2 Reasons Your New Year’s Resolutions Fail (And A Foundation For Fixing Them)

In less than three days, we’ll say goodbye to 2014.  Before we do, nearly half of us will make New Year’s Resolutions. We want this year to be better than the last.  But, we know we need to do more than think happy thoughts.

What’s on your list?

Writing Resolutions Tojosan via Compfight

In some ways, research shows, it doesn’t really matter.

  • 25% of people abandon their resolutions after 1 week
  • 60% give up after six months
  • Just 5% those who lose weight keep it off; a high percentage gain back more than they lost
  • Only 8% of people are successful in achieving their resolution

All of this can make you want to lock yourself in the nearest closet with a bunch of Big Macs and pretend your family doctor doesn’t exist.

So why is lasting change so hard?

Thoughtful experts like Michael Hyatt have broken it down pretty well.  For example, you’re likely to fail if you:

  • make too many goals – more than 7-10 is overwhelming;
  • don’t write them down – one study by Dr. Gail Matthews shows that doing this alone increases your chances greatly;
  • don’t make them specific – ‘growing in my relationship with God’ is a great desire, but it’s so ethereal that you’re unlikely to identify next steps or know when you’ve made real progress

Many experts say that we fail to keep our resolutions because we don’t understand certain ‘best practices’ (like the above), or, fail to actually live them out.  I agree.

I’m all about learning from others and using (or adapting) tips or a system to help.  But as a Christian, I think our struggles and problems with resolutions go much deeper than we tend to see.  Or want to admit.

Here are 2 reasons I believe traditional New Year’s Resolutions are an epic fail:

  1.  Traditional resolutions don’t work because we don’t have much resolve.  Sometimes, we want to do what’s right, but find ourselves weak and frail.  Other times, we really don’t want to do what we should.  On one level, I want to ‘be more patient with my children’, but another part of me likes – at least in the moment – being a Grinch.  This is an example of sin (see 1 John 3:4, for example).  And it partly explains why I don’t follow through on what I hope to.
  2. Traditional resolutions don’t take God’s desires for us into account.  It’s totally legitimate to ‘become more physically fit’ or ‘pursue a new area of learning’.  God cares about what we want – we’re his children after all.  If we ‘delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give [us] the desires of [our] heart’ (Psalm 37:4).  But because we’re limited and fallen, we need his input.  In some cases, our desires need to be re-shaped or even let go.  In other cases, my dreams are way too small and God wants to give me something bigger and better.

Put another way, New Year’s Resolutions tend to misfire on some pretty basic, important things.  On the one hand, they miss my weakness, and tell me ‘you can do it’.  Which is scary because I know how much I’ve failed.

On the other hand, they ignore God and give me the impression that he’s optional to my dreams and plans.  That if he works for me, that’s great.  But listen to James: we ‘do not know what tomorrow will bring… [we] ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that”‘ (4:14, 15).  God has to be central to any success I have.

Put positively, any resolution or goal-setting process needs to be honest about both my weakness and, therefore, God’s wisdom and strength.

As I close, I know that I haven’t left you with ’10 seductively easy tips to a great 2015′.  There’s definitely a need for more practical help and I hope to cover some of that – or refer to others’ work on it – in early January.  But talking about what doesn’t work and starting to lay a positive foundation for what does are an important start.

Question: What resolutions or goals have you set in the past?  How would you explain your successes or failures?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.