There are countless stories and jokes about abandoned New Year’s resolutions, perhaps because the experience is so universal. When it comes to self-improvement, it seems that “the spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
So how do we overcome weakness to fulfill our goals? Allow me to share with you five keys which have helped my clients, myself, and others, to follow through. (“Writing down your goals” is a given, so you won’t see it below).
1. Be Realistic
It’s fine to have big dreams but gauge how much work it will take and ask yourself if you’re really willing to do it. Anything else is wishful thinking. Limiting junk food is more realistic than completely swearing it off. Committing to spend at least 10 minutes reading to your children daily may be more realistic than committing to reading with them for an hour. “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and in order, for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27)
2. Report and Support
Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a spouse, a bishop, a therapist, or your kids, make someone aware of your goals and report to them regularly. You’re more likely to follow through if you have someone to report to and gain support from.
3. Plan the How
Many resolutions fall apart because people haven’t thought through the details. Ask yourself “what could go wrong?” List your answers, and figure out how to deal with each before they come up. If you simply say “I’ll go to the gym five times a week,” for example, you likely won’t. However, if you say ”I’m going to limit evening TV time on weeknights so that I can go to bed by 10:00 p.m, so that I can get up at 6:00 a.m. to go to the gym,” then you’re much more likely to be successful.
Remember the Savior’s teaching: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:28-30).
4. Learn from Failure
Remember Churchill’s famous advice: “Never, never, never, never give up!” Part of succeeding is learning from your mistakes. If an unforeseen weakness or circumstance keeps you from meeting your goal on some day or another, adapt your plan so that you can overcome. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught: “No one has failed who keeps trying and praying.”
5. Find a Reason “to do” Instead of “not to do”
We are masters at procrastination and excuse-making. We find reasons to talk ourselves out of things. We rationalize by saying “I’ll start eating healthy next week.” “I’m too tired to exercise. I’ll do it tomorrow” “I need to call my lonely family member, but today I’m just too busy.” For this reason, I tell my clients “You can always find a reason not to do something. When that happens, give yourself a reason to do it.” Try to omit excuses from your life. “Don’t procrastinate the day of your repentance” (Alma 34:33). Make the changes today. Find an excuse to do something.
Best of luck, and Happy New Year!
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is known for his online relationship courses and for presenting at Brigham Young University’s Education Week. Jonathan offers Gospel-based insights at Ask a Mormon Therapist. He can be reached at [email protected]