I will go on a diet.
I will get my spending habits under control.
I will be more patient with my kids.
I will be a better wife, daughter, sister, friend.
I will exercise regularly.
I will pray more.
Sound familiar? If so, you're one of more than a million Americans who made New Year's resolutions this year. And by about March, if you're like most, you've either given up on your resolutions or you're about ready to quit. How do I know? I've been a New Year's resolution dropout myself.
It certainly wasn't because of a lack of desire; I wanted to change. Motivation wasn't the issue, either; I was highly motivated (at least in January). I couldn't identify the problem until I stumbled upon some old training objectives I'd set 20 years earlier while working in student ministry. I was amazed at how similar my ministry goals were to New Year's resolutions. As I read through my files, I realized my difficulty in keeping resolutions was less a matter of desire, discipline, or motivation, and more a misunderstanding of how to set goals effectively.
New Year's resolutions are nothing more than goals in disguise. Our problem is we often treat resolutions as desires (I want to get in shape) or promises (I will be a better friend), whereas goals give us a plan.
Try these six steps for more effective resolutions:
1. Be specific. In my work as a teacher coordinator, I meet with Bible study teachers to help them set personal and ministry goals. At one such meeting, a teacher mentioned her personal goal for the year was to "grow in Bible knowledge." While her desire was admirable, I had to ask a number of questions: "How will you know when you've grown?" "What does growth in Bible knowledge look like?" "What steps will you take to foster this growth?" Her goal needed to be more specific.
As I worked with this teacher, we were able to revise her goal from the vague"I'll grow in Bible knowledge"to the specific"I'll spend 30 minutes a day in personal Bible study, 5 days a week." Her goal now expressed not only her desire, but the means to accomplish it.
2. Be realistic. During my college years I wanted to pray more. So I decided to rise every morning at 5 A.M. and pray for an hour before breakfast. But I also worked as the closing cook for Pizza Hut at that time, and rarely made it back to my dorm room before 2 A.M. How long did my prayer endeavor last? About two days. And in those two days I spent more time sleeping than praying.
In a recent interview, I spoke with Christian counselor Leslie Vernick, who said, "If our goals or resolutions begin to overwhelm us perhaps that is a sign we are not living within the limits and boundaries God has created for us. We are human beings. We all need to eat, sleep, and relax. Yet, at times we push ourselves in [ways] that [ignore] these realities at least temporarily. Then, when we can't do it anymore we give up. Instead, we should reassess our goal. Perhaps it was totally unrealistic."