Happy New Year! Are you making resolutions for this year? Here are three ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of your goals in 2017:
Examine your resolutions to make sure they are actually addressing your struggles rather than distracting from them.
When people are struggling in one aspect of their life, it’s common to devote a lot of attention to another area in order to distract from the larger issue. An extreme example of this is the eating disorder I faced in high school. A lot of changes were happening at that time that I couldn’t control, such as my best friend and my sister both moving away. Physical health was one area of my life where I felt I had some control, and I sought that control with a passion. It took several months and some professional therapy to help me see that my obsession with “healthy” eating was not healthy and to find appropriate ways to deal with the emotional turmoil I was ignoring.
More often, though, we engage in more subtle forms of this behavior, and its subtlety lies in the fact that the only unhealthy part of our choice is using it as a distraction. Maybe it’s deep cleaning the house whenever a difficult work project is looming. Maybe it’s pouring extra time into the children to avoid confronting your spouse about an issue. Maybe it’s taking on extra ministry projects to hide from a dwindling prayer life. Or it could be a number of other things.
The comforting news is that we all do this to some extent–just look at how clean dorm rooms become during finals week–and a moment’s distraction is not going to cause major harm. The behavior becomes problematic when we distract ourselves for days or months on end, leaving real issues to fester and worsen. In light of this, it’s important that we thoroughly examine ourselves, and perhaps get input from others, reflecting on our strengths and our weaknesses and our values when setting our goals for the New Year. With this self-knowledge, we can better ensure that we are aiming our pursuits toward and not away from our most important struggles.
Make SMART goals to accomplish your resolution.
SMART is an acronym commonly used to help people make goals that are more likely to be kept and to be helpful. There are some variations on what each letter stands for, but I have gained the most benefit from using the terms specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding, and time-bound.
A specific goal is one that is easily defined. Measurable refers to having concrete criteria to determine the success of your efforts. Attainable means a goal that can be realistically obtained while still challenging you. A rewarding goal is something that serves your values and priorities. And lastly, a time-bound goal has set time marks or deadlines for you to track your progress and to keep you from procrastinating.
This is an example of a SMART goal: “In January, I will set aside 45 minutes of each weekday and two hours of each weekend to study to avoid the need for cramming.”
This is an example of a not-so-smart goal: “This year, I’m going to study better.”
Hopefully you can see in these examples how the SMART criteria foster more successful and helpful improvements.
Having SMART goals also means making both long term and short term goals. For example, if you want to lose 25 pounds by August, you may need to make more detailed short term plans for each month (i.e. “Every day in January, I will drink at least eight glasses of water to stay hydrated”). Your goals may need to change along the course of the year, but drawing out a long term plan provides a direction with which to begin.
Charity should remain the priority.
St. Paul tells us that without love, the virtue of charity, we are but “a clanging symbol” and “gain nothing,” indeed that we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
In light of that, it would benefit all of us to read St. Paul’s discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 and reflect on how our New Year’s resolutions are living this love to which we are all called. The first three verses discuss how we can do things that appear great in the eyes of the world and even loving, but they mean nothing if we do them with no actual love in our hearts. The next verses describe the various qualities of love: “Love is patient, love is kind” and so on.
We need to examine our resolutions throughout the entire year and ask ourselves if we are doing them out of love or purely for self-gain. For example, wanting to keep a clean house in order to serve your family is probably based on love. Keeping a clean house to impress others is likely more about self-gain.
There may also be times when we need to modify or even take a break from our resolutions if they are hindering our charity. Naturally, making changes can make you prone to moments of impatience or a short temper, and those closest to you will hopefully be understanding and supportive as you adjust to your new commitment. However, if your resolution is causing severe or consistent losses of charity, it should be modified. An example might be a commitment to de-cluttering that prevents you from spending enough time with your family. In such cases, goals may need to be reassessed and modified to maintain charity.
Above all, it is important to remember that knowing our true motives, our areas of weakness, and what God is asking of us in the new year will absolutely require prayer and communion with God in addition to personal reflection.
From all of us at Mount Tabor Counseling, may God grant you a blessed and peaceful New Year.
This article is not intended to be or to replace professional counseling or medical advice.
Copyright 2016, Mount Tabor Counseling