A common practice for millions of people at this time of year is to make New Year’s resolutions. From getting healthy, starting a new career, going back to church, or saving money, many of us enter the new year with high hopes of what we are going to accomplish or change. Unfortunately, according to U.S. News, the harsh reality is 80% of these resolutions fail by February. Why is it that so many of us enter with good intentions but by the time we are just getting over the holiday hangover of too much food and spending, we are already giving up on our goals for 2019? Well, here are four ways to have your goals last past the holiday hangover.
"Start slow, set a realistic goal, and if it is too easy, make it more challenging as you go."
First, be realistic. I have seen and set many unrealistic goals. If you are currently not exercising at all, setting a goal to be in the gym five days a week is not realistic. If you are plowing through junk food like a freight train and now decide you are going on some new diet, it’s going to be painful. If you are disconnected from God and the church and then decide to read the whole Bible and be at church every time the door is open, it might be a stretch. It is easy to begin strong but true change requires a dose of realism. With these examples in mind, more realist goals would be to evaluate your diet and exercise and take a look at your schedule to prioritize God in the little moments. Start slow, set a realistic goal, and if it is too easy, make it more challenging as you go.
Second, a goal is a marathon not a sprint. I am a runner and this past year I ran my first (and maybe last) marathon. For those who don’t know, this is a 26.2 mile run. When I began to train I realized quickly that my pace for my shorter runs of three or four miles could not be maintained for 26.2 miles. I needed to adjust my pace and not just think about the first, second or even twentieth mile. I needed to figure out how to finish well. This forced me to plan ahead with clothing, hydration, fuel, proper sleep, scheduling time and more. And with all this preparation and planning, I finished my first marathon. It is the same with goal setting. You need to look at the big picture, not just a short burst of energy. If this is a permanent change of lifestyle you are working towards, reminded yourself of the goal (get healthy, get out of debt, connect with God). Then when you know your goal, make a plan, think through it, start slow, and pace yourself. Then one day, you will wake up having achieved it.
"...it is in these moments we need to give ourselves grace."
Third, give yourself grace. Often, we set goals thinking everything will go perfect not only with our goals but in all areas of our lives. But then life happens. Things break, you get sick, a job is lost, an injury happens. When this happens, it’s easy to look at yourself as a failure, but it is in these moments we need to give ourselves grace. There were certain weeks in training for the marathon where I was sick or injured. Instead of pushing hard, I gave myself grace by resting and healing. Then when I was feeling a bit better, I got back on track. I gave myself grace when needed but returned to the goal. So, when you over eat, overspend, skip your daily time with God or don’t show up at church because you decide to sleep in, instead of the negative self-talk, give yourself grace.
And finally, when you fall, get back up. Grace is great and grace is meant to motivate us to keep going. So, when you fall, don’t just say grace, but get back up again and keep going. I have seen way too many people throw in the towel on their dreams and goals because something came and knocked them down. I have also seen others who have grit and determination, so when life knocked them down, they got back up. A pastor I served with told me, “Mark, don’t ever quit. Don’t ever give up. Keep holding on trusting God, and he will take care of you.” I took those words to heart and when I face adversity, challenges, or things out of my control trying to derail my hopes and dreams, I make the decision to not quit but to get back up. Sometimes life is like a boxer and you are the punching bag. If you just keep getting back up, there will be a time where the blows stop and you can see your goals being achieved.
When I look back, I see these four practices in my life again and again. I did not start college until I was 28 years old and working full time. I believed God was calling me to get an education so I set a goal, enrolled and began my journey. Over the next ten years, through the birth of four children, many transitions in ministry and life, I was able to complete both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Were there times I wanted to give up? Yes. Were there people who both encouraged and discouraged me? Yes. But ultimately, I had a dream and a goal, and I accomplished it.
So, if you want to set goals for the new year that will last past the holiday hangover, be realistic, think marathon not a sprint, give yourself grace, and when you fall, get back up and keep going.