Let me be the bringer of bad news today. If you’re reading this article, you likely have made or are planning to make some New Year’s Resolutions, but sadly 88% of you will utterly fail (at least, if the stats are correct). Happy New Year!
Perhaps your goals are spiritual (reading through the Bible in a year) or relational (spending more time with your kids) or nutritional (losing weight) or practical (getting organized). Whatever it is, nearly 9 out of 10 of you won’t make it. Sorry, Charlie.
Let me help get you to failure a little quicker.
If you follow these 5 simple principles, you’ll be on track to total disappointment in no time.
Fail #1: Focus on a Massive “Resolution”
There’s a big difference between making resolutions and changing habits, says Dr. Coral Arvon, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center. One of the best ways to ensure failure is to pick large, vague goals.1
When Dr. Richard Wiseman tracked 5,000 individuals in their New Year’s resolutions, the 10% who actually achieved their goals focused not on large objectives but on sub-goals.2 Those who want to succeed need to focus on small, step-by-step goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based.
If you want to fail, be like the foolish man in Jesus’ parable that decided he wanted to build a tower but never sat down to figure out how much it would cost (Luke 14:28-30)—forever that unfinished tower mocked him. But if you want to succeed…
- Don’t vaguely resolve to “get organized” this year. Go room by room, week by week. Make it a goal to organize the kitchen in January, the bedroom in February, the bathroom in March. You get the idea. Put these goals on the calendar and treat them like you would any scheduled event.
- Don’t vaguely resolve to “eat healthy.” Make small, measurable differences in your diet each week or every other week. Reflect the change on your grocery list each time.
- Don’t vaguely resolve to “pray more.” Make a plan for when you will start a routine. Pick a time that works best—perhaps tack the new routine next to another established routine (when you wake up, after you shower, etc.). Start small (10 minutes a day) and work your way up.
Fail #2: Use January 1st as Your Arbitrary Motivation
“The very fact that we’re using the New Year to spur us to action might indicate that we’re not really able to do the hard work of changing,” says Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool.3 You need something more than “New Year, New You” to motivate you.
If you want to fail this year, rely on sheer willpower. If you want to succeed, focus on your reward. In his research, Dr. Wiseman noted that those who achieved their resolutions regularly reminded themselves about the actual benefits of what they were trying to accomplish. His recommendation? Create a checklist of how life will be better once you achieve your long-term goals.
The Bible is filled with the language of reward. Consider the timeless wisdom of the Proverbs, promising peace, stability, health, and long life to those who practice wise and holy habits. This exactly what faith is: “the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1)—the anticipation that something we are promised is real.
Almost every resolution involves some kind of loss (not eating the treats you enjoy, sacrificing time with something you enjoy, etc.), so if you want to succeed, you need to remind yourself of what you are gaining, not what you are losing.
Fail #3: Rely on Your Foggy Memory
Contrary to the failure advice above, let’s say you set small, measurable goals and you come up with a list of positive motivations to spur you on. If you still want to fail miserably, make sure you rely on your terrible memory to recall your plan and your incentives.
Dr. Wiseman advises, however, to those who want to succeed, tangibly map out your progress, writing down your smaller goals, motivations, and how you plan to progress.
Do what works for you. Stick Post-It® Notes around the house. Wear a ring or bracelet. Dr. Arvon suggests a simple step, “Set your smartphone calendar to give you positive messages or reminders about your goals.” Or get creative: record yourself reading your motivational checklist on your iPod and play it to yourself every morning for the next few weeks.
Fail #4: Never, Ever Ask for Help
One of the most important things you can do to ensure an utter lack of success is to keep your resolution a secret. Tell no one, especially those who are likely to hold your feet to the fire. Stay far away from those kind of people.
Dr. Wiseman’s research has shown that all those who achieve their resolutions told their friends and family about their goals. This accomplished two things: it increased the fear of failure and created a network of support.
The Bible is full of “one-another” language. The New Testament offers a rich picture of how we can support each other, giving encouragement (1 Thessalonians 4:18), bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and admonishing each other (Romans 15:14). Those who succeed are to practice this.
If you want to succeed, sit down with a good friend and show him or her your plan, your map of where you are going, your planned steps along the way, and your list of motivations. Schedule times to talk to this person along the way (set reminders—don’t rely on them to remember all the time). If you’re ever falling down on the job, give this person permission to read your motivations back to you.
Fail #5: Believe in the Inevitability of Failure
Perhaps the single-most important thing you need to do if you want to fail at keeping your resolutions is to believe at the outset that the whole thing is futile. Just keep saying to yourself, “This will never work.” Sure-fire failure. Bam.
In their research on keeping resolutions, Anirban Mukhopadhyay and Gita Johar found that when people believe self-control is something unlimited and dynamic (i.e. “I can do this if I put my mind to it”), they are far more likely to stick to their guns. But those who believe self-control is limited (“I’ll never change”) have a very difficult time following through.4
While it is true that sin and weakness is part of the human condition in the present age, if you are a Christian you don’t belong to this present age anymore. Christian counselor Brad Hambrick says that with every struggle in our lives—be it overcoming sinful habits or getting through times of incredible pain—we are always simultaneously sinners, sufferers, and saints.5
- Sinner: Sin is part of our very nature.
- Sufferer: Our sinful world has caused us harm.
- Saint: We are children of God.
Yes, as sinners and sufferers we are limited in our ability to change. But as saints, we are united to a powerful Christ who is not intimidated by our sin, our lack of progress, or our lack of faith. God’s grace overcomes not only the guilt of sin; it overcomes the grip of sin. We are dead to sin, so we should consider ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11).
So if you want to fail at your resolutions, focus only on your human weaknesses and believe change is impossible. But if you want to succeed, stand firm in your identity as a child of God who is empowered by the Holy Spirit—empowered to practice a life of wisdom and godliness.
A Word to the Top 10%
Perhaps you want to be one of the 10% who will succeed at your goals this year. If so…
- Break down your big goal into smaller, concrete, measurable, and time-based goals. Create a “map” of steps for the year.
- Make a clear list of the motivations for your resolution—what your natural reward will be.
- Establish built-in reminders to your life to keep you on track.
- Ask for accountability and give permission to your friends to help you.
- Stand firm in your belief that change is possible because with Christ all things are possible.
If you succeed, let the rest of us losers know. We could use the motivation.