Happy New Year!

Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard,...
Vincent Van Gogh, self-portrait

How did you go with your New Year’s resolutions? If you’re anything like me, probably not too well. In fact, I have now decided not to make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I, like many thousands of others, have found that they are not much use; you just tend to break them within four or five days. In fact, studies show that 88-92% of all New Year’s resolutions fail.

But why? There are many reasons, but one I find compelling is that resolutions are more often than not desperate attempts to change something in our lives using a form of self punishment. We subconsciously punish ourselves for those things that we haven’t yet achieved, or those things we wish we could do better.  Our hope is that a resolution will somehow bring about a change in behaviour and ultimately help us feel better about ourselves.

Like all punishments, resolutions come from a negative base and when we fail we more often than not end up feeling guilty. So the best solution is not to make them at all.

So while life without resolutions may be freeing, it does not mean we throw out goal setting altogether. In fact, goal setting is quite different to making resolutions.

The difference between a goal and a resolution is that resolutions are focused on what you don’t want rather than on what you do want. Goal setting is about overcoming obstacles to reach a desired end. A resolution such as, “don’t eat chocolate,” can be made into a goal like “eat more healthily.” The difference between the two can be quite profound. I believe Vincent van Gogh was hinting at the same idea when he said, “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” In other words, replace the negative with a positive.

The other difference between a resolution and a goal is the fallout when it is not achieved. Often once you break your resolution that’s the end of it, you’ve failed. But if you miss your goal, the goal still remains, it is still an aspiration and something that can remain positive by reviewing progress, learning from it, celebrating the effort so far and continuing to move toward your goal.

Goal setting rather than making resolutions maybe the best way to go and New Year is an obvious time for thoughtful reflection and decision. Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that we ought not to be anxious about life, but nor should we be so lazy as to make no plans at all. We are encouraged to look at our lives and become all that God has called us to be (Philippians 3:12-14).There is a place of humility where we submit our plans to the Lord, and yet we are to “continue to work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

So while I’m not making any resolutions again this year, I have been reflecting on the past year and setting goals for the new. My primary focus is following Jesus and serving him.

What about you? May your new year be filled with a genuine desire to grow in your commitment to Jesus Christ and may you experience the joy, peace and fulfilment that come from being on that journey with him.

Stephen L Baxter