Newsletter 559 – Failed Resolutions and Some that Could Succeed

2013-2014Probably all of us have read about the failure rate of New Year’s resolutions, especially those that involve a determination to change habits. This is apparent at the gym where I work out. Every January there is an upsurge in the numbers of people lifting weights or walking on the treadmills. Come early February and the newcomers have disappeared. Recently (November/December, 2013), Psychotherapy Networker published several articles on the challenge of changing habits. One writer, Steven Stosny, draws on the story of Scrooge in Dickens’ Christmas Carol to argue that “except for saints and literary characters, enduring change rarely happens as the result of being knocked off our feet by a spiritual or psychological” insight, or by a New Year determination to change. Most lasting change is gradual and difficult. It can take months or even “years of trial, practice, reinforcement of some behaviors, and active discouragement of others.”

Consider this. Anything we think about or do repeatedly eventually becomes automatic. “Thinking about what we don’t want to do usually reinforces the impulse to do it” because “neural connections forged by repeated focus grow physically larger and stronger.” The better alternative includes developing behaviors and habits that are incompatible with what we don’t want. A New Year’s resolution to lose weight can help but to succeed we need to avoid places and friends that encourage us to overeat, focus on activities that encourage and reward healthy eating, practice new behaviors (like exercise), and/or commit ourselves to people who hold us accountable. God uses all of these to bring the changes that we pray for.

I have goals for the New Year but no resolutions. One goal is to focus more on working with people who are at choice points in their careers. I have been there myself and find great satisfaction in helping others get past being stuck. These are people, perhaps like you, who could use some encouragement and insights to get moving to newer levels of service and impact. For me, this new focus may mean a little less teaching and travel but more emphasis on writing and on coaching and journeying with individuals. Do you have a shifting focus for this coming year? Please tell us about it by leaving a comment.


  1. I think God provides us with events or periods of time that can act as inflection points for change. But these inflection points are ephemeral and need the application of sustained effort to bring lasting change. This year end for me represents a key inflection point which I recognise; and am challenged to now work towards some new goals .
    I agree with no New Year resolutions except one ;to continue to grow closer to God through my thoughts and actions


  2. Gary, thanks for these thoughts. Unfulfilled new years resolutions become self-fulfilling prophecies: Since everybody knows that they tend to be discarded soon, we feel little commitment to them, and hardly any regret when we ignore them.

    But goals, that’s a different matter. Goals are serious and look difficult from the start. In my case, this year I would like to accomplish a yet unclear professional change, break even financially, and figure out where in the world to settle longer term. Obviously no easy and deceptively actionable new years resolution would be adequate for this.


  3. Gary, this comes at a good moment as I am considering “goals” for the upcoming year. This is a major transitional year and I really want to use it well. Resolutions seem very short-term for me, but a reminder to set aside some time and focus on 1 and 3 year goals is critical right now. Thanks for this.


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