It’s been only weeks since you began that New Year’s resolution, whatever it may have been, and many of you are beginning to struggle with keeping your promise. Maybe it was to quit smoking this year, or maybe it was to lose weight, or for Christians, maybe it was to read the whole Bible in a year. Statistically, however, a large chunk of resolution setters have already fallen off the wagon, with more to succumb as the weeks tick by.
The Washington Post covered this phenomenon, and found some interesting information:
“A 1989 study by John C. Norcross of the University of Scranton shows that 77 percent of resolvers had been able to keep their commitments "continuously for one week," and follow-up research by Norcross in 2002 put the figure at 71 percent for one and two weeks. That means that about 25 percent of us don't stick with it for seven measly days.”
This means that by now almost 30% of us had given up on our New Year’s goal by last week, and that’s where the slide continues:
At three and four weeks, 64 percent reported continuous success, according to Norcross's 2002 research. That fell to 50 percent after three months and 46 percent after six months. Only 19 percent deemed themselves successful in reaching their goal and sticking to the effort when Norcross followed up his 1989 survey two years later.
The same article on WAPO listed the areas where people were focusing on changing their lives and reported that after only weeks many had already gone back on their resolutions:
According to a 2012 online Harris poll of 3,036 adults conducted for Norcross's book "Changeology," the top resolutions were weight loss (21 percent), improving finances (14 percent), exercising (14 percent) and getting a new job (10 percent). Cutting back on smoking and improving a relationship were cited by just 5 percent and assertiveness by just 1 percent of the respondents.
According to Mark Stevens, owner of several fitness centers in the Anytime Fitness chain, “by March most of the ‘resolutioners’ have already dropped off, and that actually starts by mid-February.”
In other words, while some of us are still hanging on to our goals of losing that weight before the summer, or whatever our goal is, some of us just aren’t going to pull it out this year.
While your goals may not necessarily be fitness related, Mark does offer some advice on keeping them this year:
2) If your goal is big, don't be afraid to break it into smaller, more manageable goals.
3) Don't burn yourself out. Make your plan something that you can live with once the enthusiasm wanes.
4) Reward yourself if and when you hit your initial goal.
These will apply to whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish. Let’s look at them individually. The first step is accountability. It’s always easier to accomplish something if you have a team behind you. They can help you get back on track, and be there to keep you from falling back into bad habits, or help you keep developing good habits. It might sound a bit cliché, but you don’t have to go it alone.
The second step is about goal setting. Let’s say you need to lose 100 lbs. this year. Trying to do that by June isn’t likely to occur and will just put unneeded stress on you. Maybe you wanted to read the Bible completely through in one year but you are struggling to keep up with the reading. You can always increase your goal at another time, but make sure starting out you do it in a manageable fashion.
The third step is about burnout. The road is long and winding and no matter what you promised yourself, eventually, you might get sick of working at it, especially if you didn’t listen to number 2 and set an unreachable goal. This is also where number 1 comes in, and those accountability partners will help push when you seem to plateau.
The final step is to set a reward for yourself when you start hitting your initial goals, the ones that you set in step 2, on your way towards fulfilling your ultimate goal. These may be a night out, or a movie, or maybe even a piece of chocolate. It is also equally important at each of these steps to reevaluate your reasons for setting the goal in the first place.
The most important goal to set for the year is to know God better. Consider the words of J.I Packer in “Knowing God”:
“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”
Whatever your goal is this year, I pray that you will continue to press on and remember that even if you stumble, God will continue to be on His throne, available for us to cry out to Him for strength and perseverance. If you don’t know Him already, this should be the highest goal that we have in our lives. There is no nobler goal than to establish a relationship with the God you endeavor to spend an eternity with.