It is the month of resolutions, the month of diets, an attempt to return to moderation, and a lot of willpower to change something about ourselves in 2023.
As we all know, our best intentions in January often fall away by February. Why? Because most of what we do is by habit, and habits don’t change overnight. In fact, research shows that it takes everyone a unique amount of time to replace a habit with a more positive one based on any number of variables. Habits are generally learned through repetition, but they also require motivation, and the more intrinsic, or internal, that motivation, the greater the chance of success.
Before you surmise that all of this is too hard and throw in the towel in frustration, I’d like to share something I heard my pastor say in his New Year’s sermon. He said that before we make yet another resolution that is all about us, perhaps we should make some resolutions that are about other people. In doing so, he suggested, we may actually stand a shot of keeping our promise to ourselves, of producing the outcomes we resolve ourselves to.
You might ask how this works. After all, resolutions have always been based on looking internally and reflecting on how we can make ourselves better. Turning our focus to others derails the intention, right? But as my pastor so wisely pointed out, we are already too focused on ourselves, and look it where it has gotten us. Not only are we highly flawed, but we can also be self-centered and self-absorbed, not helping our cause at all.
Instead, perhaps we should think about others, as in how are my actions affecting others? How does my lack of self-care hurt those around me? How can I improve relationships that are important to me? How can I share my gifts, talents, and resources with others?
It’s a new way of looking at resolutions, and one in which our motivation for change comes not from selfish reasons, but from a desire to give to others. Let’s take the most common resolution of all – losing weight. Dietitians and psychologists will tell you that if you are trying to lose weight for vanity purposes alone, you probably won’t succeed in the long term. That’s because for most of us, vanity isn’t enough of a reason to work really hard at something and to play the long game – to patiently watch the pounds drop one by one, to make exercise part of our daily routine, and to forego foods that we really enjoy but that pack on the pounds.
Change the motivation, however, and you will change the outcome. Studies show that when you focus on your health instead of your looks – let’s say, you want to be alive to see your grandchildren grow into adults – the impetus that drives this desire is much stronger, much more meaningful. If you adopt the mindset of health and fitness and the long-term benefits of both, you are much more likely to succeed at losing weight and keeping it off.
Notice that in this example, the focus is on being there for others, versus the otherwise shallow desire of looking good. When we have a deeper desire to change our behaviors and become better people, we are more likely to be successful.
It is time, then, to ask ourselves how we can produce better versions of ourselves in order to serve others, including God. Imagine that the one thing I really want to change about myself is my temper. Perhaps up until now, I’ve concentrated on how my temper affects me – it makes my heartrate rise, it makes me turn red, my voice raises, I say things I don’t mean, and I’m impossible to reason with. I hate the way all of these reactions make me feel, and I really want to stop it, but up until now, I’ve not lasted long in this resolution. So now I turn my thinking outward, and I ask myself how my anger affects the people around me. I think about their facial expressions as they watch my ire rise. I think about how they shut down or how their own anger arises as a result of mine. I think about how productive communication stops, so I lose any chance of understanding them or healing whatever rift my anger has caused. And I think about what God said about anger, how destructive it can be in our lives and in the lives of those close to us.
Processing our shortcomings through the filter of what they do to others may be exactly what we need to finally do something about them. So rethink your resolutions and frame them in regard to others, and you may actually keep this year’s resolutions.