How do you feel when you hear the phrase, New Year’s resolutions? Excited? Defeated? Skeptical? In recent years, New Year’s resolutions have gone out of style in favor of goals. The idea is that New Year’s resolutions are vague, so they don’t work—but goals are more defined with action steps, so they work.
I disagree with this philosophy.
What I’ve found in my own life is that neither one will work unless I go about it the right way. Before we get into that, though, let’s look at the difference between New Year’s resolutions and goals.
New Year’s Resolutions vs. Goals
According to Google, the definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not do something” and the definition of goal is “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.”
With those definitions in mind, I would say a resolution is about stopping and starting habits, and a goal is more of a check-it-off-your list accomplishment, such as building a garden shed or writing a book. Both of those are good things.
The problem isn’t in the word resolution or goal, the problem is how we go about trying to follow through on our resolutions and goals.
Two Approaches to New Year’s Resolutions and Goals
If we only use man-made tools (plans, lists, action steps, etc.), we’ll only be able to do the things we can accomplish in our own strength. For example, I’ve always been great at accomplishing my recreation goals because I’ve always been good at recreation. But I used to be terrible at accomplishing my work goals because I’m not naturally good at work–I can’t do those goals in my own strength.
Thankfully, we don’t need to rely on our own strength. If we’re willing to go to God for help and lean on His strength, we’ll be able to succeed even if we aren’t strong in that area. We’ll still use our lists and plans, but we’ll go to Him when we can’t make ourselves follow the plan.
At the end of this post, we’ll look at a 5-step process for achieving goals and resolutions using both practical tools and spiritual tools, but before we do that, let’s look at 10 lies that get in the way of our New Year’s resolutions and goals and 10 truths and Bible verses that will help us persevere and gain success with them.
10 Lies That Hurt – 10 Bible Verses That Help
1. This will be easy. At the beginning of the year, we’re all fired up. We think, This will be easy! I’ll just make a list of goals and then I’ll change! Unfortunately, change can be a long, slow process with a lot of glitches and failure along the way. We’ll be more likely to succeed if we have realistic expectations of the process. Jesus told us what to expect from life, and this is also true any goals or New Year’s resolutions we take on.
These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
2. This is too hard. After we realize it’s not going to be as easy as we thought, we often jump to this conclusion: It’s too hard. This isn’t true! The truth is what we told our little kids when they were growing up: You can do hard things! Especially when we know that God is with us.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need. Hebrews 4:15-16
3. I can’t do it. This is the lie that always come after “It’s too hard” in my journal. I don’t know how many times I’ve written it. Hundreds, I would guess. But here’s the great thing. I’ve written this lie over and over, recorded the truth each time, and then years later, have seen success in the area I thought I would never change. Not because I’m a super disciplined, I-can-do-all-things sort of person, but because of the real-life truth of the following Bible verse.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
4. It should be easier than this. Because we live in an era of entitlement, we often think everything should be easy. Or we might believe the Christian version of this lie: All I have to do is pray and God will give it to me. The truth is that God usually wants us to be involved in our own transformation. It’s a partnership: He asks us to renew our minds and do anything else we need to do on a practical level to succeed with our resolutions or goal, and He does the transforming. All of that—even the renewing—takes time and effort. It rarely falls into the fun and easy category. Instead, we see the truth of this Bible verse over and over.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11
5. I will never get over this. Because we start out thinking it will be easy, we’re always surprised when we fail. This usually happens in the first week or two, and that’s when this thought comes into our heads: This is just like all the other times. I’ll never change. The truth is, it will only be like all the other times if we give up and if we fail to keep renewing our minds. If we instead go to God for help, renew our minds to get His perspective, and keep trying even though it’s painful, we’ll succeed. God will help us.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6
6. I’m such a (hopeless case, loser, wreck, failure, miserable excuse of a Christian, etc.). One thing that gets in the way of renewing and also pursuing goals on a practical level is self-condemnation. Satan loves to see us beating ourselves up because he’s the condemner of the saints. It helps to remember that ALL of us struggle with not being able to change the things we want to change. The apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of what to expect when we try to change something we haven’t been able to change before. It’s not pretty. When you’re tempted to beat yourself up, read he wrote in Romans 7:15,18 and then tell yourself, “I’m not a miserable excuse for a Christian. I’m a NORMAL Christian.”
