Many people in North America make resolutions to improve their lives on January 1st. We start the year determined to make this our best year ever, but our high hopes and determination often evaporate like the morning dew on a hot day. In fact, studies show that most people give up on their New Years’ resolutions as early as January 12th! So, why do we have such a low success rate?
One reason people fail to keep their resolutions is that they resolve to do something that isn’t feasible, like working out seven days a week. Not even people who work at the gym work out every day!
Another reason is choosing something so broad that it’s difficult to define success, such as resolving to “be nicer” to the people closest to us. How can you really measure niceness?
And another reason is not taking our resolutions seriously. Perhaps we make a resolution because everyone around us is doing so, and we feel pressured to participate. But we might have no real desire to make changes in our lives.
As we enter into the Lenten season, it’s common for Catholics to give up something, which is in effect a resolution. But why might we be able better keep our Lenten resolutions for six weeks but not a New Years’ resolution? I think there is a one-word answer: God. Our Lenten resolutions have a spiritual dimension that is missing in most New Years’ resolutions.
Still, whether for Lent these next six weeks or for any other “resolution” we would like to make in our lives, how can we make sure week keep them?
1. Begin with Prayer
First of all, we should begin with prayer, asking God to help us choose a reasonable resolution. We should also ask Him to give us the courage to persist when we are tempted to abandon it.
2. Take One Day at a Time
Secondly, take it one day at a time. Each morning, commit to keeping your resolution for that day. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. But today we can abstain from chocolate, coffee, or whatever we choose to deny ourselves for Lent. We can begin again the next day.
You can do almost anything for one day, right?
3. Enlist Support from Family and Friends
Thirdly, get support. Enlist friends, family, or coworkers to keep you motivated and help you succeed. They can also be your accountability partners to help you stay on track. If you know you have to tell someone if you fail you may be more likely to avoid temptation.
4. Review Your Progress at the End of Every Day
At the end of each day, pause to review your progress. Have you done well? Then give thanks to God. Did you fail? Then immerse yourself in the mercy of God, and ask for the strength to do better tomorrow.
5. Do Small Things to Set Yourself Up for Success
And if you want a good resource on how you make resolutions and stick to them (be that for Lent, a year, or a lifetime), I would recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. Clear suggests breaking things down to smaller (atomic) changes.
For instance, if you want to go for a run first thing in the morning, put your running shoes beside your bed. If you want to read before bed, place your book on your pillow when you make your bed in the morning. In other words, do small and simple things to set yourself up for success.
To recap, here are five steps for keeping our Lenten resolutions as well as any others:
- Begin with prayer.
- Take one day at a time.
- Enlist support from family and friends.
- Review your progress at the end of every day.
- Do small things to set yourself up for success.
Wishing you a holy Lenten season and success with each of your resolutions!
Celeste is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Louisiana’s Cajun Country. She is a lifelong Catholic and committed to spreading the Gospel through small group formation programs. She is a recovering food addict (embracing the slogan, “If you can’t stop at one, have none!”), an avid knitter, and a lover of God.