A new year inevitably brings with it those pesky things we like to call "New Year's resolutions". This is often when we decide to "shape up" or "make a big change". Things such as eating right, working out, breaking old habits, and building new ones. I've found that whenever I make a New Year's resolution, I more often than not fail to live up to my own expectations. I want to work out, or eat right, or play less video games but I often don't make it past the first few weeks. Statistics say that most of us will make it a week, or even a month, but only 46% of us will keep our resolutions longer than 6 months (http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/).
So, if most of us don't keep our resolutions past the 6 month mark, do we even try? My answer is yes and no. I do think making decisions to change our lifestyles is very important, however, the hype and false sense of urgency that New Years can bring will often lead us down a path that is less helpful and often leads to frustration followed by failure. That has been my experience anyway.
Here are some humble suggestions that I have found have helped me become successful at making lifestyle changes. Perhaps they will help you as well.
1) Get a vision for the future. One thing that helped me immensely was creating a picture of what my life could be if I made a few changes. I began to imagine all the things I could do with my extra time if I played less video games. I began to imagine what it would be like to run up a flight of stairs (or 3?) and not be out of breath. I began to imagine how I would grow spiritually if I could spend daily time with God. The point here is that I focused on the end picture rather than the specific activity or habit. Often we get so caught up in doing this one thing (eating right, working out, etc.), that we miss the whole point! Keeping my focus on the big picture helps me maintain a proper perspective. When I fail (and I inevitably do), it isn't an earth shattering miss-step, but rather a detour on the road. I've found that when I can keep a consistent image of what could be I tend to not sweat the small detours or times of slow progress. I know where I'm going and as long as I keep that picture in my mind I find it easier to make choices that over time will align with my intentions.
2) Take small steps. One thing I've learned about myself if that I'm a "try hard". This means that when I do something, I tend to do it big (go big or go home is my motto). This can be great for one time challenges or small projects, but when it comes to lifelong change I find this mentality often sabotages the good work I want to do. I've found that when I try to do it all at once (diet, exercise, running, no more pop, and listen better to my wife) I do it really well for a couple days, but as life begins to set in and my resolve begins to fade I inevitably run out of steam and become discouraged. The better way I've found is to ask myself "what is one thing I can do today that will move me towards my life picture?" Taking it one step at a time as my life allows provides me with daily successes that I can begin to build on all while keeping that future picture in mind.
3) Zoom out a little. Many of us want results fast and our culture of "now!" has conditioned us to be impatient. I've found that when I take a step back and think logically about my expectations or goals I become way more patient with the progress I'm making. One example of this is my weight. I'm about 20 to 30 pound heavier than I would like to be and my wife and I began exercising together about 3 months ago. While I had hoped to be quickly shedding the pounds and be fit as a fiddle by now (that's what the DVD promises), I have come to be content with my progress of 5 pounds. Why? Well, I've come to realize that it took me about 10 years of habits and choices to bring me to where I am today, so it is rather silly for me to think that I can reverse all of that in only 3 months! In fact, when I allow myself to look at my progress long term and in view of my vision for the future I seem way more resilient to times of slow progress or even regression. As long as I keep making small choices and steps toward my life picture, I know that I am making progress even when it doesn't feel as fast or satisfying as I think it should.
My prayer is that all of us will be given a healthy vision for the future in 2014 and that we can all live life to the fullest in God's strength.