Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (and what to do about it)

“New year, new me.” We all said, heard, or had this thought about a month ago when we replaced our 2022 calendars with our 2023 ones. Excited about the new year and hopeful for change, we imagined our best selves and meticulously made plans to get there. We’d read our Bibles within the year, wake up earlier, lose the holiday weight.

Six weeks later, some of us are going strong — maybe even a little too strong — while others have totally forgotten they resolved to do anything.

At different times in my life, I’ve been both of those people: the one going too strong and the one whose resolutions simply slipped her mind.

Photo by Jackson Jorvan on Pexels.com

Halfway through my sophomore year of college, I saw a picture of myself on my iPhone 3 that haunted me. I wasn’t as thin as I had been my whole life until that point, and I didn’t realize it until seeing that unfamiliar, grainy image of myself. That January, I resolved to do everything I could to lose the weight I’d put on, and to do it fast. I basically planned to eat as little as possible and strictly adhered to a rigorous workout schedule; it didn’t matter if I was swamped with schoolwork or sick in bed — I made myself exercise if I’d already planned to.

I’ll let you imagine where not taking care of my body, shaming myself, and being totally consumed with thoughts of avoiding food took me.

And how did I get there? From a picture and a terrible new year’s resolution.

Wanting to change isn’t bad; but how we change can be. Learn from my mistakes: I didn’t take the time to examine why I had gained weight. I didn’t ask God to help me change (I didn’t even ask God if what I was doing was a good idea). Ultimately, I decided to take my life in my hands and change myself, by myself, meaning… no one knew what I was doing.

When I took God out of the picture and relied on my own efforts, that put me on the throne of my life instead of Him. My thoughts revolved around what I could do to be better, not on how I could depend on Him to transform me from the inside out. So if my mantra is “New year, new me” – I make me king and build my own kingdom here on earth, which, by the way, one day will vanish, AND, is exactly what Satan wants. He wants us to be short-sighted, to get our reward here on earth, to be so preoccupied with ourselves that we neglect others and lose sight of God’s greater purposes for us.

But when culture tells us this is the time for self-improvement, and the industry shoves all the gym subscription deals and the self tanners and the vitamins in our worn-out, overwhelmed faces, how do we stand firm? How do we not get sucked in to the belief that we have to be better and do better?

We look to the immutable Word of God.

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

We compare what we’re hearing online, seeing in stores, and even thinking in our own minds, with what God has said. In Philippians 1:6, Paul writes, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Remember how I said I didn’t ask God to help me change? I started the work in me, not God. He wasn’t the one leading me to lose weight and certainly wasn’t the one telling me to mistreat my own body. My resolution was no more than a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps endeavor, behavior modification at its finest; it was not a good work, and God didn’t begin it.

The truth of this verse, though, is that when God initiates change in us, it IS good. And an even better promise is that what God initiates, He sustains. And this gives us confidence! Knowing that the Creator of the universe works in us to make us more like Him and will never give up on us fills us with peace and joy in cooperating with Him on our journeys of transformation.

What God initiates, He sustains.

So if you made a new year’s resolution, I encourage you to check in with yourself and with God about it. Ask: Is what I’m doing Spirit-led or self-led? Am I doing this to advance God’s Kingdom or mine? And also, who have you told about your resolution? We desperately need community and accountability; it’s the only way to avoid a slow fade like mine.

And if you didn’t make a new year’s resolution, maybe you’re already disciplined in asking God what He wants to show you, teach you, or change in you. If not, I encourage you to ask Him now, in this very moment. We don’t need a new year, new month, or even a new day to stop and ask God what He wants to do in and through us.

Interestingly enough, all of this goes back to surrender — the theme that turns up in my writing and my life time and time again. Let’s live lives that daily wait for the surprises that God offers every sunrise.

Photo by Micah Boerma on Pexels.com

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