After Mass on Sunday (January 3), a friend said, “Well, I’ve already failed at my New Year’s resolutions. What a relief! Now that’s done.”
It’s become a sort of a necessary burden, to make New Year’s resolutions. That’s why I’ve waited a few days to talk about the New Year’s schtick… resolutions, goals, intentions, whatever you want to call your hopes for betterment in the new year, your determination to be the “best version” of yourself.
Forbes Magazine says only about 8% of New Year’s resolutions are successfully realized, so my friend at Mass was right up there with a lot of company.
Typically, resolutions are (1) Too Much-Too Soon or (2) Too Vague.
For example, if you resolve to go to daily Mass, pray the Rosary, spend an hour in adoration and an hour in Bible study, every day, right out of the box… chances are, you’ll burn out. You’ve tried to go from zero to 80 in 2 seconds. Your engine will sputter.
Or your resolution might be: “I want to be holier in the new year.” What exactly do you mean by “holy?” Do you mean performing service for others, giving alms, fasting, adopting a devotion, refraining from gossip, what? How can you succeed when you haven’t defined the terms?
Experts say, and experience confirms this, that the best goals, the ones most likely to succeed, are small, simple and specific. And I would add, successful goals consider the body.
A better goal than both those above might be something like, “I will set my phone to give an alert at 3:00 each afternoon and I will stop what I’m doing and say one decade of the Rosary.” You’ve given yourself a small, achievable goal and attached an actual logistical plan to accomplish it.
In other words, you’ve involved the body. Growth in holiness is a spiritual goal, but it can only be accomplished in the body.
What matters most, of course, is that your prayers come from your heart, but that can only happen when you have put your body in the circumstances of prayer by setting a reminder, shutting off other activities, quieting yourself and beginning to pray with the body. Then the heart can involve itself.
So when you set a goal, think it through in terms of the body, even if it’s a spiritual goal.
If you’re like the vast majority of adult Americans, your resolutions include specifically physical goals, too. Health, weight and fitness goals probably comprise about 90% of all the New Year’s resolutions made!
Make your goals small, simple and specific. Say you have dreamt about walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail . You want to make 2016 The Year. It’s an ambitious goal, and you need to set up small goals to reach along the way. Some interim goals might be: “I will join a hiking group on Meetup.com and walk 3 days a week” and “I will download Map My Run onto my iPhone and journal my mileage.”
It’s the same dynamic that informs the modest “Couch to 5K” programs that take complete non-athletes on a journey to completing a 5K event. You bite off small goals until you are within reach of the big one. (Incidentally, if that interests you, see a free plan here.)
Most goals are achieved more easily when there are other people involved, such as a class, a like-minded group or an accountability partner. Considering the body and its social needs, (the human person is built for community) it makes sense to integrate others into your goals.
The best ending for a goal is to have it so habitualized by the end of a year that you no longer need a goal to git ‘er done! For example, I once had the goal to run five days a week. Now running is so ingrained in my life that I don’t need the goal. In this way, our goals help us grow and move on to other, higher goals.
Finally, something you won’t read about in secular articles about goals… avail yourself of the sacraments. The Eucharist is given to us for strength along our daily journey. Recall your goals at Mass, just after receiving Communion, when Jesus is bodily with you. This is a powerful time to ask for help with your needs.
Confession is useful, too. Some of my own goals are hampered by my tendency toward gluttony. (Yes, it’s still a sin.) The great thing about Confession is that we receive grace to continue the fight, and over time, almost imperceptibly, we make progress on those chronic sins that are so hard to eradicate. I can look back at sins I used to confess on a drearily regular basis 10 or 20 years ago, realizing that they are no longer issues in my life. The grace of Confession will accomplish that, if only we keep at the struggle to overcome our faults.
When we bring our aspirations to church with us, when we present them humbly to God, we “sanctify” them (assuming, of course, that the goals are worthy, respecting the dignity of the human person; if they aren’t, prayer will reveal that.)
We open the smallest details of our lives to God, and ask for his help, like little children. God is eager to help us with every concern, down to the last one.
Sheryl Collmer, M.T.S., blogs for TOBET from Plano, Texas.