“Do nothing, and nothing happens. Life is about decisions. You either make them or they're made for you, but you can't avoid them.” --Mhairi McFarlane
This is the year I really want to do it. Really will do it. No. REALLY! I’m serious.
I am absolutely going to…lose twenty pounds…go to the gym three times a week…pray each day…find a life partner…quit smoking or alcohol or drugs…switch careers…end a relationship…mend a hurt…forgive an enemy…live a life different than the one I want to leave behind in 2015. Sound familiar? It should. We are in the season of resolution making and, also, resolution breaking. Just days ago the odds are almost fifty percent, that you and I, many of us, made New Years’ resolutions. Drew up a ‘to do” (or “not to do”) list with pencil and paper or on our computer or smart phone.
So…how’s that going?
If you are like most folks, probably not so great. According to a study published in the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45 percent of Americans made New Years’ resolutions, to change a behavior or habit, in the next 51 weeks. Yet the same study also reports that the long term success rate for major life changes like these is about eight percent. Need proof? Check out the overflowing parking lot at any local gym. In a matter of weeks there will be plenty of spaces to pull in to, but right now the place is packed. Alcoholics Anonymous? The rooms are full. Dating sites? Record numbers of new subscriptions. Diet books are flying off the shelves too, along with nicotine gum and patches to help smokers, who are desperately hankering for a butt.
For those of us resolved to change, our hearts are certainly in the right place. Ask someone who’s hooked on a substance (food, alcohol, pills, booze, cigarettes, etc.) if they are aware that what they are doing is unhealthy, and guaranteed most will say, “Yes!” The hard part of personal change isn’t making the resolution. It’s doing the resolution, keeping the resolution, and perhaps most important, making a final decision to stop or to start or to begin or to end. I know this because I am one of those sad sacks who have gone into many Januarys with the sincerest of resolve, only to fail days or weeks later.
But if we are still ready and willing to try and make the change, whatever that might be, here are some hopes and ideas to consider. First, remember that change is often hard, very hard. Pushing back against our human will to change is something scientists call homeostasis: the force which underlies all of our behavior, the urge to perpetually return to the status quo, the familiar, the comfortable, regardless of whether or not it is “good” for us.
Netflix and ice cream or a chilly car ride and the treadmill? A long drag off a familiar cigarette or tenaciously waiting until the itch to light up passes? That second glass of wine or a seltzer instead? Another Saturday night at home alone or diving into singles night at the local tavern? Always, our habits will call out to us to come home. To do the same old, same old. Still want to change? Then steel yourself. Expect it to be difficult. If you are a person of faith, ask God into that struggle too to give you the power to change.
And then make the decision. Choose to change. Decide.
We can buy all the self-help books we want, attend all the support classes we desire, use intricate strategies and tricks to help us change, but finally people change when they decide to change. One of the greatest of God given gifts is human free will. God does not make us puppets, tugged along by some unseen Divine strings. God does not throw us into the winds of so called fate or fatalism. God does not play dice with our lives. God does instead give us life and then empowers us to make decisions both large and small about how we will live each and every day.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” That I do believe. So in this relatively new New Year, let’s all confess. We each know the ways that we need to change. We know it will probably be hard: take commitment, discipline, the support of others and the support of God. Change beckons.
The decision? That, my fellow change seekers, is ours’ alone to make.