So, it’s two weeks into 2018. And if you’re like me, the fresh promise of a new year has already soured within your mouth. You started out well. You even felt enthusiastic. But by now the budding resolutions for self-improvement have quickly frozen beneath the arctic blast of winter realities.
That may sound melodramatic, but I mean every word of that sentence. Literally.
You see, your problem (and mine) with keeping New Year’s Resolutions is not due to a lack of self-discipline or an inability to establish a well thought out plan. After all, we wake up early every day, juggle multiple responsibilities and stressors at work, and continually problem solve the unexpected to ensure that deadlines are met.
It is not because we hate change (we do many things we hate to do to make life function smoothly).
Nor is it because we love excuses (How often have we expressed our intolerance for our child/teen’s “reason” for misbehaving?)
No. Our problem with keeping our New Year’s Resolutions is, plain and simple…
Wanna begin jogging again?
Great! But on the first day of your new exercise regimen, you look at your phone and see it’s 25 degrees outside!
Wanna begin losing weight?
Ok! But then you realize that almost everything you eat this time of year is warm and high in calories.
Maybe you want to begin reading the Bible all the way through this year?
But it’s so toasty under the covers, five more minutes won’t really effect my reading plan…will it?
Maybe you want to watch TV less and read more?
But that fuzzy blanket and cup of hot tea make you too sleepy to read.
And, honestly, how are we supposed to infuse our lives with new meaning and new rhythms when everything in nature is screaming for us to pack in the food, take long naps, and stay dormant until spring?
And wouldn’t that make more sense anyway?
Imagine starting your New Year’s Resolutions in late March or early April. The birds are chirping. The flowers are blooming. And the bright, warm sun shines with renewed purpose in an iridescent sky. Everything seems primed to dance to a fresh music of hope. To feel the flush of life reddening our cheeks. To be fresh, alive, and invigorated to begin a new season of life.
I know we always begin resolutions in January, so we can start the new year off right.
But who says that the calendar for changing your life must be dictated by the goose-stepping Gregorian months?
Why not dispel this winter madness and begin our resolutions in the Spring!
After all, it’s not a lack of desire, or self-discipline, or even willpower. No, our biggest problem is that the frigid hand of winter always takes the pulse of our resolutions.
OK. MAYBE THAT’S A LITTLE TONGUE-IN-CHEEK
But it’s not entirely untrue either. Everyone has a winter they must endure before the spring arrives. Sometimes this is literal. Sometimes it is metaphorical. But whether your winter is short or practically Narnian, there is always something within winter that punches us in the nose and dares us to get back up.
It may be something as frigid as the temperature outside or it may be something as Siberian as grief. Either way, whatever your winter may be, it is important to remember that salvation does not come in despair.
It comes in hope.
It comes in the grace of a promised Spring.
It comes through the thawing warmth of love, rescuing us from an eternity of suffering.
And it comes in the smell of fresh-cut praise to a God who continuously creates new beginnings for us.
It comes with starting over.
TO ERR IS HUMAN
Too many times we treat our goals like fragile, living things, when in fact we should think of them more like video games. There is not only one opportunity to get it right. There are multiple chances to start over, learn from our past mistakes, and overcome our obstacles. Goals do not have to die quickly. Nor do they have only one life to give.
Every day you live, every choice you make is a new opportunity to alter the trajectory of your life.
The problem is that most of us believe that we must accomplish our goal on the first try and any failure to do so creates a seismic rift that tears hope away from the shore of possibility and drops into the ocean.
If more of us would begin our journey towards change with the belief that it is okay to fail at our resolutions, that failure is, in fact, an expected and necessary part of the process, then we could avoid the guilt and shame we feel when two weeks have passed without us going to the gym.
Sure, such behavior may be disheartening, but the weeks of “resolution abandonment” will only expand when we believe that starting over is an indication of a severe character default, rather than an unobstructed view of the obvious: You’re human.
Even the most venerated people in history have experienced the lessons of failure. The difference between them and us, however, is that they have learned the value of starting over. Whether it is Winston Churchill, who said:
Or Henry Ford, who reminded us:
You see, failure is a universal experience.
You cannot avoid it. You cannot escape it. You cannot out plan or out organize it. Sooner or later, your willpower will run out, your foresight will fail you, or your enthusiasm will evaporate. And you will, inevitably, fail.
But be encouraged. This is a necessary part of the process!
In fact, you want to fail.
Asking, “How do I avoid failure?” is the same as asking “How do I avoid growth? How do I avoid wisdom? How do I avoid ingenuity?” All of us require failure to embrace progress.
Therefore, the question is not “How do I avoid failure?” The question is, “How do I persevere once I have failed?”
Or, “How do I start over?”
THE IMPORTANT THING
Fortunately, this, too, is not a complicated answer, for perseverance is made up of only 8 simple principles.
Those who persevere:
- Don’t confuse the fantasy of the “I want to” for the reality of the “I am doing.” Suckling on the dopamine-infused teat of “how great things will eventually be” can temporarily ameliorate the guilt of not moving towards the goal, but those who persevere realize that dreams without action are only fantasies. Dreamers dream. Perseverers act.
- Rebuke themselves for thinking, “I can’t.” Belief in the possible is the only thing that moves one to accomplish that which is viewed as impossible. The message of “I can’t” places a giant STOP sign in your brain and turns off the creativity. Those who believe they can, in spite of the obstacles, are those who usually do, while those who believe they can’t are those who usually don’t.
- Break their tasks down into manageable bite-size tasks. Perseverers keep themselves on task by viewing the steps in their goal as measurable, calendared tasks that they can do. They do not tell themselves that they have to lose 30 pounds. Instead, they focus on simply riding the bike or walking the treadmill for the next 45 minutes.
- Do not repeat the same failure twice. Creativity is the essence of perseverance, and those who continue onward, despite their failures, are those who continually look for another way to accomplish the goal. As the story goes, Thomas Edison once proclaimed that he could not quit trying to get the light bulb to successfully work because he knew more than 10,000 ways NOT to do it!
- Understand that victory is more important to focus on than consistency. Some would argue that consistency creates victory, but when a person changes their “I want to” into an “I have to…at ALL COSTS!” the struggle to be consistent evaporates. Only succeeding matters. Nothing else.
- Know that tomorrow’s possibilities hold more promise than today’s failures. As Napoleon Hill once said, “Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”
- Continually renew their enthusiasm. They continually remind themselves of the necessity for success, what they are fighting for in this battle, and the joy that awaits them at the finish line of success.
- Understand that fear is not an obstacle. It is the misunderstood and misinterpreted excitement one has when embarking on a journey that ensures challenge as well as change. Roller coasters may be anticipated fun for one person and a step towards sure death for another. The only difference between fear and excitement is the interpretation one places on the event.
So, if you are like me, and you find that your New Year’s resolutions are collecting dust on your bathroom mirror, find the faith and hope to embrace the promised spring.
So what if you’ve already blown your diet or have fallen behind on your reading plan? You can push yourself off the floor, brush the dust off your dreams, and persevere. You can start over.