New Year’s Resolutions vs. Year-Round Discipline
by Serenity Miller
"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline… He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:7, 9)
So, how 'bout them New Year’s resolutions? Some surveys say four out of five people will break their resolutions, and a third of them will do so in the first month! While the beginning of a new year comes with a new sense of motivation (like starting a GracePoint blog—yay!), what does it take to follow through the rest of the year?
In short, the answer is discipline, but we’re not exactly born with that. If we were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation! Maybe some people can wake up one day and say, “I’m gonna get in shape this year” and actually do it, but for most of us, there’s a difference between the idea of making resolutions and the disciplined process of setting attainable goals.
Earlier this month, The Wesleyan Church posted “10 Personal Questions to Start 2019 Well.” https://www.wesleyan.org/10-personal-questions-to-start-2019-well Looking at all of this potential, where do we start? Author Dan Reiland states, "My advice is not to make a list too long. That can be overwhelming. If you do make a long list, then prioritize it and start with a short list of the most important things first.”
I don’t know about you, but I like to have a goal. I have long-term goals, short-term goals, in-between goals… and about every six months or so, I end up re-evaluating, re-prioritizing, and re-focusing on the goals that are most important. Otherwise, I can lose track and never make much progress on any goals. We can’t do everything all at once! So I’m continuously re-learning to start with one thing, and focus on doing one thing well, before adding another thing.
That ties in with our Big 3 philosophy about starting points for church connection...
This can feel frustrating at first, when we want to get involved, make a difference, and see big changes right away. We want to go all in! But discipline builds on itself. Discipline in one area of life builds discipline into other areas of life.
So, how do we decide which goals are the most important? Sometimes, God leads me to set a major life goal that determines many decisions and takes years to accomplish (like ordained ministry, a 2020 goal set way back in 2013). Other times, though, I hear myself throwing around a lot of vague, guilt-based, half-hearted goals, like “I really need to start working out again” or “I’ve really gotta work on that savings account” or “We should really stop eating out so much." When I catch myself, I have to stop and ask, “Am I honoring the Lord in this area of my life?”
Then it’s not about how I feel or what I want or what you think I should do. Then it's about being called to honor the Lord with my body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), be faithful with the resources He’s given me (Luke 16:10-11), and encourage others to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
God’s will has a way of simplifying a lot of decisions. "Is what I'm doing honoring to God?" Yes? Well, do that, then. No? Then change that. Here’s a way to start...
Part 1: Set a SMART Goal.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost...?” (Luke 14:28)
Once you’ve identified a change that’s important enough to follow through, let’s get “SMART” about it. A reason most people fail to achieve goals is we don’t set specific goals to begin with. The advice is given so frequently it sounds cliché, but the fact is, creating a written set of goals can be a first step toward actual, tangible progress. After all, if you’ve never written down your goals, and you do that today, then you’ve already made more progress today than you have before. Ta-da!
Effective goal-setting is outlined in the SMART model:
To develop a SMART goal, don’t be afraid to dream—embrace God’s potential for your life! Now articulate...
Part 2: Create an Action Plan.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3)
When we break down a “big” goal into a series of “small” goals, change starts to look sustainable. For instance, it might feel overwhelming to say, “I want to read the whole Bible in a year.” But this is actually a quite specific, measurable, attainable, right, and time-bound goal. With this SMART goal identified, an action plan provides a set of logical steps to follow. For example:
With a SMART goal broken down into an action plan (even one this simple), it doesn’t look so overwhelming after all! And the smaller we break down the action steps (for example, book by book or even chapter by chapter), the quicker we gain momentum.
To draft an action plan, first picture your end result: the completion of the goal you’ve identified, in the time you’ve set to complete it. Now, work backward from there:
Moving forward means taking the first step, then the next step after that, and the next step—and so on. So, what's the next step you can see from where you’re at right now? (Don’t worry, we’ll always be asking God to adjust the course as needed, as we go.)
Take another look at the “10 Personal Questions to Start 2019 Well.” https://www.wesleyan.org/10-personal-questions-to-start-2019-well Pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring your attention to an area where you need God’s help, to live in His purpose and grace. Then ask for His power to do it!
What specific, measurable, attainable, right, and time-bound goal has God given you in the year ahead?