This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Everyone talks about New Year’s resolutions, but few people take them very seriously. They’re things we want to do to improve ourselves or to address our dissatisfaction with our lives, but within a few weeks we normally have fallen off the wagon, and having failed once, we forget about them.

If you look over the past year, how have you done? Have you advanced in your relationships with God, with your family, and with your friends? How about professionally and personally? Did you move forward in the things that are important to you? If you continue on the trajectory you’ve set in the last 12 months, will you be happy about where will you be next year? In five years? In ten years? Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the answer, you need to be willing to put in the work and to establish new habits that will change the direction you are going.

Personally, I know my life needs work.

The question is, how do we begin?

One place to start is looking at why resolutions fail. A lot of reasons come to mind, but I think three are particularly important. First, our resolutions are too extreme: we try to change too much, too fast. Second, we don’t bring others into our resolutions, so that we lack social support and accountability partners, or even worse, we have people around us who are actively undermining our efforts. Third, we lack staying power; that it is simply easier to fall back into old habits than to expend the energy over time that it takes to develop new habits to replace the old.

So how do we fix these?

Suppose you have a big goal for the year, for example, losing 50 pounds. That sounds like a lot, but it really only amounts to about a pound a week. It doesn’t take dramatic action to reach that target, only consistent, small decisions about what you eat and drink and about your physical activities. In the same way, most other big goals can be reached through small decisions that we make daily.

It takes about three weeks to develop a new habit. I would suggest adjusting one habit in any area of your life that you want to improve and spending a full month on it. Evaluate where you are at the end of the month: if you haven’t been consistent, keep working to develop that habit; if you are solid in the habit and are making satisfactory progress toward your goal, keep at it, or if you think you’re ready to add more, maintain the first habit and add something new.

Dramatic change is the result of the accumulation of small changes over time.

Second, enlist the aid of the people you live with, and find someone who you trust who will hold you accountable. Again, using the example of weight loss, most people who fail in weight loss programs do so because of a lack of social support. If the people closest to you won’t support your goals, find out why. You may need to rethink what you're doing. But if their reasons don’t hold water—for example, they don’t believe you can succeed or don’t want you to because it threatens them—then find someone who will support you and move on.

Third, keep your long term goals in front of you, and keep reminding yourself of the importance of taking small steps toward them. You should write your goals out, ideally in long hand (it activates a different part of the brain than typing), and if possible do this daily. It will remind you of what you’re doing and why.

You will also need to increase your energy level, since it takes energy to build new habits. Diet, exercise, and rest are all part of this, but this post is already too long, so we will explore these in a later post.

(For those of you who want to pursue these ideas further, I highly recommend the book, The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson. It’s the best book on personal growth I have ever read. And no, I don’t get a commission on the sales.)