Arrest the drift - why New Year's Resolutions are worth the effort

Richard Glover, the Sydney ABC’s Drivetime radio host, has written an article in the Sydney Morning Herald disparaging New Year’s resolutions. Glover wrote,

The last thing I need is to spend the next three months in a doomed enterprise of self-improvement; the sort of failed mission that merely adds a little self-loathing to whatever problem you were vainly trying to solve.”

 For Glover, at the beginning of 2022, New Year’s resolutions are deemed to be a complete waste of time. Often they can end up being a few inspirational and unrealistic ideals scribbled down as the year begins and forgotten before January is passed. It is easy to believe that this is a pointless exercise that perhaps only increases our guilt without changing our behaviour.

Yet there is merit in New Year’s resolutions and one key reason is that we can arrest the drift.

What is the drift? If you were to spend a day on a boat off the Australian coastline, say 2-3km out to sea, and you sat in your vessel for eight hours with no sail hoisted and no engine engaged, you would feel as if you were sitting stationary in the water, staying pretty much in the one spot. But that would be an illusion. You would be slowly, or even quite quickly, drifting from that initial location due to wind, waves and currents.

It is easy to believe that this is a pointless exercise.

Drift at other times and places is more obvious. We are in London this week, filming for our new series Faith Runs Deep. We are spending time on the banks of the Thames. If you look at the Thames from a distance or at photos from elevated positions, it looks as if it’s a stationary body of water, hardly moving. But that is not the case. The tidal rise and fall of the Thames span, on average, seven metres. As the tide falls, the water rushes towards the English Channel at surprising speeds. If you were on a boat on the Thames as the tide rushes out, you would be very aware of the movement. If your boat was on the Thames in Central London, the Westminster Houses of Parliament, London Bridge, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge would seem to rush past. You would be in no doubt that you are being taken quite quickly by the moving tide. Unlike the sensation of being on a boat on the Thames, most of our lives are lived as though we are on a boat out at sea. The difference between those two situations is having points of reference. If you are drifting out to sea, you have no idea have far or how fast you are moving because there are few physical indicators of your changing location.

If we live unexamined lives, we will inadvertently drift with the culture.

This analogy reveals a key reason why New Year’s resolutions are helpful.

Most of us are drifting in our society. We go with the flow and fail to recognise where the currents are taking us. The values of our culture continue to shift and change. If we live unexamined lives, we will inadvertently drift with the culture. Our culture increasingly feels comfortable with self-gratification, is committed to ease, endorses the morals which are the lowest common denominator, encourages unfettered acquisition as well as many other values that fail to reflect the values we once held.

The challenge is how to arrest the drift. New Year’s Eve resolutions could be a good place to start. They are not a silver bullet, there is no such thing, but they can help. The beginning of each year is a great time to reassess our lives, discern our drift and clarify where we would like to be. This won’t happen, though, if you just jot down a few ideas on New Year’s Eve and hope that by doing so, you will make a miraculous shift. That is delusional. If New Year’s resolutions are to make any difference, there need to be four elements in what you do.

First, create some markers, points of reference, something to assess your progress by. A simple example of a marker is a set of bathroom scales. How do people go from a normal healthy body weight in their 20s to morbidly obese by their mid-40s? They fail to check their progress regularly on a set of scales. What is true of your weight is also true in every part of your life – in your relationships, career, finances, personal health and faith. The first task is to set some markers of what you feel you would like to achieve or what is a healthy, positive life for you.

Second, decide what you would like to change and set some concrete goals. Write down some targets for personal growth in different areas of your life. These may be your physical health, your interpersonal relationships, your finances or even your life of faith. This is not easy to do, so try to be specific in what you would like to achieve.

Third, monitor your progress. I do this every few months. Keep your list somewhere obvious and look over your resolutions and assess how you are going. Remember, don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss your targets. This exercise is a tool to help you, not an opportunity to beat yourself up.

Fourth, share your goals with a trusted friend. Confide in someone who has your best interests in mind, who will keep confidences on what you share with them and will encourage you throughout the year.

The key outcome of New Year’s resolutions is not to make you a wealthy or a stunningly successful individual. The key outcome is to arrest the drift. To help you, through prayer and focus, to bridge your character and grow towards what you are called to do and be and not just reflect the culture around you.

Let 2022 be the year where you arrest the drift and set yourself on a path to a renewed and vital life of faith.

Karl Faase is CEO of Olive Tree Media, host of Jesus the Game Changer TV/DVD series and presenter of the Daily Nudge radio spots.