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Reconsidering New Year’s Resolutions

Reconsidering New Year’s Resolutions

If you’re like many Americans, chances are you’ve hit the ground running in 2023 with a fresh slate of resolutions. Perhaps you want to lose weight, get a better job, or spend more time with your family. Whatever your goals might be, the desire to become a better person—to build a better life—is in most cases a noble one.

Nevertheless, the subject warrants a bit of caution. While New Year’s resolutions aren’t necessarily a bad idea, self-improvement must be approached in the right way.

Although 33 percent of Americans made resolutions in 2022, one-third said they did not maintain said resolutions throughout the year. This is a staggering rate of failure. It certainly appears that for many Americans, New Year’s resolutions are, at best, insufficient for achieving their goals.

How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

Ask yourself this: How many previous New Year’s resolutions have you kept? Can you even remember them? If you have a good track record of keeping your resolutions, then by all means, continue onwards. But if you’ve grown accustomed to creating them on Dec. 31, only to abandon or forget them altogether in the early months of the next year, then it might be worth trying something different this time around.

Setting goals—which is what resolutions are, after all—is step one as far as personal betterment is concerned. Yet unless God has blessed you with an extraordinary reserve of willpower, you will likely need to create a strategy to achieve those goals.

Say the goal is to lose weight. The first step is establishing a resolution to lose fifty pounds in the coming year. Then what? Without a strategy, succeeding is unlikely. Wanting something isn’t enough—humans need a path toward obtaining that goal.

In the example above, that strategy might involve hiring a personal trainer, sticking to a predetermined diet, or learning how to box. After developing a strategy, willpower comes into play. Without it, you’re unlikely to put in the hard work.

This is one reason why New Year’s resolutions simply do not suffice on their own. A resolution can be a good starting point, but it is not enough.

Self-improvement is ultimately about doing away with bad habits and cultivating good ones. Anyone serious about taking life in a better direction would certainly benefit from looking into the science of habit formation. Succeeding might prove difficult without understanding why you’ve failed in the past and why the creation of new habits can be so challenging.

Social psychologist Bas Verplanken stresses the importance of context and location, which together comprise what is known as the discontinuity effect. “In the case of moving to a new home for instance, people may need to find new solutions for how to do things in the new house, where and how to shop, commute, and so on,” he says. “All of these aspects are absent when talking about New Year resolutions.”

In other words, merely establishing a resolution doesn’t change the factors surrounding the bad habit in question. There’s no discontinuity effect. If the goal is to lose weight, but the goal-setter is still going about his day in exactly the same way, his odds of slimming down are, well, slim.

Reassessing New Year’s Resolutions

There’s another factor of critical importance so often missed by the secular gurus and social scientists: God! Self-improvement in its many forms is not only compatible with a well-ordered Christian life—it’s an integral part thereof. But self-improvement can enter into dangerous territory when God is left out of the equation.

For example, physical self-improvement without Christ can lead to vanity. Financial betterment can lead to greed. Intellectual betterment can lead to pride. In fact, removed from God’s order, any form of self-improvement can lead to sin. As Jesus asks in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” What good indeed!

Moreover, we would be quite foolish to not seek the help of our loving, all-powerful Lord when it comes to self-improvement. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” says Philippians 4:13. Not only does ordering our self-improvement in a Christian manner prevent us from falling into sin—it helps us succeed.

Setting and, ideally, achieving one’s goals is an integral part of human life. No one is perfect, of course. But settling for mediocrity—or worse, vice—is surely no way to live. So if New Year’s resolutions worked for you in the past, then keep at it. If not, then let 2023 be the year you mix things up and try a new approach.

Image credit: Pexels-Anete Lusina


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