At the beginning of a new year, we often hear of people making New Year's Resolutions. Decisions that people want to make in order to better themselves or accomplish a goal that they’ve been thinking about for a long time. Lose weight. Read more, connect with friends, strengthen relationships.
A relatively new thing that has started to gain traction has been getting a ‘word’ for the year. The word could have a deeper meaning for the person but can be a simple reminder or compass that helps motivate or direct action for the year. Some popular words of the year are ‘simplicity’, freedom, relationship, self-care.
Over the years, some of my resolutions have been successful, others not so. And I know I’m not alone—I’ve read up to 75% of new year's resolutions fail within the first month! Jimmy Fallon, host of the Tonight Show, has a segment called “hashtags” where he crowdsources twitter posts using a specific hashtag. His #resolutionfail came up with some pretty funny posts:
My resolution January 1st was to lose 15lb. As of today I have 20 to go. #resolutionfail
My resolution was to make better decisions. Four days later I got stuck in a baby swing and had to call the fire department to get me out. #resolutionfail
My friend’s resolution was to text less. I know that because he texted it to me. #resolutionfail
Even though the data shows that resolutions are likely to fail, I don’t think that it's reason enough not to try. There’s a reason why we want to make resolutions, to come up for a word, to try to be better.
Somewhere in our hearts and mind, we know that we were made for more.
Physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually—there’s more to our life than what we’re currently experiencing. When January first rolls around and a new year begins we’re drawn into the idea that a fresh new start can begin. Our shortcomings and regrets can be left in the previous year and a new year can begin.
Often in the gospel, we hear Jesus giving people new starts, through physical healing or forgiveness of sin. He restores people then sends them on their way “go and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11)
Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”. St Iranaeus said that the Glory of God is man fully alive. When we make resolutions we are wanting to be more of what God wants us to be. We are wanting to experience the abundant life that Jesus promises.
With this in mind, resolutions can be gifts to us. A new year can offer a fresh start, a reboot, and a beginning to a life where we can experience joy and happiness.
Many of us have made resolutions in the areas of health, exercise, career, education, or relationships. While these can be life-giving, a spiritual resolution can bring you closer to God and closer to who He has made you to be. In fact, when our relationship with God flourishes all other aspects of our life can flourish. A spiritual resolution can be as simple as learning how to pray or finding a way to serve the poor, getting involved in my church community, or returning to the sacraments.
If you’d like to make a spiritual resolution and you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips to help you succeed:
Make your spiritual resolution a SMART Goal.
Setting a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound will increase your chances of accomplishing your goal. You might have seen this framework used for exercise or career and project goals, but it can be equally as useful for spiritual goals. Here are some examples of SMART Spiritual goals:
“Develop the habit of daily prayer by reading the bible for 10 minutes at the start of my day”
“End everyday by reflecting on the activities of my day and thanking God for the blessings of my day”
“Make the sacrament of reconciliation more than just a Lent and Advent activity by going to confession on the first Saturday of every month”
“Make Sunday matter by doing something I enjoy that is restful
Write Down your goals
Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, at the Dominican University in California, led a study on goal-setting with nearly 270 participants. The results indicated that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
Take some time not only to think about your goal but also to write them down. Preferably in a place where you can review it regularly.
Focus on skills, not just motivation.
I remember learning how to rock climb. I was motivated by the idea of becoming a climber but no amount of motivation would get me to the top if I didn’t have the strength and technical skills to climb.
Motivation will get you started but you’ll need to develop new behaviours and skills in order to get through the “messy middle”—the part of the journey where motivation has waned and the new habit is still developing.
Learning how to read the bible, how to pray, journal, or start a small group - are all skills that can be developed over time. We have articles and workshops that can help. Here are a few that can get you started:
Talk to others about your resolution.
St John Paul II said “faith is strengthened when it is given to others”. Talking to others about your spiritual resolution offers practical social accountability, and it can also strengthen your faith. I remember a time when I found it uncomfortable to talk about faith matters with friends and family (sometimes I still do). A small step towards overcoming this fear is sharing a resolution in a simple way. Start by opening the conversation up with “did you make any new year's resolutions? I decided that I’d like to pray more”. Verbally saying out loud your resolution to another person strengthens your commitment to that resolution.
With God, we don’t have to wait for a new year. He gives us a fresh start every time we turn towards Him.
God is pleased with our intention and our effort, even if we aren’t able to accomplish the resolution as we had set out, God loves us and delights in us just as we are.
Today, take the time to start writing your spiritual resolution and get started. And don’t worry about your #resolutionfail, know that “with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26)