For I do not understand what I am doing; for I am not practicing what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. Romans 7:15,18
7. Why do I bother? After the 10th year of putting the same New Year’s resolution or goal on our list, we’re ready to give up at the drop of the hat because we don’t really believe we’ll be able to change this time either. We tell ourselves we’ll never change anyway, so why bother? Here’s the truth: We bother because God wants us to bother! He has things He wants us to do and He also wants us to live an abundant life—not a life controlled by our habits. Yes, it’s hard to press on, but it’s always worth it in the end when we slowly begin to see God changing us.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12
8. I just need more discipline. One of the problems we run into when pressing on is to think that we just need more discipline. This is a problem because most of us set resolutions in areas of our lives where we don’t have discipline. So if we need it, we’re out of luck. Thankfully, God is in the business of giving discipline to those who need it. Another word for discipline is self-control and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. It comes through walking with God in hard times—so it doesn’t come all in a flash and it doesn’t come by madly trying to drum it up. Instead, it comes as we go to Him each time we fail and allow Him to fill our minds with truth, perspective, wisdom, hope, and the strength to carry on.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:16, 22-23
9. If I just renew my mind in the morning, that will be enough to make it through the day. Truth changes our desires. So when we renew our minds, we actually want to follow through on our resolutions. Unfortunately, truth doesn’t last all day—at least in the beginning. So we’ll need to renew our minds throughout the day if we want to follow our plans.
That, in reference to your former way of life, you are to rid yourselves of the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you are to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
10. God won’t love me until I change in this area of my life. Another thing we often do is to think we have to be perfect for God to love us. When we get in that frame of mind, we feel like we need to get perfect first and then ask Him for help. This is backwards. What we really need is go to God first, confess our sin, then work together with God on sanctification. We need His help. And working on goals and resolutions is far more enjoyable and hopeful when we have Him helping us along the way. And here’s the thing, we have a God who knows what we’re going through and wants to help. Why not take Him up on it?
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (Hebrews 4:15-16, which I listed for the second lie, is also a good Bible verse for this one.)
My prayer is that God will set us free with His truth in the areas we want to change this year. I hope you’ll consider making some New Year’s resolutions or goals this year and then go to God for help with the transformation process. Let’s take a look at a process to find success with your goals and resolutions.
How to Succeed with Your New Year’s Resolutions and Goals
- Make a resolution or set a goal. The quandary is always, how many do you make? I think that depends on how far along you are in the self-control process. In the old days I used to make probably 20 of them, but the only goals I would accomplish were the goals in the recreation department! Now I make maybe 10 and I would guess I would complete about 8 of them. In my coaching classes, they tell us that it’s best to have only three big goals to work on at a time. If you have too many, it will be hard to follow through on them. So even if I have 10 for the year, I don’t work on all of them at once. I would try to set at least one resolution (breaking, controlling, or starting a habit) and one goal that you can check off when it’s finished.
- Make a plan, dividing your goal or resolution into manageable action steps. It may help to research your goal or resolutions (find out how others have accomplished it) before you come up with a list of action steps. Make the action steps small enough that they’ll be easy and non-intimidating to tackle. With a habit, your action steps may be something like “lay your clothes out to go to the gym each evening” or “put your phone in the kitchen at 7:00 at night” or “make a chart to record how many time you renew your mind and/or do your habit.”
- Forget about the goal and focus on the first step in your action plan. When you see the whole goal stretched out before you , it seems overwhelming. It will be much easier to make yourself work on it if you just focus on a) the first step if it’s a goal or b) just one day with your habit if it’s a resolution. This keeps you from getting overwhelmed.
- Renew your mind whenever you can’t make yourself do the next step. Since we’re transformed by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2), it’s essential to renew our mind if we want to see change. Click here for ideas of how to renew your mind: Renewing of the Mind Tools.
- Keep your eyes on the real goal (eternity with God) so you don’t get stressed out along the way. When you feel like you have to succeed, it’s easy to get stressed because you know you may not succeed. But when we focus on Jesus, we’ll be far more relaxed, as we remember our final destination and His grace along the way. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Following are some resources you can use for help with your goals and resolutions.
Resources for Going to God for Help with New Year’s Resolutions and Goals
- Freedom from Procrastination – You can use this Bible study to overcome procrastination if you’re a chronic procrastinator, but you can also use it to work on your New Year’s resolutions and scary goals. I’m currently going through it myself to work on a hard goal (one I’ve procrastinated for a few years) and it’s really helping!
- Renewing of the Mind Project: Going to God for Help with Your Habits, Goals, and Emotions – this is a book that will help you make a project out of your goal or resolution. It contains practical renewing-the-mind help plus 250+ Bible verses and 49 sets of questions you can use for conversations with God about your goals and resolutions.
- If you struggle with fear of failure, check out the Fear of Failure, Disappointment, Worry, Lack of Confidence, Fear of Condemnation, or Reward/Obsession questions and Bible verses in the Renewing of the Mind Project. Also, remember that you have a Helper
- The self-condemnation, insecurity/feeling inadequate, perfectionism, greed/lust, and failure questions and Bible verses from the Renewing of the Mind Project would all be helpful ways to renew after failure
- New Year’s Bible study – this is a Bible study series you can do at your own pace on my blog
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Question: What do you do to get yourself to follow through on your New Year’s resolution or to focus on your word for the year if you’re going that route? What do you say that makes you want to give up?
Note: This is an update of a post that was first published 1/20/13 without a podcast episode.