It is a new year and that means time for change. People all over the world are thinking of ways they can improve themselves over the next twelve months. Even as those millions are seriously reviewing their lives and wanting to change, most of them know that they will not actually do it. For the past few weeks, TV programs have given advice and made jokes about New Year's Resolutions in the same broadcast. It seems that for many people, breaking your resolutions is just part of the celebration.
I can remember my parents encouraging us to make goals for the coming year when I was young. I clearly remember making a list that included "save $100.00", never mind the fact that I didn't have an allowance and was too young to have a job of any kind. How was I ever going to save that much when I probably wouldn't have more than a few dollars to call my own for the entire year?
I also remember feeling frustrated that I never achieved the goals I made. They were simply written on a piece of paper and put in a drawer. Sometimes I hung my list on my wall, thinking it would help me remember. It didn't.
The truth was, my goals were more like dreams. I had NO plans for actually achieving those goals. If I had the foresight to think about what would be required of me to complete some of those goals I would have realized how far-fetched they really were.
When I was 15, I made a New Year's Resolution to read the scriptures everyday. I had a Daily Scripture Reading Chart that I got from who knows where and hung it on my wall. I had heard that you have to do something 13 times before it becomes a habit so my goal was to read every night for 13 days. The first few days of the month were easy. I didn't have school or homework so I could just read a chapter or so when I felt like it.
I was determined to read every day. I wish I could say that I was motivated by some spiritual desires. I wasn't. Well, maybe a little. My biggest motivation was Seminary. At that time, our stake Seminary program gave gift certificates to an LDS bookstore as rewards for various accomplishments in Seminary. If you memorized all 25 Scripture Mastery scriptures you might get a $5.00 gift certificate. There were awards for reading the entire book of scripture we were studying that year, attendance, and incremental prizes for consecutive scripture reading. The longer you read, the more you got.
This was highly motivating for me. I also found that I felt extremely competitive when it came to Seminary. I wanted to have the most recognition. I wanted to be among the "best in the stake", as I saw it. I was not gifted in sports or dancing or a number of other activities that were common for the youth, but I could read and memorize and learn about the scriptures.
A funny thing happened because of this less-than-virtuous motivation; I grew to love the scriptures. I learned SO much during the next few years. I read and studied and soaked in the truths of the gospel and the Spirit that came with it. My goals became more about maintaining that spirit and understanding than receiving a reward. By the time I was a Senior, the rewards for Seminary had deflated to simply a certificate and a handshake. But I had learned that the greater reward was intangible.
That experience alone taught me more about goal setting than I could ever learn from a book or class. Although I have not always followed the lessons I learned then, I know they are true and simple. Here are the highlights for keeping your resolutions.
1. Don't over-do it. My initial goal was to read for 13 days. Then I wanted to see how long I could do it without missing a day. I never said I would do it for the whole year. I also didn't make several goals, just one. I could easily focus on one simple change, one addition to my routine. When I had established it as a habit I was free to add things like journal writing. I did this with changing my families eating habits. I made the goal to always have fresh fruit in the house and encourage the kids to eat it. It didn't take much effort and soon the kids were asking for grapes and bananas instead of chips and cookies.
2. Be flexible. My goal to read the scripture was simple: read a chapter every night. When I came to an obstacle to that plan, I adjusted as I needed to. The "spirit of the goal" was to make scripture study a part of every day. If I couldn't do it by reading from them, I could at least think about the verses I knew and "study" in my head.
3. Have a motivation. For me, the motivation to read and study the scriptures was a tangible reward. Over time, I didn't need that reward anymore. I have found with the goal of "saving money", it is much easier if you have a reason to save. An abstract concept like "retirement" is not much of a motivator. If you are saving so you can retire at a certain age or buy your dream house or go on a trip around the world, it is much easier to motivate yourself.
4. Check yourself from time to time. The whole point of making a true resolution is to change yourself permanently. If you aren't careful you can slip back into old habits without realizing it. This happened to me in college. It was so subtle too. My roommates and I read the scriptures together every morning. When I found myself working late or otherwise too tired for personal study I thought "Well, we read this morning so I can skip tonight." Soon I had completely lost my established habit of daily scripture study. I never really got it back. I do plenty of studying but not consistently. We read as a family at night but I don't have my own study time. I have found it difficult to properly motivate myself to have my own, personal scripture study on a daily basis.
When I think of the failures to keep a resolution, or especially the failure to maintain a good, established habit, I am reminded of a verse in Alma 5 : 26. "And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" I find that phrase running through my head all the time; Can ye feel so now? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it is no. When the answer is no, I know I need to make a change.
I don't always like change, especially when I am the one who needs changing. I like to make excuses and I have a Ph.D. in rationalizing procrastination. But the truth is, there is now need to wait for anything, not a new week or a new month or a new year. When we know a change is needed, we should do it then. What if there is no tomorrow or next week or next year?
One of my favorite quotes from President Gordon B. Hinckley sums up my New Year's Resolutions and my goals for every other day too. "Try a little harder to be a little better." So simple and clear. I think that is one resolution I can keep!