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New Year Resolutions: are we lying to ourselves?

People cheer as the Times Square New Year's Eve ball is lit and raised (Credit: Ian Wallace)New Year's resolutions are like lottery tickets: they require little buy-in, offer great expectations, and often end in failure. When the Powerball jackpot is high, everyone is buying tickets and the excitement in the air is palpable. When the New Year's ball floats high above Times Square, the crowd clamors to watch the ball drop and to share their lottery ticket numbers (resolutions). And a few hours after the ball drops, people stagger home from Times Square, leaving a confetti mess—much like my emotional state after I fail to lose five pounds, learn a new language, and take up cooking something besides a PB&J.

Resolutions are not a new phenomenon. For ages past, women and men alike have been setting goals and muttering under their breath, "New year, new me." According to a Marist poll, weight loss is the top priority when it comes to resolutions (twelve percent). This is followed by getting a better job (ten percent), which jumped five percentage points from last year. Unfortunately, US News and World Report finds that by the second week of February, some eighty percent of those resolutions will have fallen by the wayside along with confetti from New Years.

From an evangelical standpoint, the most noted resolution maker was Jonathan Edwards.  Before he would pen his seminal work Religious Affections, become a leading preacher during The Great Awakening, or the president of Princeton University, he would create a set of resolutions for his life. At nineteen years old, the young Edwards came up with seventy resolutions (1722–1723). These practical, biblically informed resolutions functioned as a type of compass for Edwards as he would meander his way through ministerial life.

Consider these:

"5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
"7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
"14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
"70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak."

If his accomplishments after these resolutions were any indication, he would be considered a great success. So is willpower and discipline, like Edwards demonstrated, the necessary component? According to Art Markman, those are the winning lotto numbers.

Dr. Markman is the author of Smart Change and a professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin. He writes that the reason resolutions don't succeed is because "people don't put in enough effort to allow them to succeed." Willpower is the fuel that drives individuals to achieving these life changes. On this road to life change, Markman finds that habits must be developed, supportive environments ought be constructed, positive—not negative—goals should be clarified, and realistic goals need to be created.

But some disagree, finding that willpower is not sufficient. British psychologist Richard Wiseman finds that only twelve percent of people managed to succeed in their resolutions by their willpower. He writes that you should only make one resolution, think about it in advance, ignore past failures, break it into manageable steps, and go public for support. So what is he basically saying? Failure is inevitable so do it small, give yourself a lot of grace, and celebrate when you can.

But what's a New Year's resolution without Facebook? A non-existent one if you ask me. Nevertheless, Social Times asked someone at Facebook what they would suggest for keeping New Year's resolutions. The response is as shocking as finding out you didn't win the lottery (a one in 175 million chance).

Facebook believes you should use Facebook. You can form a support group and use for-sale groups to get rid of unnecessary clutter. Sadly you cannot get rid of excess weight that easily. Coupled with the groups, you can also post motivational statuses in order to be held accountable.

The science on how to accomplish your resolutions is speculative and inconclusive, failing to provide the illusive and desired guarantee. Facebook may be a viable option for some. Winnowing your resolutions down to one may be another option for you. Or utilizing willpower could be the key for your success in 2016.

Regardless of how you choose to accomplish your resolutions, it may be a worthwhile endeavor to more carefully consider what you are resolving to do or be this New Year. In a way, they reveal what you value in your life. If Edwards was right in that resolutions were a type of compass, are your resolutions making you more into the person God has created you to be (Galatians 4:19)?

Will losing weight help you to be a better steward of your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)?  Or is it a vain attempt to please people and create temptation (Galatians 1:10)? Will reading more help you love God with all your mind (Matthew 22:36-37)? Or is it simply a way in which you can appear smarter for your own satisfaction (1 Corinthians 8:1)?

Will traveling be an opportunity to go unto the world to share the good news of God's love (Matthew 28:18-20)? Or will your travels be a temptation to neglect Jesus' example to serve rather than be served? Will cooking open up more opportunities to exercise hospitality for your neighbor or your enemy—who may be the same person(Hebrews 13:2)—or are you just tired of PB&J?

Resolutions may be only as good as the discipline that undergirds them, but they are a good idea. Famed missionary William Carey said, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." Who knows, this may be your year to win the lottery. And if you do, dinner is on you because I am tired of PB&J.

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