I still remember one particular January 1st in the 90s. I was in college, and I was determined to make that year one of my best. My head was a bit foggy from a late-night gathering at a friend’s house the night before, but that didn’t damper my mood—I was armed with a journal and a pen, and by golly, I was going to make some resolutions.
Equipped with a cup of joe at the local coffee shop and headphones plugged into my old-school CD player (which I’m sure was playing something like The Cranberries or Spin Doctors), I scratched out my resolutions:
- Give up Dr. Pepper
- Wake up at 6 a.m. and have hour-long daily devotionals
- Read through the Bible in a year
- Clean out my car every day
- Write all my papers a week in advance
- Read one book per month, for fun
- Go to the gym four times a week
- Learn how to play the guitar
I don’t have to tell you how smashingly these resolutions failed. I don’t even remember their outcomes, which tells me I was probably gung-ho until about January 12, when I started to waver. By the end of the month, I’m sure I was back to bicycling past the gym after class in order to crack open a Dr. Pepper and watch the latest Friends episode.
What went wrong?
Now that I’m a bit older and have a smidge more experience under my belt, I can look at this list and immediately see that I set myself up for failure. For one, I had eight New Year’s resolutions. Eight. No human could successfully adopt that many good habits at once, no matter how resolute.
Secondly—I was erecting huge mountains in my path. Forget waking a few minutes earlier to pray, or to cut back to only a few weekly sodas—I was an all or nothing gal. Each of these lofty goals required undivided attention, but the mere fact that there was more than one meant divided attention was unavoidable.
I’m a perfectionist by nature, so I know these resolutions were meant well. I wanted better for myself, and they addressed the imperfections I saw. But I left no room for grace.
Heaps and heaps of grace
I’m all about the grace now. 15 years and three kids later, I know too well that I only have 24 hours in a day, and my brain cells can multiply only so many times. I still fight that beast called perfectionism, but I know I’m human.
I prefer striving for excellence, not perfection.
This is the main difference between resolutions that work and those that don’t. The ones that stick around for the long haul are enveloped in grace and focus on excellence. The ones doomed to fail are armed with whips and require perfection.
New Year’s resolutions get a bad rep, for good reason—they’re impossible to keep. But I love making goals. There’s something about turning a calendar page to a new year that motivates our conscience. It’s a clean slate. We’re hopeful for the next 12 months.
I say use that to your advantage instead of pooh-poohing New Year’s resolutions’ stereotype. Make those goals. But do so realistically.
I wrote my second book this past fall—it’s called One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler. It’s a great compendium to your goal-making this month, and as the title suggests, it feeds you morsels of motivation so that you can simplify your life a bit at a time. Instead of drinking from the fire hose, the book invites you to cup your hands into the stream of grace.
The book is uber-practical: categories include money management, time stewardship, organizing your space, and living green. Topics covered include decluttering your kids’ art collection, establishing a morning routine, and switching to non-toxic cleaners. 52 all together.
You can use the code HAPPYNEWYEAR to get $1 off the book until this Tuesday, January 10.
I’ll be back on Wednesday, sharing my own personal 2012 goals. Be thinking of yours!