On the failure of New Year’s resolutions…

‘But change must always be balanced with some degree of consistency’ – Ron Burton

The change from one year to another provides the perfect opportunity for us to believe that we can change. While the designation of years is quite arbitrary, it’s ubiquity adds to the illusion that a new year is a new leaf. We think that somehow this year will be different. Well not entirely different – the good things won’t change, but the bad things will slowly evaporate as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st of December. Fortunately this is not the case. Apart from our calendars, the only thing that changes from one year to another is personal resolve. We resolve to exercise more, eat healthier, work harder, think differently, risk more, be more. In essence we want to be better people, so we resolve to change. I really love this about us humans – this inner desire to be more than we currently are. The collective action of individuals desiring to grow culminates in the advance of society. Progress is simply the aggregation of individual advancement. But I am getting off topic here 🙂 Where was I? New Year’s resolutions, yes.

What I’ve realised in the last few weeks is that we lose our reputation with ourselves when we over-promise but under-deliver. When we make personal commitments, we are in effect making a promise to ourselves. The only problem with doing this is that your reputation is now on the line. When you make a promise to a friend – ‘I promise I’ll be there at 9AM, count on it!’ – and you don’t keep it, your friend loses his trust in your word. True, it is unlikely to be the result of only one broken promise, but these things add up in time. If you promise to do things, but regularly don’t follow through, people will soon learn that your promises are not really promises at all. The same is true of our relationship with ourselves. We make resolutions to live differently, to use our time differently, to be different people – but if we consistently fail to deliver on these resolutions or promises to ourselves, we stop believing what we tell ourselves. This is a much more grievous situation than it may sound. When you cannot trust yourself, you will find it very difficult to trust other people, or more importantly, God.

So, if it is so important that we are able to trust ourselves and believe the promises we make to ourselves, what is the solution to this problem? I think the key is to be realistic about the promises we make to ourselves. It’s not a very glamorous answer, but I think it is the right one. Don’t over-promise. There is something to be said for the axiom ‘Under-promise and over-deliver’. When I make a commitment to do something and actually fulfill that commitment, I become more trustworthy in my own eyes. I’m more likely to believe the voice in my head in the future because that voice is trustworthy. So now I don’t make promises to myself that I know will be really difficult to keep. I refuse to commit to exercise for an hour a day, read for another, pray for another, and then to fast every second day…it’s just not going to happen. We should not measure success or progress by what we start, but rather by what we finish. So I will make resolutions about many things, but they will be within my grasp. And then I will do my utmost to be consistent in the outworking of those resolutions. Rome wasn’t built in a day people….

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