hold true to what you have promised yourself you will do.
#1: Add before you subtract.
Almost any nutritionist will tell you that a good diet isn’t necessarily about denying yourself the foods you love, but rather about adding first some healthy items before you indulge in those. For example, rather than snacking on chocolate and buttered popcorn (my favorites), you could reach first for sweet snap peas or a piece of good fruit and then maybe a smaller portion of that thing you love. That way you get what you want, but you eat less of it and are still satisfied and have enjoyed some healthy snacking along the way.
This concept of adding rather than subtracting is helpful in other areas of life, too. Rather than trying to subtract your Netflix habit down to zero, maybe try some active stretches before you let it roll to the next episode. Instead of cutting out screen time and social media entirely, maybe try reading your Bible some first and then letting yourself go to Instagram afterwards. That way, you’ll learn to enjoy these healthy habits and still indulge instead of denying yourself to your breaking point. No more battles of willpower; just healthy additions that make the reductions more bearable.
#2: Start small and gradually increase the goals.
Let’s say you want to jumpstart your prayer life, so you’ve set a goal to do a quiet time for a half hour each morning. That’s a great goal! But at first you’re going to find this goal next to impossible. Going from 0 minutes to 30 minutes will make you feel like you can never win, and you’ll probably find yourself falling asleep more than connecting with God.
Instead, try starting small. Let’s say start with 2 minutes every morning of solid prayer for the first week. Then, in the second week, increase to 4 minutes per day, and so on. By April, you’ll be doing your 30 minutes per day, but it won’t be a total shock to your system.
#3: Grace first, second, and third.
We’re humans. We’re going to fail in small and big ways, no matter how dedicated we are to our goals. When that happens, remember that perfection is not the goal. In fact, as I recently read and am trying to commit to my heart, perfection does not equal worthiness. Instead, practice the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG) by forgiving yourself in the same way God has forgiven you. Remember what C.S. Lewis wrote: “[God] wants [us] to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with [our] stumbles (The Screwtape Letters).
And that’s the truth! God isn’t interested in our perfection because that has already been accomplished through Christ. God is instead interested in our faith, which turns our hearts toward Him and gives us the will to walk forward, even if only we hobble and fall down. God’s grace is there for every wobbly step, and we should be accepting of that grace, even when we disappoint ourselves.
I hope these practice steps help you begin accomplishing your goals well and faithfully, and here’s to a great new year!
Lori Ferguson serves as Children's Director at NUMC, and has been at the church since 2015. When she's not planning or teaching, she enjoys spending time with her grandkids. Read more about Lori here.