It’s now February, and we’re six weeks into 2023. By now, the reality of the new year has settled in, and you may be considering abandoning your once shiny, hopeful New Year’s Resolution(s). If so, you’re not alone. This is so widespread that there are “unofficial” dates for ditching resolutions. Some research shows that January 17 is “Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day,” and others cite the second Friday in January as “Quitter’s Day.” But before you decide on the fate of that resolution, I have two points for you to consider.
Do You Want It?
First – is this resolution or goal something you actually want? This question might sound silly since the obvious answer is that you wouldn’t have chosen it if you didn’t want it. But I invite you to consider this question more deeply.
Do you really want this, or is it something you think you should do? Or maybe it’s something someone else values and wants to do (or wants you to do)? If your resolution is not what you truly want, it’s unlikely you will have the ongoing enthusiasm and motivation to do the work to make it happen.
If your resolution falls into this category, it’s worth exploring it further. Consider the resolution again, and determine if there is a different variation of this resolution that you want. For example, your resolution may have been to meditate daily (because it’s a “good thing” that you “should” be doing). But your reflection has made it clear that you have mixed feelings about this. Now would be an excellent time to consider modifying your resolution rather than abandoning it together. Instead, you could try just 5 minutes of daily meditation for 30 days and then decide whether or not to continue. Or you could set your goal to meditate just once a week.
However, if there isn’t a variation that you want to invest your limited time and energy into obtaining, then let it go with no shame or remorse. You aren’t weak, undisciplined, or lazy. Instead, congratulate yourself for now having better clarity and insight around this goal. And remember that letting it go doesn’t mean you have to let it go forever. You may have other obligations on your time or other priorities in this season of your life. If current circumstances make it too difficult to be successful, let it go rather than continuing to feel bad about not sticking to your resolution.
Where Are You Struggling?
Second – if you’ve confirmed you want this goal but are struggling, then it’s time to analyze exactly how and why you’re struggling. And the answer is NOT because there’s something wrong with you! Change is hard, especially change that involves breaking or starting a habit. Successfully implementing change is a process problem to solve rather than a personal failure inherent in you. Get curious instead of berating yourself. This is just a puzzle that needs your problem-solving skills. And to start the problem-solving process, you first need data. Here are two data points to consider:
- Is your resolution too big or ambitious? Rather than ditching the entire thing, you could be more successful with a scaled-down goal or incremental approach. For example, I wanted to add another day at the gym every week. Rather than doing my usual set of exercises on that day, I began by only doing easy work on the treadmill. And now, a month later, I’ve started gradually doing more on this additional day. Make it easy to start and continuously improve on your work. (For more info on this approach, check out this article by James Clear on continuous improvement.
- What is the specific stumbling block to your efforts? There might be a simple change to your process that would make it easier. For example, I’m trying to cut back on sugar. White knuckling this wasn’t working very well. I looked at a stumbling block (wanting something sweet after meals) and tried to figure out if there was something easy to change that would make this problem disappear. After trying a few things, I found a solution. I make herbal tea while making dinner, so it’s ready and at a drinkable temperature when I finish my meal. At that point, it’s easier to drink the tea than to hunt around the kitchen looking for something sweet. (Note that I tried a few things before finding a solution. If your first attempt doesn’t work, try something else! Don’t give up too early.)
None of this is easy, and I’m writing this because I need frequent reminders! But changing my mindset around resolutions and goals is a shift that helps me be more successful and happier when making changes.
I’ve read a lot about the science of habit change. James Clear (Atomic Habits) and Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) are two of my favorite authors if you’re looking for more resources and inspiration on this topic. Their books provide science-backed research but are easy to read and offer practical ideas. I return to these books frequently and find new ideas to practice with each subsequent reading.
A Closing Prayer
I began the New Year with such hope and enthusiasm for making positive changes. I dreamed of becoming healthier and happier, being a better person, and bringing more of Your light to the world. But six weeks later, that initial enthusiasm has faded. I cannot ignore the reality of my limitations and am visibly confronted with what I see as my failures. Help me know deeply in my heart that these failures are part of being human and come from our desire always to be better. Comfort all of us who are berating ourselves in the boomerang whiplash of failed resolutions and give us clarity to decide how to move forward in love. Remind us that we are all valued and loved, regardless of how many of our self-imposed goals and resolutions we achieve. Amen.
Well written and insightful, per usual. But just bc it’s “per usual” doesn’t make it any less provocative or helpful. I’ve been thinking about how I can’t keep a resolution but I can keep my commitments to God for Lenten sacrifices. When the commitment is to Him and not to me, I can succeed. Which shows me that I can indeed accomplish a goal. Maybe Lent needs to be for longer than 40 days? 🙂
Gretchen Rubin was curious about this phenomenon, researched it, and wrote a book about it! She explored how people are different about meeting outer expectations (i.e., external commitments) and inner expectations (i.e., self-imposed). People fall into one of four categories. You (and I) are in the most common category – we easily meet commitments to others but struggle with those we set for ourselves. Her basic premise is that it’s good to know which type you fit into, and then there are things you can do to manage yourself. And it’s also helpful to realize that not everyone is the same!
Such good perspectives. Love the reminder not to berate or punish myself. I resolved to quit smoking Jan 17. I do want to so your reading enforced my resolution.
That’s an excellent resolution. Be nice to yourself throughout the process – it’s not easy to do but will be so good for your health!
Thanks for this message Cathy! As usual you invested alot of yourself sharing this!!
For me ‘is your resolution too big or ambitious?’ becomes ‘is your resolution too big or ambitious because you are trying to make it happen all by yourself?”
If i truly believe God wants this transformation for me… then I give it back to Him and listen for updates on how -He- wants to proceed. :> I don’t always manage to do this and sometimes I only do this when I utterly fail trying to make it happen without Him. I don’t think He cares how we arrive at asking Him, just that we (finally) ask. He has -infinite- patience so He will wait for me, for all of us.
Good point – if we’re trying to make a change that is truly good for us, then we don’t have to do it all on our own. God helps and may send us assistance and support through other people if we’re aware enough to notice!