“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NASB1995).
As the New Year begins, many people have made resolutions. For the most part, they are good ideas: many are sincere efforts to adopt healthy lifestyles and habits or eliminate harmful behaviors.
Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I usually set periodic goals for myself. These may be around New Year’s Day, but other times of the year offer opportunities to make changes in one’s life. For Christians, Lent is an opportune time for self-reflection, repentance, and developing new habits.
Studies show that most people do not stick with their resolutions. The average New Year’s resolution lasts about 17 days. Fitness centers will be crowded for about two weeks. After that, much of the New Year’s crowd will dwindle, and attendance will be back to last year’s levels by February 1. (Apparently, January 17 is an unofficial holiday—Ditch New Years Resolutions Day. This is the date that the average resolution is abandoned.)
There are perhaps several reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail. First, fulfilling plans for a long time demands endurance. It is easy to do things once or twice. It is harder to do it every day at the same time. Many people grow discouraged and give up when they fail to keep a habit going for a while. “I vowed to go to the gym every day. I was too tired on Thursday. I failed. I quit.”
A second reason is that we cannot see what will happen in the future. I have a pretty good idea about my schedule for tomorrow. There are other upcoming events that I am looking forward to in the coming weeks. However, I do not know what will happen in June or July. When our circumstances change, we may need to change our plans. Plans and promises we make in January may be completely unrealistic in June or July if our health, obligations, or finances change unexpectedly.
So, what is the solution? How can we attempt to make meaningful, lasting, positive changes in our lives while avoiding the risk of disappointment by failing to fulfill long-term promises? Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous recommend living one day at a time. A popular resource in such groups is “Just for Today,” which you can read in its entirety here. The basic premise is that you do not try to tackle every problem in your life at once; you simply face the coming day’s challenges and get through those. Many recovering alcoholics say things like, “I have 10 years of sobriety,” meaning that they have not had any alcohol in that time. A friend of mine, when preparing to celebrate his sobriety anniversary at AA, once said, “I only have one day of sobriety, but I have those ‘one days’ for 25 straight years.” He did not focus on never drinking again; he just focused on getting through the next day.
For some, one day may be too much. We need to just get through the next temptation: the next hour, the next fifteen minutes, etc. One day might seem overwhelming, let alone an entire year or the rest of your life.
Seize the next day. Redeem the time for the next 24 hours and use it to God’s glory. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34, do not look too far ahead. The next 24 hours will bring enough problems. You do not know what crisis or temptation you will face in the future.
This does not mean we have to just wander impulsively through life without a plan or goals, but we need to realize that our goals should always be focused on the short term. Few authors write an entire book in one day. They plan ahead, set realistic short-term goals, and achieve them. Novelist Stephen King writes about 2000 words (about 8 page) per day. He recommends that novice authors aim for 1000 words per day; if that seems too daunting, they should aim for 300-500 words. That small commitment eventually adds up to a full-length novel.
Turn any long-term goals into short-term goals. Make them manageable for the next day. Write them down. Make the best use of your time to achieve them. If you can schedule a particularly important activity, write it in a calendar and make it a top priority for that period.
If you fail to achieve that goal, do not give up. Do not let discouragement or a fear of failure hold you back. Try again tomorrow. One day’s failure does not have to become a lifelong defeat.
Realize that your goals may need to change with your circumstances. Early in 2021, I planned to write at least one post per week on Darkened Glass Reflections; I hoped to aim for two or three posts per week when time allowed. However, my total output was only 47 articles—less than one per week, far below my original goal. Between a vacation in July, my mother’s illness and death from August through November, and other challenges to my time thereafter, my productivity dropped significantly during the last half of the year. There was no way I could plan for some of those obstacles one year ago. I had to adjust to new stresses and unexpected crises.
For 2022, my goal is to be faithful to God one day at a time. I might have an idea what that will look like over the next few weeks, but only God knows what the world and my life will look like much after that. However, He always knows the best path for our lives, and we can always look to Him for wisdom and guidance.
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8, NASB1995).
What has worked for you when trying to change habits or behaviors? How do you accomplish personal goals most effectively? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.