How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution4 min read

Do you have some bad habits you tried to address with New Year’s Resolutions? Have you already given up on them?

We all have bad habits, but the holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving, launched us into a long season of over-eating and over-spending. That generates a lot of New Year’s Resolutions about losing pounds or debt or both. The pandemic made both of those categories even worse this year for many people.

Bad habits are more tenacious than good habits. Why? Because we humans have a “negativity bias” or, as the Bible puts it, a “sinful nature.” Doing evil is easier than doing good. Criticism comes more readily than compliments; just listen to public and political discourse. Eating junk food is more appealing than eating vegetables. Ever since Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit is hard to resist. What God says about our sinful nature is based on hard evidence.

But forming good habits is not hopeless. Here’s some practical wisdom about how to keep a resolution.

  1. Set only one goal. Pick the one thing that is most important to you. More than one is overwhelming and self-defeating. It becomes a handy excuse to give up.
  2. Make it a positive goal. “I want to be 140 pounds” instead I want to lose 40 pounds. Or 170 pounds instead of losing 50 pounds. Picture how you’ll look at that ideal weight. “I’ll find some good recipes and develop a taste for vegetables” instead of I’ll stop eating ice cream. Picture how good you’ll feel by eating and drinking nutritious food and beverages. “I want a fully-funded emergency fund” instead of I’ll deny myself stuff I enjoy. Imagine how smart you’ll feel when you outsmart ads enticing you to buy stuff you don’t need. Picture your relief when you’re out of debt, and an adequate emergency fund is in place.
  3. Set a date. Open-ended goals allow us to kick the can down the road forever and fuel procrastination.
  4. Plan baby steps toward your goal and stay focused on them daily. Start with a three-minute walk; do two push-ups. Hit the pause button before indulging. Before I eat or drink it … or before I buy it, how will I feel about it an hour … or a year from now? Cravings for sugar/salt/fat and impulses to buy … subside if we wait them out. The same is true of an urge to lash out with angry criticism. A typical scenario is that I succumb to an impulse to buy a big, expensive toy; it stops giving me the anticipated pleasure after a few weeks or months, but I’m still paying dearly for it. The result is that I’m less happy than I was before I bought it. So ask yourself: Am I taking daily baby steps toward … or away from my goal? Keep your eye on the goal!
  5. Write down your goal and exactly what you want to change. The whole family needs to be on board with your goal and the strategic steps to get there. This makes you more likely to succeed with your new habit.
  6. Tell others, and report to them your progress. Social support is beneficial. Positive feedback will strengthen your will to keep going. Willpower is a muscle that gets stronger with daily incremental exercise.

Jesus had a human side that struggled just like us. Faced with the agony of His impending scourging and crucifixion, what motivated Him to forge ahead and do what God the Father wanted Him to do? It was the joyful goal set before Him—the salvation of God’s precious children! Seeing ourselves reach a glorious goal can move us to walk across burning coals.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Just think of the joyful relief you will experience when you are out of debt, financially free, and able to give generously to meet the needs of others. Or how superbly good you will feel with a fit, firm, healthy body. Picture what your life will be like when God sees your faithful stewardship and says, “Well done!” Bad stewardship will not stop God from loving you and forgiving you, but it is good stewardship of what God has entrusted to you that reaps the rewards of doing His will on earth as it is in heaven.

After all, the most important goals are spiritual goals with their eternal ramifications. The Apostle Paul said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal of winning the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” (Philippians 3:12).

That’s my main goal: being content and compassionate, growing daily in Christ-like maturity, wise in salvation through Christ and wise in Christian living. It involves living every day in the power of the Holy Spirit, reflecting the light of Christ in everything we do and living in the power of our baptism.

Photo (c) FotoDuets/iStock

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About the Author

Rev. Ed Kast is an Emeritus pastor living in Saginaw, Michigan

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