It’s the holiday season. Time for the lights and warm glow of Christmas, the joy of family gatherings, the celebration marking the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. Plus, to bring the mood down a small notch, it’s also a time for New Year’s resolutions.
In years’ past, each member of my family has made a list of three New Year’s resolutions on January 1. There have been resolutions that have been easy to pull off, like I’m going to be “a better person” or I’m going to call <insert relative name here> more often. But the resolutions that often matter to our health and well-being are, unfortunately, the hard ones. Consider resolutions like:
- I’m going to start exercising X-times a week
- I’m going to lose XX-pounds by summer
- I’m going to limit/pause my alcohol consumption
Is it a sin to break your New Year’s resolutions?
The short answer: No. At least from a biblical perspective. If you’re a person who looks to the Bible for guidance, the clearest explanation can probably be found in 1 John 3:4. Depending on which translation you prefer, it reads something like this: Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, breaking the law is sin.
But there are no laws being broken when you break a resolution, at least not in a legal or moral sense. That’s because a resolution is a contract that involves only one party. You. So, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to honor a contract you have made with yourself—or take actions that result in you breaking it.
That doesn’t make achieving your new year’s resolutions any less important. Often our resolutions are related to our own health and well-being. Sometimes they’re related to issues of character, like when we resolve to keep our anger in check. That’s why, sin or no sin, it’s often important to keep our resolutions—and that starts as soon as we make them.
4 steps you can take to stay true to your resolutions
A few years ago, I wrote about George Leonard’s book Mastery, The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment. Leonard writes about the problems we have in keeping our resolutions—and how “backsliding” on these resolutions is inherent in our human nature. We fight change, even when that change is in our best interests. In Leonard’s words:
Every one of us resists significant change. Our body, brain and behavior have a built-in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed.
Leonard uses the example of a “couch potato” who decides they want to exercise. The body can subconsciously view the physical changes in respiration, heart rate and metabolism as a threat. This sets off internal alarm bells, as your brain sees the increased activity as a danger to your health, urging you to stop what you’re doing immediately.
It’s not too different if your resolution involves improving your relationship with a loved one. While you can start with the best of intentions, you may subconsciously fear leaving yourself vulnerable. At the first sign of trouble, old defense mechanisms can kick in. While it may be the brain’s way of trying to protect us, it often leaves us unable to make progress in achieving our goals.
Fortunately, Leonard has a few ideas on how we can stay on the right path and keep our over-analyzing brain in check. He offers four guidelines to help keep our New Year’s resolutions on track.
- Be aware of how the brain works. Realize that when the alarm bells go off in your head, “it doesn’t mean you are sick or crazy or lazy.” These are natural reactions and indications that real change is taking place. Leonard advises us to not panic and give up at the first sign of trouble (unless we are putting ourselves in real harm or danger). The brain needs time to adjust to change.
- Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change. Leonard tells us that negotiation is the key to successful long-term change. When the alarm bells go off in your head, stay determined and keep pushing. But allow yourself to take one step backward for every two steps forward. (Take a day off from the gym. Forgive yourself for a bout of anger.) Setbacks may happen but that’s okay, as long as you keep moving in a positive direction.
- Develop a support system. Talk to other people who have the same resolution or who have faced the same life changes you’re pursuing. These are people who will “brace you when you start to backslide and encourage you when you don’t.” You can also lean on your family. “Let the people close to you know what you’re doing and ask for their support.”
- Follow a regular practice. When you want to achieve real change, you’ve got to pursue your goal on a regular basis. A regular practice becomes a habit. One tip is to reflect on your goals at the beginning or end of each day. You’ll eventually find that resolutions can become second nature, something you do without thinking or struggle. It becomes an integral part of the new you.
May your new year be a happy and healthy one—and good luck with your resolutions!