It ?s that time of year again: time to start anew, to set goals, to look forward with optimism and determination to make this year ?the best year yet. ? While I love the energy that comes with the focus on New Year ?s resolutions, I can ?t help but feel a bit cynical about them. How many of us start a new year with great goals, lots of enthusiasm, and a determination that “it will be different this year” and then get to February realizing that (again) many of our goals have already fizzled into forgotten, fundamentally futile efforts at self-improvement?
What can be done to write resolutions that stick?
I did a search on the Church website on topics such as goals, ? resolutions, ? and New Year ?s resolutions ? and found a lot of good counsel. For example, Elder Ballard (then of the Presidency of the Seventy) spoke of the importance of setting goals. He said, I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don ?t set goals in our life and learn how to master the technique of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principle of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life. ?
(Do Things That Make a Difference, Go for It!)
Elder Ballard suggested that to be successful in our goal-setting, we should write clear and specific ? goals down and keep them in a prominent place. Another article recommended setting realistic resolutions, setting a series of smaller goals, making reminders, and not being too hard on ourselves. (Keeping New Year ?s Resolutions) For someone like me who tends to be idealistic and little too loosey-goosey about goal setting (I rarely write things down, for example), this is all important advice worth heeding.
I have been thinking about other principles that can infuse more resolve into our resolutions. Below is a compilation of some scriptures and prophetic counsel that can help us give our goals more of a spiritual foundation. I believe such a spiritual focus can transform the goal-setting process, making it all more rewarding, fruitful, and long-lasting in its effects.
Consider the following truths:
- All things unto [the Lord] are spiritual. ? D&C 29:34
- True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. ? (Do Not Fear)
- “If we concentrate too intently on our obvious earthly methods or objectives, we can lose sight of our eternal goals, which the Apostle [Paul] called ?things ?not seen. ? If we do this, we can forget where we should be headed and in eternal terms go nowhere. We do not improve our position in eternity just by flying farther and faster in mortality, but only by moving knowledgeably in the right direction. As the Lord told us in modern revelation, ‘That which the Spirit testifies unto you ?ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation.‘” D&C 46:7; emphasis added, Weightier Matters
- We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason for the pure love of Christ ?[charity, which is] not an act but a condition or state of being ?.
How can we measure our progress [toward becoming, toward true conversion]? The scriptures suggest various ways. I will mention only two.
After King Benjamin ?s great sermon, many of his hearers cried out that the Spirit of the Lord ?has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. ? Mosiah 5:2 If we are losing our desire to do evil, we are progressing toward our heavenly goal.
The Apostle Paul said that persons who have received the Spirit of God ?have the mind of Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 2:16 I understand this to mean that persons who are proceeding toward the needed conversion are beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them. They are hearing His voice instead of the voice of the world, and they are doing things in His way instead of by the ways of the world. The Challenge to Become
- [W]e know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. ? 2 Nephi 25:23
- The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. Born of God
Questions for pondering:
- Do I set resolutions with only a temporal focus, or do I see even my temporal ? goals as having spiritual purpose and meaning? (How can I make losing weight, or reducing debt, or getting good grades, or reducing clutter, or exercising regularly, or __________ (fill in the blank) be a spiritual pursuit? Even a supposedly spiritual goal like read the scriptures 30 minutes a day ? or have family prayer morning and night ? can end up with a temporal focus if I ?m not careful. Is it going to end up being a simple checklist item, or can I make it something designed to fill my spiritual reserves and help me come closer to Christ?) Am I praying for help to see things spiritually?
- Now that I see my pursuits through a spiritual lens, what is the true doctrine underpinning the behavior I want to change or improve? What can I study in the scriptures and the words of the prophets to help me understand that doctrine better? Might I include goals to regularly seek out and study doctrines related to the resolutions I am writing, so I have the power of that doctrine moving my spirit while I ?m working to ?move my feet ??
- Are my goals helping me toward my ultimate goal of eternal life? Am I spending energy on efforts that help keep my eye single to God and His purposes? Am I considering how to write my goals so that my efforts can glorify Him? Am I seeking the Spirit ?s guidance and ratification as I consider what goals to set? Do my goals reflect the “mind of Christ”?
- Am I doing things for the right reasons? Does Christ ?s love fill my heart and life? Am I praying for charity so that my motives might be more pure? How can my resolutions help me toward the goal of true conversion? Am I focused on becoming rather than simply on doing? What can I do so that my heart can be more filled with love for, from, and like Christ (see C. Max Caldwell, Love of Christ, ? Ensign, Nov. 1992, 29)?
- Am I daily ? even hourly ? doing things that invite the Lord into my life, that His grace and Spirit can change my heart and magnify my sincere and concerted efforts to follow through on my goals? Do I write goals with faith in the power of the Atonement? Does that faith lead to hope and confidence in the fact that I can improve with His help? Do I remember that alone, my efforts will be insufficient, but with the Lord, true change, success, and (eternal!) progress can take place? Do I remember that if I come unto Christ ? (see Matthew 11:28; Moroni 10:32–33), He can transform me from the inside out?
The concept of turning resolutions inside out, putting the heart and spirit first, assuages some of the cynicism I have felt about too-often fruitless New Year’s goal setting. Of course I realize that we can ?t simply study and pray our way through our resolutions. Goals take a lot of practical focus, hard work, and discipline. As the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves. ? Indeed, a change of heart can ?t happen without faithful action on our part. But I believe that resolutions (whenever they are set!) can come to mean more if they are first and foremost spiritual endeavors based on gospel principles and doctrines ? especially the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As we turn our New Year ?s resolutions inside out, focusing not only on changing behavior but also on the change of heart and nature the Lord can bring about, this year truly can be the best year yet ? and can move us closer to our heavenly home!