4 Tips to Make Your New Year’s Resolution Last
It doesn’t take much to keep a New Year’s resolution, but it doesn’t take much to fail either. Americans notoriously struggle to keep their January drive all year long. According to a 2020 poll, 68% of Americans report giving up on their resolutions by February 1.
It turns out that most people know why they failed to keep their resolutions. The top reasons are “a self-aware lack of discipline” (52%) and busy schedules (43%), as well as two in five reporting societal and peer pressure to quit. Those factors aren’t going to simply disappear.
Yet we keep making New Year’s resolutions anyways. There’s an admirable reason for our unsubstantiated optimism — we recognize the value in self-improvement and the power of setting goals to give us a sense of accomplishment. However, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Expecting that we can succeed by doing the same old thing that failed last time is, well, crazy.
So, how do we get our well-intentioned resolutions to stick around beyond a month? Here are a few tips that can help (though there’s no instant fix):
1. Post It Prominently. It’s harder to neglect something you see every day, or even multiple times a day. So, if you post your goal somewhere where you will see it frequently, you will constantly remind yourself what you resolved to do.
Write your goals on notecards and post them by the mirror, the faucet, the light switch, the steering wheel (“don’t get angry in traffic”), the TV remote, the computer, the refrigerator (“fewer snacks/sodas”), or wherever you’re likely to see them frequently. Obtain a nice poster and hang it in your hallway, restroom, or common area, so you can read your goal from further away.
This strategy works especially well for goals like memorizing or meditating on Scripture, where simply remembering the goal goes a long way to accomplishing it. God even directed the people of Israel to remember his commandments in this way, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:8-9). There are plenty of great verses you can read in 15 seconds while you wash your hands or brush your teeth.
2. Find Accountability. You’re probably more likely to do something if you tell others you intend to do it. That’s the reason why 41% of resolution-makers tell others their goals. Instead of negative peer pressure derailing your resolve, faithful friends could actually encourage you to stick with it. This is especially valuable if you get behind or despair of keeping it.
Tell a friend or two about your resolution goals and invite them to ask you how you’re doing. It can feel uncomfortable at first, but real friends will be willing to do what’s best for you. Devise a way to check in regularly — say, monthly — so your good intentions will not be overtaken by inertia. This is especially helpful to practice in the context of a local church, where you and other members have committed to help one another grow in Christ.
This can be a way to implement many biblical commands, too, such as “exhort one another every day” (Hebrews 3:13) or “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). External incentives like this can be a great help in building habits of self-discipline and personal holiness. In fact, this is the bread and butter of many discipling relationships.
3. Track with Others. Most people identify individual resolutions to pursue (and often abandon) individually. But have you ever considered forming a New Year resolution in common with others? This has the advantages of the previous point, with extra buy in. If you’re competitive, it can add a little friendly competition. If you’re married, you and your spouse can do it together. In addition to telling others their goals, a further 37% of resolution-makers enlist friends to adopt the resolutions, too.
Check in with friends to see how you’re doing. If one person is falling behind, the other can share ideas for how they can catch up. You could even set a reward, from a cup of coffee to a steak dinner, for the one who performs the best over the course of an entire year.
This strategy works well for reading-related goals. You and your friend could commit to reading the Bible together (FRC has a two-year plan to read through the entire Bible). Or you could read through another good book or series, such as “Living Life Backward” or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and get together to discuss it. This strategy also works well for various diet- and exercise-related goals, and more.
4. Do It with Others. It’s hardest to skimp on fulfilling goals you literally complete alongside others. If you not only commit to the same goals as others, but commit to completing them together, it’s nearly impossible to fail.
All it takes to make this work is to put meetings on your calendar and to not cancel or miss your appointments. Yes, life will sometimes intervene, but the goal is faithfulness, not perfection. If you absolutely cannot meet most of the time, then your schedule may simply be too full. That’s a signal to reevaluate which of your commitments really matter.
This is a great way to practice praying more, particularly with fellow church members. Jesus said, while speaking about the church, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). An additional benefit of praying with others is that you must pray out loud, which can keep your mind from wandering. A helpful guide, such as “Praying with Paul” or prayer calendar for persecuted Christians, can help give you substantial topics to pray about and direct your prayers in a God-honoring direction. This is also a great way to serve others — volunteering at a food kitchen, helping a family move, or visiting an elderly widow can become regular, and blessed, parts of your weekly or monthly routine.
You may have noticed that none of these tips reinvent the wheel. If anything, they’re common — even ordinary —suggestions. But when we get into the ruts of everyday life, sometimes a simple nudge or reminder is enough to unstick our wheels. New Year’s resolutions won’t affect an overnight revolution in your life; they are most successful when they aim for the more modest goal of developing a new habit. And in forming good habits, such ordinary support systems are indispensable. So, don’t try too much, but consider putting at least one of these tips to good use this New Year.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.