New Year’s resolutions: they’re easy to make, and easy to break.
In fact, according to a 2007 study by professor and psychologist Richard Wiseman, 88% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions fail to achieve their goal. (Click here for his latest blog post on “How to Keep your New Year’s Resolution.”)
It’s not too late to revise your resolutions in case you’re setting yourself up for failure! Let’s look Biblically at one factor in making your New Year’s resolutions successful: Considering them carefully to make sure they are achievable.
In speaking of the costs of becoming one of his disciples, Jesus gave these two examples:
If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when you had laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it might start laughing at you. They will say, “Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!”
Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. (Luke 14:28–32)
Isn’t it a good idea to sit down and calculate the “cost” of each resolution you might make, and consider whether you can realistically achieve it?
After all, if you don’t achieve it, you’ll feel defeated, and it will actually make it harder to change your life for the better in the future, as you limp along in life berating yourself for your weakness, lack of willpower, and so on. It’s better not to make any resolution at all than to make a resolution and fail.
However, it’s even better to make an achievable resolution, and succeed!
Calculating the Cost
Unless your resolution involves a literal construction project, such as an addition to your house, the costs of your planned resolution will mostly be psychological rather than monetary.
If you’re planning to break a bad habit, here are some of the costs to consider:
- What emotions do you have “invested” in that habit?
- Why did you start, and what does it do for you?
- What would you lose by no longer engaging in it?
- How much extra effort will it take to gain greater benefits in some other way?
- How much do you really want to break that habit?
If you’re planning to start a new good habit, here are some of the costs to consider:
- What will you have to give up to make time and space for the new habit?
- Will you have to cut back on your usual time with friends or family?
- If it costs money, where will that money come from?
- Can you allow yourself to become a better and happier person?
- Will the benefits of this new habit come soon enough and be big enough to keep you motivated?
There are many other personal, psychological, and social costs to consider before you commit yourself to a New Year’s resolution. The important thing is that you sit down and carefully consider all of the “costs” you can think of, compare them to the benefits you expect to gain, and be honest with yourself about whether you are prepared to pay those costs and make those personal sacrifices in order to achieve the benefits you expect.
Assessing the Battle
The bigger your resolution, the more time, effort, and emotional energy you’ll need to put into it. If you’re committing yourself to some big change in your life, you can bet your bottom dollar that it will not come easily! Every bit of your old, habitual self will fight to prevent you from making the change you have planned for your life.
In short, once you start carrying out your resolution, you’re in for a battle, which can easily drag out into a war!
Before even starting that war, it would be a good idea to sit down and consider the size of the “enemy army,” and the size of the mental and emotional “army” you are bringing to this particular battlefield.
If you have already lost this particular battle before, perhaps it would be best to pick a different and more modest battle—one that you’re more confident of winning.
And in general, it’s best to pick just one battle, rather than attempting to wage a war on multiple fronts. Don’t resolve to fix everything about yourself in one giant World War 3! If you’re not satisfied with your life as it is, consider turning yourself around using an “installment plan” of fixing one thing at a time. Start small in picking your next battle. Then, when you achieve that small victory, you can build on your success with a slightly more ambitious resolution for change.
The effect of proceeding in this way is to build up your emotional, psychological, and spiritual “forces” so that in time, you’ll be able to take on the major life battles that you know you’ll have to face sooner or later.
Building a New You
If you are not entirely satisfied with your life, or if you think it could be better, it is possible to achieve real and lasting change in your life.
And the best way to accomplish this is to focus on changing your own thoughts, feelings, and actions one piece at a time. Changing yourself isn’t easy. But it’s a whole heckuva lot easier than changing everyone else! So work on the person you can change. As you rebuild your own character one habit and one attitude at a time, you’ll find that the people around you somehow become easier to live with.
When Jesus spoke of building a tower and fighting a war, he was talking about spiritual towers and spiritual wars.
Think of the meaning of a “tower”:
The distinguishing characteristic of a tower is that it is tall. A tower goes up above the surrounding countryside or buildings, and gives us the advantage of height.
