This is the time of year when those new resolutions are already starting to get tough. Am I right? Just 18 days later! I’ve become quite the student of why people make promises (and needed resolutions) to do something and then forsake them. Might be reading the Bible, praying, losing weight, saving money, or exercising. Anything you know that needs to change. Most of my learning has come from me! I’ve found 3 things so far in my quest.
The key to yearly resolutions (and long term change) is found in breaking them down to monthly resolutions, weekly resolutions, and daily resolutions. Things change little by little. One small action or new habit then leads to another one. Inch by inch, change is a cinch. The key is to make your change a daily commitment rather than an annual resolution. Daily discipline is the secret to success.
You will travel farther, last longer, and enjoy it more if you have a partner who does it with you and holds you accountable. Someone who you know will be there at the gym waiting for you when it is snowing outside, you have 10 other pressing things to do, and you’d rather make an excuse not to go. By the way, any excuse works when you don’t want to do something. Sometimes I will say wryly to someone – “It’s your lie, tell it how you want to!”
Become a student and master of willpower. That’s right. Willpower. Christian Author John Ortberg writes about a man named Roy Baumeister who is cranking out remarkable work these days. He’s likely the world’s top experimental social psychologist, and he is almost single-handedly bringing the concept of “will” back to psychology. (He’s got a book out now called Willpower.) Read some excerpts from John below:
Ever wonder why it’s hard to keep New Years’ resolutions? One of Baumeister’s early experiments was to investigate the nature of willpower. In this experiment, one group of people had to resist the temptation to eat delicious fresh chocolate chip cookies, while another group had to resist eating radishes. Then both groups were given (secretly) insoluble math problems to solve. It turns out that the subjects who had been resisting chocolate chip cookies gave up on trying to solve math problems much more quickly than the subjects who only had to resist eating radishes.
In other words, Baumeister has found, willpower is real, and able to make a difference, but it is a finite commodity. It’s a lot like a muscle – if you do as many push-ups as you can and then immediately try to see how much you can bench press, it won’t be much. Willpower, like a muscle, can be built up over time. But in the short term it’s easily fatigued. It’s a finite commodity.
Baumeister discovered that you have a finite amount of willpower that gets depleted as you use it. He also found that you use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks. You don’t get separate stockpiles for different areas like relationships vs. physical activities. That’s why a long list of New Year’s resolutions is almost certainly doomed. It takes a whole lot of willpower to get on an exercise and diet program to lose weight. You will not have a great deal left over. If you add on the list: get on a budget, start keeping your office clean, and read every week, you set yourself up for failure.
For most of us, our wills get depleted far more quickly, more often and more seriously than our bodies do. So how do I manage willpower well?
Know when it is at its freshest and strongest. For many people that’s in the morning before it’s been drained by the day. In fact, one remarkable study showed that prisoners have a much better chance of receiving parole if their case is heard in the morning versus the evening, since the judge has a high reserve of willpower then and thus is more willing to take the chance of release. (If you’re ever in jail, go for the morning release hearing!) Schedule your most critical tasks accordingly.
Spend it wisely. Don’t take on too many life-improvement tasks all at once, even if you pray on them. God works through your will, generally; he rarely gives people a free pass to ignore the laws of finitude he created in the first place.
Use the tiny bits of willpower you have for the cultivation of right habits. Alcoholics Anonymous is a great example of this; the idea behind it is not to stop drinking through willpower, but to enter into a way of life (the 12 steps) that lead to new habits of thinking and desiring that bring power for sobriety that the will never could.
Set goals, but not too many. Goals are the first step toward self-regulation. Without a few, we drift. But too many goals always weaken willpower: we worry about them, we get less done, and we suffer emotionally as well as physically. You have to experiment to figure out the right number of goals for you: enough to get things done without stressing out.
Perhaps this email will assist you in keeping promises made to God and yourself this New Year. It seems to be working for me. So far!!
One more thing – I will be doing a message soon on exactly how to do a devotional time with God each day. (I know that is one of those resolutions many of you made). I am looking for creative, effective, and powerful ways to do this. If you have one that is working for you, could you email me back today and let me know what it is? I might use it in my message to inspire others.
See you later. I gotta go exercise my will (and body!)
P.S. If you missed the recent Vision Nite, my comments are now posted on the website. You can also watch the 2011 recap video we showed that night too on our Vimeo page.