By Valerie Minard
The ball in Times Square, New York City has dropped. The confetti has been swept up. The noise makers put away.
It’s 2015! Time for fresh starts and new year resolutions for self-improvement. Everyone has their list, and some of the more popular goals include: losing weight, getting fit, eating healthier, limiting alcohol, and quitting tobacco.
As well-meaning as these intentions may be, the success rate for actually achieving resolutions is not very encouraging. Professor Richard Wiseman, at the University of Hertfordshire, conducted a study where 88% of 3,000 people who made New Year resolutions failed. The success rate increased 22% for men who set realistic goals. And 10% for women who publicized their goals and had a support team (think Weight Watchers).
While setting realistic goals and having a support team makes sense, a more radical approach may be required to go the extra distance. Even the Apostle Paul had trouble following through. He said, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
In the end, though, he did persevere, and gave us this advice, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Phil 3:13)
Paul’s spiritual approach helped him overcome a number of negative character traits (the kind that can get in the way of following through on valuable resolutions), including self-will, self-justification, and egotism — it transformed his whole nature and gave his life new impetus. Given the radical changes he was able to make, perhaps this approach can help if you are addicted to food, tobacco or alcohol and you want to gain freedom. Here’s my take on how his ideas might apply to keeping these kind of resolutions.
1. Start from a spiritual basis: I don’t think Paul was thinking of himself as a broken mortal who needed fixing. He focused on a spiritual model of himself as created in the “image and likeness of God” and set that as his high goal. Likewise, focusing on a spiritual model of ourselves brings our thoughts and actions into alignment with our desired goal. This kind of spiritual identification helps us resist the temptation to backslide to old patterns of behavior.
2. Start fresh: Paul was able to separate himself from past mistakes and start new. He said, “Put off concerning the former conversation the old man….And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
This is important because, focusing on past failings will undermine our ability to see the good progress we are making. So if you have had several false starts with smoking or drinking, don’t let them be show stoppers. We all can pray, like Paul, to be “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” — to start again.
3. Forgetting includes forgiving: Self-forgiveness is an important ingredient for leaving the past behind. It doesn’t mean glossing over mistakes, but once we’ve acknowledged something needs correcting and then corrected it— let’s forgive ourselves and accept that the very desire to improve comes from a divine impetus. In addition, forgiving others eliminates the hurts and wounds that can feed addiction.
4. Keep high goal in mind: One of Paul’s high goals was to get closer to God. His spiritual practice included deep prayer and self-examination to determine if his thoughts and actions were in line with the spiritual progress he wanted to make. That’s important for us too. Sometimes it seems we might take two or three steps backward for every one forward. But, keeping the high goal in mind will help us persevere and not get bogged down in momentary setbacks if we backslide. Theologian, Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Working and praying with true motives, your Father will open the way…”
5. Eliminate negative self-talk: Any negative thoughts about ourselves or others are distractions that would derail us from focusing on our goals. Paul’s goal was to live a God-like life. He trusted if he diverged in any way, God would put him back on the right path–”if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”
Likewise, we can ask divine Intelligence to reveal whatever is foreign to our spiritual nature and remove it. As the negative self-talk is eliminated, we become more spiritually attuned and alert to resist and reject the temptation to relapse by eating that extra cake, smoking one more cigarette or having an extra drink.
Paul had a clear sense and calm trust that all things were possible to God. So following Paul’s approach can give us the added spiritual strength to stay steady on the course with our resolutions. Then our path becomes clearer and our new year’s resolutions within reach.
Valerie writes about the connection between health, spirituality, and consciousness. She is also a Christian Science practitioner in New Jersey. Contact her at: @valerieminard or email@example.com.