- Guard towers and lookout towers allow us to see an approaching enemy or keep track of fires in the forest, airplanes in an airport, or other moving targets over a wide area.
- Water towers lift our town water supply up high so that it will flow down into the surrounding houses and businesses.
- Cell phone and antenna towers get up above surrounding trees and buildings to carry signals to and from phones, radios, and other electronic devices in a wide area around them.
- Skyscrapers allow us to maximize the use of scarce and expensive city space in order to accomplish far more business than we otherwise could. They also provide an inspiring view to those who work in their upper floors!
If a physical tower is all about height, then a spiritual tower is all about seeing life from a higher and deeper point of view.
This suggests that our New Year’s resolution does not have to be about breaking some physical habit or engaging in some new physical activity. Perhaps our resolution can be about living our life from a higher perspective.
For example, it is fairly common to think of the people around us in terms of what they can do for us or how much effort we have to expend to deal with them. In other words, we may habitually think of people in terms of their benefits or costs to ourselves.
If so, then one resolution may be to begin looking at others in terms of their own intrinsic value and worth. What are they good at? What do they love to do? What do they have to offer to the community and the world? Another way of asking those questions is: Why did God put this particular person on this earth?
Considering the people around us from a higher perspective is like building a spiritual tower. It can give us a new and clearer view of the social “lay of the land” around us.
There are many other ways we can resolve to look at our own life and at the people around us from a higher perspective. When making or revising your New Year’s resolution, consider adding this kind of higher, spiritual goal to your list of possibilities.
Fighting the Good Fight
Just as towers have a spiritual meaning, so do wars and battles.
When we decide to turn our life around and begin living in a new way, that is when our spiritual wars and battles begin.
As I mentioned before, when we make a New Year’s resolution, our old habits don’t just meekly slink away. They fight back!
And when we decide to look at life from a higher perspective, and live our life from spiritual rather than materialistic principles, all of our old, low-level feelings, attitudes, and habits will also fight back.
We then enter a time of trial and struggle, which is really a spiritual battle. Our own higher and lower selves are fighting that battle. And like a real battle, each side has allies:
- God, the angels, and our true friends here on earth will assist our higher self to emerge victorious.
- The demons of our past, our own self-destructive feelings, and all of our low-life associations in our social surroundings will join the battle against any real change in our life.
Here are some things we can work on to build up the spiritual forces necessary to win the battle that any resolution for positive change will plunge us into:
- A renewed relationship with God through prayer
- Deepening our understanding through reading spiritual books and articles and listening to spiritual teachers
- Cultivating friendships with people who are living in a positive, loving, and thoughtful way
- Opening our own minds and hearts to new ways of understanding, loving, and serving the people around us.
The more we build up the “spiritual armies” of higher truth and greater love, the more successful we will be in battling the darkness that all too often seeks to drag us down into despair and destruction.
It Is Possible
No matter how many times you have failed in the past to keep your resolutions to change your life for the better, there is still hope. As long as you are still living and breathing, you still have choices to make.
Yes, some choices may sink us further down. But we can still make choices to take an upward step here and there. And each time we choose to take even a very small upward step, and succeed in carrying it through, we give ourselves strength to take the next step successfully.
Sometimes we’ll fall flat on our faces. When (not if) that happens, there’s no need to just lie there in the dust. We can get up, dust ourselves off, and move forward with a renewed commitment to the resolution we have made.
- Start small and work your way up.
- Expect resistance and battles, and prepare yourself for them emotionally and spiritually.
- If you’ve picked a fight that’s too big for you, retreat, regroup, and tackle a smaller “enemy.”
- Leave behind so-called “friends” and biological family members who drag you down.
- Share your struggles with God and with friends and family who will support you in your fight.
Yes, it is possible to fight the good fight, and to build a new you.
Our New Year’s wish for you is that in 2013 you will take one small but successful step forward and upward in your life, which will lead to many more good and positive steps in future years.