Making Effective Resolutions

A new year has arrived and it is the time we are thinking about making needed changes in our lives. We often refer to these as resolutions. I have a list and you probably do too. They might be things like,

  • “This year, I’m going to relax and not worry so much.”
  • “I will eat less and exercise more so I can loose weight.”
  • “I’ll save more money this year.”
  • “I’ll want to get along better with my family.”

I had to ask myself a question the other day: Why are some of my resolutions the same as last year? The answer is very disconcerting! They were important and worthy, but here I am including them again this year.

Our brains have enormous “plasticity.” That means they can create new cells and pathways in most remarkable ways. At the same time, our brains create strong tendencies to do the same thing over and over and over again. The old pathways never disappear. 

Lasting change requires establishing new pathways and that takes lots of practice. Many brain scientists tell us it takes 6-9 months to create new ones that are stronger than the old ones. Sadly, there are no seven-day programs that magically change us for good.

It is easy to make a list of resolutions, but far harder to put them into practice! Sometimes though, we fall into common resolution pitfalls like:

  • Being vague about what you want
  • Not making a serious commitment
  • Turning slip-ups into give-ups: we all blow it once in a while, but mustn’t get discouraged

I am reading a book by a well-known psychologist, Dr. Roy Baumeister, entitled: Willpower. It provides some amazing insights into how our brains work to bring about change in our lives. 

To truly change requires willpower which is a finite commodity that gets depleted as we use it. Yet at the same time, it is strengthened by repetitive use. In many ways it is like a muscle. Doing a whole lot of pushups and then immediately jumping up to to see how much you can bench press doesn’t work. Over time muscles can be built up, but in the short-run they can be fatigued.

Willpower is a precious commodity, so how do we best manage it? Dr. Baumeister suggests several ways:

  • Use willpower when it is freshest and strongest
  • Spent it wisely
  • Use it to cultivate right habits
  • Set goals, but not too many at one time

Too often we try to make our resolutions reality by ourselves. The help of family and friends is often crucial to success. However there is one more Person that we too often overlook, and that is God. 

Dr. Baumeister does not mention this in his book, but the Bible teaches that God is the great restorer of the will. Prayer, Bible study, and meditation on His love restores, and does not deplete, willpower. 

This is the one act of will that actually replenish willpower, rather than depleting it. This year I plan to rely more on Him, but It is not easy for me to surrender my will and admit that I need help.

The Apostle Paul said it best in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

As I look at my resolution history, I need that help. How about you?