New Year’s resolutions are a funny thing. Although we love to make them, no one really expects us to keep them. Consider the stats: 45% of all Americans generally make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% are successful in keeping them; 24% never succeed in following through at all! (I assume that Canadian stats would be similar.) On the bright side, people who take the time to make resolutions are 10 times more likely to succeed in bringing about positive change in their lives than those who don’t set any explicit goals at all.1 So what does it all mean?
I confess that I’m among those who haven’t made any resolutions this year. It’s not that I don’t think I need to improve. (I’ve never met anyone who thinks they are so perfect that there’s nothing they would want to change!) It’s just that I haven’t been very successful about sticking to my resolutions in the past. But it’s important to reflect on past events – to see what is positive as well as those things that are not so positive. Such reflection can help us recognize behaviour that has led to outcomes that we might have preferred to avoid, things in ourselves we wish we could change. We yearn to make a fresh start; we don’t want to get stuck in a rut. We want to be better people this year than we were last year.
Because my own track record is so spotty, I’ve become somewhat cynical about New Year’s resolutions. But that statistical fact – that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to succeed in making positive change than those who don’t make any resolutions at all – has stuck with me. It challenges me. I find myself wondering … if I don’t make any resolutions, is that a guarantee that I’ll remain stuck in the same old habits, the same patterns of behaviour, for yet another year? Should I reconsider?
What are the top 10 resolutions?
The top 10 resolutions for 2015 included a desire to lose weight, to get organized, and to spend less money (and save more). Some people resolved to live their lives to the fullest, to stay fit and healthy, to learn something exciting, and to help others in their dreams. Others wanted to quit smoking, dreamed of falling in love, or resolved to spend more time with their families.2
These are wonderful goals and they speak eloquently of our ability to look deep within ourselves and discover who we really are – as well as who we strive to be. But as I looked over the list, I realized that something was missing. God wasn’t there. No one in that Top 10 list talked about wanting to draw closer to Him; no one had resolved to try to be more like Him. I suspect that no one had even considered that God might have something to say about the matter at all! Furthermore, I’m not sure that the majority of people would even think to ask God for help in living out their resolutions. We think we can do it on our own; we want to depend on ourselves. I couldn’t help but wonder if this isn’t one of the fundamental reasons why we so frequently fail to live out our New Year’s resolutions.
Where is God in the equation?
For if we, as Catholics, believe that God is the only one who can really transform us – the only One who can give us the grace and strength we need – we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail in our resolutions when we leave God out of the equation. I’m convinced that we can really change those odds if we invite Him into the picture. With that in mind, I have jotted down a couple of things you might want to consider as you prayerfully make your New Year’s resolutions this year.
- Pray. Before making a resolution, set aside some time to pray and ask God to reveal what He thinks you need to change. If we want to be successful in our resolutions, we must strive to be united with God’s plan for our lives at all times. Because He loves us, God will only bless us with what will bring about our greatest good and our most perfect happiness. “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
- Discern why you want to make this resolution. Ask yourself why you want to make a particular change in your life. Is it a self-centered wish (e.g. I resolve to make more money so I can buy more clothes), or will it help you draw closer to God and to others (e.g. I resolve to make more money this year so that I can support my family better)? Will your resolution help you to grow in your love for God and be more like Him? God wants to enter into an intimate relationship of love with you; He desires to be close to you. If you ask Him to help you draw closer to Him through your resolutions, He will give you all the grace you need. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:7-8).”
- Keep it simple; start small. Don’t try to take on everything at once! Satan would like nothing better than for you to bite off more than you can chew so that you fail right out of the starting gate and become discouraged. Temperance (self-control) is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that allows us to approach things thoughtfully and with moderation; it is a recipe for success. “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2 Peter 1:5).” We need to be patient and take it one step at a time; change won’t happen in a day. Even if it’s tough to live out a resolution at first, don’t give up! “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).”
- Trust in God’s faithfulness. Even if we fail at times, if we persevere, God will give us the strength we need. He hears and answers every prayer. Consider the words of Scripture from 1 John 5:14-15. “This is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”
- Rely on God. On our own, we simply don’t have the strength to change. But if we invite God into the equation, we can trust in His power. As John 15:5 reminds us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” When God is with us, we can be confident in our resolutions, for as the Apostle Paul tells us, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”
This year, turn your New Year’s resolutions from non-starters into a recipe for success. And as you invite God into your personal journey, may He grant each one of us all the graces and blessings we need in order to be transformed: to know Him better, to love Him more, and to follow Him more closely. Happy New Year, everyone!
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 “New Years Resolution Statistics,” Statistic Brain Research Institute; available from http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/; Internet; accessed 4 January 2016.
Webpage image courtesy of Unearthed Comics; available from http://unearthedcomics.com/.