By Susanna D –
You’re trying to avoid it, but you just can’t. Why yes, it is indeed that ‘New year, new me’ time when everyone starts posting inspirational messages about the new year, making resolutions, and setting goals. But not you. You know it’s all a gimmick, just another way to set yourself up for failure. Whose new year’s resolutions last past the first week of the brand new shiny year? Not yours, by George. So why bother? Let’s just post a couple of witty but cynical New Year’s memes and move on. Realistic is your middle name.
Any of that sound familiar? Well I’m here to tell you that’s a load of baloney. Cynicism and negativity don’t look good on Christians. The very concept of new beginnings and second chances is at its heart Christian, the reason Jesus came at all. If we scoff at new beginnings, there is no place in our hearts for salvation.
Here’s the truth. People CAN change. You can change. I am one of the laziest, least motivated people I know. I could lie on a couch all day every day and do nothing. I am full of faults and weaknesses. (I won’t list them all here, that’s what Confession is for.) I still struggle with many of them. And yet, I too have grown and changed. Change is possible! You can do this!
Here are some tips that might help you.
- Make a resolution. ‘You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?’ If you aim at something, you may fail. But if you don’t aim at anything, you’ve definitely failed. ‘And you ask “What if I fall?”Oh but my darling, what if you fly?’
- Small, achievable goals: You can’t change everything overnight. You don’t have to try to do everything that sounds like a good idea. “I’m gonna eat healthy, and start exercising, and go for daily mass, and read the Catechism and all the works of Shakespeare, and be patient and spend less money and help the poor and start volunteering and DO ALL THE THINGS!” Don’t be crazy! Pick one, two or three resolutions, and then break them down to manageable, specific chunks. So rather than saying “I will be a more positive person”, decide to say one encouraging thing to somebody every day whether it is in person, or by text. Instead of deciding to ‘grow in your faith’, decide to read a spiritual book every day before bed for at least 15 minutes. If it’s achievable, it gives you the satisfaction of success which is enough motivation to keep going. It’s okay if it’s so small that it sounds stupid to someone else. You do what you need.
- Tell someone: The only way I know for sure I am willing to change is when I am willing to humble myself and tell someone the decision I have made. It helps with accountability, and it uses your pride to your advantage (you’re more likely not to take seconds if you’re eating with someone who knows that that is what you have decided). Tell someone to check on you and ask you how you are doing. Or get together with a small group, and share your goals, and decide when you are going to re-meet to share your progress. Just knowing I have to tell someone helps me stay motivated.
- Remind yourself why it matters: I have a picture of Saint John Paul II on my cupboard in my room. It says, “Are you capable of risking your life for someone? Do it for Christ.” Sometimes when I don’t want to get out of bed, I see it there, and tell myself, “Do it for Christ.” I used to mumble to myself during one challenging Lenten sacrifice, “Remember what you really want.” Ask yourself why it matters, and when you feel like it doesn’t, remind yourself why it did. “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods,” says C.S. Lewis. Growth and discipline need that kind of faith.
- Be patient with yourself: “Always forget the past and never worry about your falls, many as they may be. So long as you get back on your feet, no harm will have been done; whereas, a great deal of harm will occur if you lose heart, or if you berate yourself too much for your failures,” says Ven. Francis Libermann. You get a new chance every time you fall. Just don’t stay down. Don’t give up the fight. If you are fighting for holiness until your last breath you may be assured of heaven, even if you failed that very morning. If God is patient with you, you can afford to be patient with yourself.
- Be around the right people: Choose to spend your time with people who will help you become the man or woman God has called you to be. If your friend circle or social circle are the ones doing all the stuff you are trying to avoid, or mocking your efforts to grow or change, perhaps you need new friends.
If you’re still a little nervous about this, here are some ideas for small achievable goals. Don’t forget- don’t pick more than three!
- Go to sleep on time. Set an alarm for 30 minutes before you want to go to bed, and put away anything that tempts you to stay awake longer- cell phone, books, laptop.
- Switch off your phone data for a specified amount of time each day (perhaps 10 pm to 8 am).
- End your day by writing your goals and to do list for the next day, with tasks written in order of importance.
- Delete time-wasting apps from your phone. Instead, choose one book to read every night before bed. Make a list of books to go through, and make sure they are easily available to you- put them on your bedside table, or on your kindle. (I have plenty of recommendations- Something Other Than God, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, He Leadeth Me, Time for God, Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, the Prayer section of the Catechism, Fill These Hearts.)
- Every time you catch yourself criticizing someone, or complaining, force yourself to say three good things about the person or situation.
- Start a prayer journal and write three things you want to thank God for every day.
- Memorize one bible verse every day. Send it to a friend, or illustrate it it or write it on a white board so you can see it all day.
- Visit an Adoration chapel for 15 minutes every day before or after work.
- Go for weekday Mass every day or twice or thrice a week (on pre-assigned days, and tell someone you’re going. It’s too easy to change your mind last minute if you don’t.)
- Draw a picture every day. Or write every day.
- Do some Zumba every day.
- Go for a walk with a friend three times a week.
- Plan to meet up with or visit one person every week- a friend, family member, or someone who needs a friend.
- Add Confession to your monthly calendar.
- Do an Examen at the end of each day.
You have your life ahead of you. It is full of possibilities, full of potential! You CAN become the person god has called you to be! Let us begin.
Susanna D serves with Emmaus Catholic Volunteers, an organization of full-time lay Catholic singles and families who serve the poor and share the Gospel through a culture of encounter in various dioceses in India. She blogs at Keeping It Real: Diary of a Not Very Indian Girl and Keeping It Salty: Diary of an Indian Catholic Volunteer