Why do most individuals fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions?
Written in an editorial in the Worcester Journal, dated January 6, 1883, “It, unfortunately, happens that New Year’s Day resolutions are often of the most transitory kind, and they pass away almost with the mists of the morning on which they are formed.” At the end of each year, it would not be uncommon to find a family gathered together with every individual reciting their New Year’s Resolutions of what they plan to accomplish in the upcoming year. A typical resolution that one would make is:
- Exercise more
- Eat healthier
- Stop smoking
Now all of these are good goals, but it is important to recognize the motive as to why these goals are being made. “Why?” is one of the most important and comprehensive questions one can ask because if answered correctly, there springs an abundance of wisdom that leads to not only tangible knowledge but also intangible wisdom. The motive behind most resolutions is all about self, and our world is saturated in a self-centered culture in which we are tempted to make everything about ourselves, but the scriptures offer us a completely different paradigm. A good example of this is found in Ether 12:27 which reads, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” If we read carefully, we can derive the knowledge that only through surrendering our will to Him, we allow Him to make our weak things become strong in us. We can hope to see a change in ourselves if we submit ourselves, our lives, and our beings, to His glory.
One good example of this shows up in the life of Jonathan Edwards, who is considered one of the great—perhaps even the greatest—preachers in New England. His 70 Resolutions, which he authored throughout his lifetime, have become well-known and are worth noting. His third and fourth resolutions declare: “Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God;” Through Edwards’ example we learn that we should ultimately center our resolutions on our Father’s will, and not just our own.
The Jewish new year is in the fall, around October. (There are actually 2 different calendars, but that’s another story). Rosh Hashanah is their New Year and commemorates the Creation. It is also a day of judgment in that God opens the books of life and death (think, opens the journal of what we have done over the previous year). It is a day of reflection, but it also sets up a 10-day period of reevaluation and introspection. It is a time of repentance and time to surrender our will to God. This culminates in the holiest day, the day of Atonement—Yom Kippur. This day commemorates the destruction of the golden calf during the Exodus of the children of Israel. It is a day of fasting, and it is the symbolic day that God closes the books of life and death for the year.
A Change of Focus: Progression and Improvement
As you come to the start of a new year, it’s always beneficial to reflect on the past. We reflect on all the good that happened, all the family we spent time with, the things we got better at, and even the new places we were able to go. Then, we often give gratitude to God for such a good year and with a quick glance at the bad, promise we will do better. We don’t give much thought to our failures, but if our failures are meant to build us, then it would benefit us if we focused on those failures for just a moment.
There is a simple practice we can adopt in helping us to change our focus so that our resolution to become better doesn’t resemble a bucket list. Sit down and write down the things that you felt didn’t go well. Resolutions you didn’t complete, mistakes you repeatedly made, and challenges you didn’t properly meet. For each unmet challenge, think about the processes that did or did not happen and why things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Recognize that your imperfections do not define you and that you may not get things right the first time. You have the opportunity to try again, so do it! Create goals based on what you’ve learned so that you can improve in those different areas.
Instead of ignoring the previous year’s failures, recognize them and learn from them. A life without failure is a life not lived to its fullest. Learning from our failures is just that—learning, and helps us to recognize incorrect patterns of behavior that we need to change or adjust in order to succeed at the things we find difficult. Recognizing failure and moving forward in faith can help us win smaller battles that accumulate over time into larger wins. Warriors aren’t born, they are trained, developed, and battle-hardened over time, one conflict at a time.
The Secret to Success: Letting God Prevail
It may be that we could choose to recognize our mistakes and try to correct them entirely on our own. We can attempt to change our mindset and list a handful of our best New Year’s resolutions, and they might last a few weeks, but will they produce lasting change? Will they last a lifetime? Of course, we must put forth our best efforts and work to achieve that which we want or feel compelled to do, but our efforts will fall short of producing lasting change if we do not allow God to prevail. True change comes through the Savior Jesus Christ. While the world may bend to the fickle winds of change, Christ intends to wrought within us a change of heart that will prevail throughout time and eternity. Shifting our own mindset can only take us so far—we need to allow Christ into our hearts and minds so that we can live wholly for our God, just as Jonathan Edwards did.
President Nelson’s talk, “Let God Prevail,” delivered during the October 2020 General Conference has become a battle cry for Latter-day Saints. While we must not presume to sit back and wait for God to do everything, we can embrace President Nelson’s counsel and let God prevail in our life. That will look different for everyone, but as we prayerfully consider the Lord’s will and ask him to guide us in laying out our goals, He will help us achieve the impossible.
Finally, as we prepare our plans for the New Year, we should reflect on the previous year’s journey, listing our successes and identifying what we need to repent of. We should also celebrate. It is a time to celebrate that we have lived another year, but it is also a time to surrender our will to God. To realign with Him in all we do. Rather than making a list of “I will, or I want” resolutions this year, consider writing a list of “Thy will, not mine be done” commitments. Focus on giving, loving, and lifting. Take back your kids from the evil of the day!
God bless the families, and may God speed our efforts in building Zion in our homes.
Happy New Year!
Russ & Heidi Barlow and the TruthSeekers Team