I hate New Year’s resolutions. They are a polite conversation piece while at a party with friends and family. It is a bunch of worthless empty talk, and the worst sort of virtue signaling possible: promising something but failing to do it.
Why do we put off doing the thing we need to do, and why are we slow to stop doing the things we need to stop doing? New Year’s resolutions—and Lenten sacrifices, for that matter—are a trap: they show us exactly how full of baloney we are.
When we procrastinate, we are not thinking in the present tense, but stuck worrying about the past and the future. I have found that making decisions in the present as situations come up has much better results that actually stick. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I make resolutions year round. A more frequent habit of self-reflection makes changes more likely than assuming we can jump cold-turkey into new ways of living.
Eighty percent of us fail to keep New Year’s resolutions, says clinical psychologist Joseph J. Luciani. I am no perfect example, of course, but I have found success with making big changes throughout the year instead of once a year, such as deciding to tighten up my budget by going without air conditioning. I have also not gone back to Facebook after dropping it, and it is still glorious!
Here’s how I make changing bad habits more of a routine rather than a once-a-year attempt. Let’s say I need to cut back on my caffeine intake. First, I won’t say, “I will never drink coffee or energy drinks again.” Scaling back slowly sticks better than cold turkey.
I can go cold turkey on a vacation, though, because then my whole schedule is different. When I am in that mode, I don’t need or desire caffeine. When I get back, it feels great to be back in the driver’s seat. I can decide that I don’t want it back in quite yet. So a vacation cold-turkey kick can be effective. Otherwise, I take it in incremental steps.
Or take exercise goals: I can’t put these off for the new year to start. It is today or never. Instead, I sign up for an athletic event in the future such as a marathon, which motivates me each day because I know exactly how miserable I will be peddling up the Iowa hills and river valleys that are not-so-gentle when you are on a bicycle and facing a headwind.
The faith angle is also important. “‘Everything is permissible’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ but not everything builds up (I Corinthians 10:23 CSB).” I am free to live differently and the goal is for my life trajectory to always be getting closer to a better ideal until I finally run across the finish line and shake hands with those who cheered me on. I still have a long race to run.
If things need to change in my life, there needs to be urgency. Waiting for New Year’s is as silly as punting the ball on a third down. Yes, passing or running the ball has risk, but you’ve got to move the ball! It is as if we set our alarm, but hit the snooze button and wonder why we are always late: this is one of this hard habits to break, but no excuses, it is no way to thrive. Today, I will do the thing that I need to change, not wait a few weeks.
I hate New Year’s resolutions. They have good intentions, but what is the road to Hell paved with? It is good to live a truthful life daily, as a habit, not as a wild attempt once a year. Living life with purpose trumps wishful thinking every time.
Sometimes, things go haywire, of course, and we get thrown off track. We need to roll with the punches and bounce back right when we are knocked down. For making real life chances, it really is now or never. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, and I find that helps my desired life changes to stick.