People who make New Year’s resolutions overwhelmingly fail to keep them. Dan Diamond, writing in Forbes, reports that researchers at the University of Scranton found that only 8 percent of people actually keep their resolutions. A failure rate that exceeds 90 percent can only be considered catastrophic.
Presumably, people who make New Year’s resolutions really want to keep them. It’s not like anyone is holding a gun to their heads. So why do nine out of ten of us fail to do what we ourselves have chosen to do?
Experts have offered valuable suggestions. They explain that our expectations are too often unrealistic. We bite off more than we can chew. Additionally, they say our resolutions fail because we do not plan to succeed. We have a goal, but no strategy for achieving it. Or our New Year’s resolutions die from starvation: we neglect to feed them with the necessary time and money they need to survive, believing our good intentions are enough to carry them through.
The reasons for failure can be summarized under three headings: vision, intention, and means. These terms come from Dallas Willard’s insightful book, “The Renovation of the Heart,” which is a helpful resource on how people change, written from a Christian perspective. Failures in these areas will usually lead to fruitless – and soon-forgotten – resolutions.
Vision is foundational to success. A while back, a friend told me that he would like to learn a difficult (for Westerners) foreign language. I asked him how learning that language would improve his life and benefit him in the future. He gave a predictable reply – it would help him in his work – and we moved on to other things. When we met again a month later, I asked him what he had decided about learning the language. He wisely responded that he had given it up for now. I was glad: his vision at this point in his life was inadequate to sustain his desire.
We keep resolutions when we have envisioned the benefits that will accrue to us and desire them more than the life we are currently living. When we have seen our future in this light, keeping resolutions is not difficult because the resolutions keep us. If we constantly struggle to keep a grip on our resolutions, it could be that no compelling vision of the future has gripped us.
When failure is caused by lack of vision, it is necessary to spend time praying, researching, and thinking about what our future could be. Distraction is the danger here. It prevents people from envisioning the future God has for them, and resolving to attain it.
The second main reason people fail to keep resolutions falls under the heading “Intention.” They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the road unpaved by intentions is even worse; it leads nowhere. At least the road to hell has interchanges that lead in the other direction.
When our failure to keep resolutions is caused by a lack of intention, it is important to state what we want to achieve in specific terms. We must decide to do it, and share that decision with others. Willard writes about people who “may have wished that what they supposedly intend would happen, and perhaps they even wanted to do it (or for it to be done); but they did not decide to do it, and their intention—which well may have begun to develop—aborted and never really formed.”
The third primary reason for failure falls under the heading of “Means.” When vision and intention are in place, the means will usually become apparent. Still, it can be helpful to identify the thoughts, feelings, habits and relationships that might prevent us from keeping our resolution. When this has been thoughtfully done, a strategy can be developed for dealing with obstacles. This will clarify the “means” for keeping our resolve.
One thing every resolution-maker should know is that will-power alone will not sustain a resolution. Will-power is more like an ignition switch than the engine it starts. Will-power can get us going, but the engine that will keep us going runs on vision, intention, and means.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 12/30/2017