Good Health, Spiritual Formation

10 Tips Toward Making Resolutions that Stick

resolution list

To this end we always pray for you,

that our God may make you worthy of his calling

and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 

so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you,

and you in him,

according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

So. Here we are. One week into 2016, and I’m wondering: Did you make any resolutions this year? If so, how’s it going? Are you standing strong? Finding success? Or have you already jumped ship?

According to a study out of the University of Scranton, 45% of us usually make resolutions. Our resolutions most commonly involve losing weight, getting organized, and saving money. Other frequent goals include getting fit, learning something new, and falling in love.

Honorable goals, all of them.

Unfortunately, though, the same study reveals that a measly 8% of us are successful at changing our lives in the desired ways. Hmm. Well, that gives us pause.

Last Saturday Peter and I had the opportunity to discuss New Year’s Resolutions on Julie Roys’ radio program “Up for Debate.” (You can listen to our knock-down-drag-out fight here. Brace yourselves.) Peter took a position against New Year’s Resolutions. But I said that I still believe.

I believe in a God of new beginnings (Isaiah 43:18-19).

I believe in the Spirit’s power to effect deep life change (Romans 8:12-17).

I believe that such change involves both our commitment and a supernatural work (Philippians 2:12-13).

I believe that the New Year can be an important time to draw a line in the sand and begin again.

And I also believe that—in order to be effective—resolutions need to be made in a very particular way.

So here are 10 tips toward making resolutions that actually stick…

  1. Resolutions should be specific. When we vow to “spend more time with family,” our intentions are noble, no doubt. But it will be hard to measure whether we have been successful or not. And we will have a hard time knowing exactly what to do differently on a day-to-day basis. Rather, let’s give ourselves a target we can hit. Perhaps we will leave work by 5 p.m. every day to be home for dinner. Or maybe we will reserve every Sunday as a family day. It’s much easier to aim our attention at a clear and precise objective.
  1. We should write our resolutions down. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, did an interesting study on goal-setting with 267 participants. She found that we are 42% more likely to achieve our goals just by writing them down. Apparently, the act of putting our intentions on paper forces us to articulate our goal and increases our commitment.
  1. We should establish a plan of action. This means we need to attach a specific when and where and how to our goal. If our resolution is to “run three miles, three times each week,” we need to schedule that run for every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as soon as we drop the kids off at school. We need to lay out our running clothes and shoes the night before and put them on first thing in the morning before we lose our resolve.
  1. We should gather the necessary resources. We must make sure we have what we need to set ourselves up for success. If we resolve to spend 30 minutes in Bible study each morning, we may need to download a reading plan or purchase a new cowhide journal whose blank pages invite us to reflect. If we resolve to remove sugar from our diet, we will undoubtedly need to clear out our kitchen and buy healthy alternative foods.
  1. We should replace undesirable behaviors with desirable ones. It helps to frame our resolutions as a challenge, not a threat. It helps to focus on the positive that we want, rather than the negative that we’re leaving behind. It helps when we resolve TO DO such-and-such, rather than to NOT DO something else. For example, if we want to stop gossiping, let’s focus instead on speaking words of encouragement and support. If we want to stop drinking caffeine during our afternoon break, let’s try replacing that fix with a walk around the block.
  1. We should create a strategy for dealing with potential disruptions. Goal researchers call it our “if/then” plan. It’s our pre-determined approach to the obstacles that we will undoubtedly encounter. If we attend a party where there are too many treats, then we will reach for the healthier alternative we have already packed in our purse. If we receive a bonus from work, then we will put it straight into our savings account where it is less accessible and less tempting to spend. If someone invites us for a coffee date during the time we had committed to clean our house, then we will offer to meet them on the following Tuesday instead.
  1. We must commit. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of good old fashioned “grit.” Researcher Angela Lee Duckworth studied young cadets at Westpoint and students at the National Spelling Bee. The question she sought to answer was this: What is the difference between those who meet their goal and those who do not? She wondered: Is it raw intelligence? Resources? Something else? “In those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success,” she said in a popular TED talk. “It was grit.” Plain old persistent perseverance.
  1. We should celebrate small success. Michael Hyatt says it this way: “If we’re going to be brave enough to set big goals, we must also be brave enough to redefine failure.” If we have a setback or don’t make progress at the rate we might hope, we needn’t throw up our hands in despair or call the whole thing off. Change often happens slowly, and any movement in the right direction is growth. Let’s see it and celebrate it as such.
  1. We can offer ourselves a reward. Much of human behavior happens because there some sort of payoff as a result. We drink that cup of coffee because it gives us the buzz we need to get through the day. We buy that new (but unnecessary) device because it offers more features than the version we currently have. Sometimes the new behavior we are resolved to implement doesn’t come with the same measure of immediate gratification. So we can spur ourselves on with a dangling carrot of our own design. A new outfit when we lose the weight. An overnight trip if we save the money. Attendance at a conference if we meet our writing goal.
  1. Finally, we should invite accountability. Growth often happens best in community. So we needn’t try to go it alone. We should tell at least one other person about our goal. Better yet, can we find someone who has a similar resolution and work toward our desired outcomes together?

Remember that study out of Scranton that I mentioned? Although the 8% success rate might put us off the resolution idea, the same study found that “people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t.”

So if you haven’t made any resolutions yet for 2016, it’s not too late! Begin with this prayer, “How can I see You glorified in my life this year?” He’ll show you something. I have no doubt. Then—using the guidelines above—just dive in. Any day is a good day to grow.


0 thoughts on “10 Tips Toward Making Resolutions that Stick

  1. Kelly, thanks for your list. I actually write down longings for my year, rather than resolutions. But some of my longings are very specific (and sound a lot like resolutions). The whole process helps me process priorities, boundaries, and helpful or unhelpful current behaviors.

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