If you’re like most people, by now you’ve already given up on some of your New Years’ resolutions. Maybe we get a little too ambitious. Maybe we get a little too discouraged. By mid-January, many have thrown their hands in the air and chosen to muddle through, leaving those grand plans for 2021.
And here’s why: We don’t all understand that there’s a trick to setting New Years’ resolutions. It’s the same trick we need to set any goal: We need to attach a price.
I’ll explain. If you want to lose 20 pounds, let’s say, you can’t just write down, “Lose weight.” You need to write the cost of that goal. It needs to be very specific. It could be something like, “Cut out sugar. Stop eating before I’m full. Walk for 30 minutes every day.” That tells you the cost. And, perhaps when you see it, you won’t set that goal. The price is too high. I’ve joked that my spirit animal is a donut. So I get it, how tough it is for some of us to give up sweets. But if you’re determined to do it, write down exactly how you’re going to tackle that goal. You might even write, “Only have one dessert a week” for a month. Break it into baby steps until you’re completely off sugar. And by all means, make weight loss more about health than appearances.
What if your goal is about your behavior? Maybe it’s getting a handle on anger or self-pity or moodiness or failure to truly listen to your family members. What if most of your anxiety is caused by comparing yourself to others? That would be a great habit to eliminate. Whatever the behavior you know is blocking your happiness in life, set small specific goals to inch in the right direction.
If you write, “Stop yelling at the kids,” you will not likely succeed. But if you write phrases such as, “Take a breath as soon as I feel angry. Pretend I’m on a video. Say a prayer before I respond. Really look at my children through God’s loving eyes. Let petty things go. Ask questions that help me understand better,” you have a decent shot at conquering this. Maybe that goal could include getting counseling so you can understand what’s really at the root of your anger. But just thinking, “Well, I’ll stop this or that” is not effective if you don’t have a concrete plan.
All good endeavors have a cost. If you want a good reputation, you must have integrity and be honest and kind in all your dealings. You can’t just give up occasionally and behave immorally. Consistency is key. And when we stumble, we must be swift to apologize and then approach our goal with even greater determination.
Let’s say you have a rift with a family member. Both of you think you’re right, and you feel “the ball’s in his court, now.” I’ll share another secret: It doesn’t matter whose court the ball is in. If you really want to repair this, just swallow your pride and step up.
Does this have a cost? Oh, my—a huge one. It’s humility. It’s going to be painful. You might even cry. But, believe me, it will be worth it. Will it guarantee a softening heart in the other person? No. I mean, that can happen. But it might not, and you have to accept their agency to rebuff you. BUT… you will feel so much more serenity for having tried the most you can possibly try, that you will finally be at peace.
Repenting and forgiving are essential in this life, but they are not quick and easy. They take great honesty, humility, and love. They can require those deep, vulnerable conversations. Their cost is high.
But let’s think about this cost I’ve been describing. Isn’t the cost of not doing these things even higher? The cost of dieting is giving up baddies we like. But isn’t the alternative of terrible health even worse? Look at the behaviors you want to change. Wow, a pricey cost and a lot of work! But again, check out the alternative: Continuing to estrange your family members, continuing to get fired perhaps, continuing to be miserable? Much more expensive.
With all of these goals we must look at the consequences on both sides. Usually the entire reason why you want to set that goal is to avoid the even worse scenario.
Another necessary element to achieving our goals is to make ourselves accountable. We need to refer back to our plan regularly, perhaps even daily, to make sure we’re on track. Just setting a goal and tossing it into the air like a handful of feathers is a waste of good feathers!
This is where it might be good to share a goal with a loved one who can keep us on track and help us forgive ourselves when we stumble. A caring friend can help us continue to believe that we can make it.
Another component many of us forget is that we need to celebrate our small victories. If you went a whole day without (fill in the bad habit here), reward yourself in a healthy way. Not only does this give us motivation to continue, but it’s a visible reminder that we are making progress.
What if your goal is not to get rid of a bad habit, but to ingrain a new, good one? Let’s say you want to get closer to Christ. Sounds like it only has an upside, right? But there is a cost: You must take time from what you used to do to pray more fervently, to read scriptures, to stick to a temple plan. You have to develop actions that follow his teachings, such as service and kindness to others. It requires sacrifice of something lesser. And we all know that closeness to Christ trumps everything else. It’s the giving up of everything else that’s difficult.
And this brings us to a hard, but clarifying truth: To get what we really want, we sometimes have to be willing to give up everything else. But in the case of exalting ordinances, saved relationships, children firmly rooted in strong testimonies, an amazing marriage—all those truly incredible blessings we desperately want, we need to look at our lives and be willing to sacrifice mortality’s offerings that are standing in our way. In short, resolutions can work. But only if we do.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is not just for Christmas. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.