Every month we will be featuring a Counseling Focus on the Blog. For the month of January we wanted to feature one of our wonderful counselors who works in the clinic with our students at Moody Bible Institute. Steve is the Associate Dean for Counseling Services and oversees the team that provide care to our leaders who are preparing for ministry. He offers some thoughtful advice in developing successful New Year's Resolutions.
The New Year has arrived. With the beginning of another year also comes the formation of New Years’ Resolutions. With the best of intentions, we dream of new possibilities. We make declarations, and plow forward on our new path. Then…reality sets in. Before we can say “happy Valentine’s Day,” our intentions and declarations dissipate, and the “old ways” reestablish their tyranny. Change is difficult. A number of obstacles stand in our way when we endeavor to alter long-term patterns of behavior. Here are some tips to help make your New Years’ Resolutions successful.
1. Research & Plan
When tackling any major project, it often helps to do some research. How have others approached this? What seems to work? What problems might I encounter? It is unlikely that your particular resolution is unique to you. Take some time to explore how others have chosen to navigate the challenge. This might help you to construct a workable plan.
2. Set An Achievable Goal
Too often we set unrealistic goals when seeking to change. We resolve to… lose a great deal of weight… spend two hours every day reading the Bible… pay off many years of accrued debt in a short period. These are examples of ways we can unintentionally set ourselves up for failure. We have admirable motives – but do not allow for enough daily, weekly, and monthly variance to make “success” realistic in the long-term. When we begin to encounter difficulties, we are then inclined to give up more quickly.
A better approach is to set smaller, more realistic goals. The phrase “start small, go slow” on the surface sounds defeatist. However, this approach can help to relieve some of the intense pressure we might feel to “fix it all” right away. We are then encouraged by our progress, and motivated to continue. It is also important to celebrate these small victories or milestones. This acknowledgement can help to solidify our commitment to ongoing change. We recognize that progress has been achieved, and are hopeful about celebrating another milestone in the future.
3. Acknowledge and Confront Fear
Even though we believe that we want to change, a small part of us might be afraid of what it might be like to let go of long-held coping strategies. What if I fail? What if my attempts backfire? What will other people think? Understand that fear can be a normal part of change – but it needn’t discourage you from plowing forward. The unknown can be an intimidating force. Sometimes we feel so threatened by the unknown, that we relapse into old behaviors simply because they are “comfortable” and “predictable.” One of the best ways to cope with fear is to have a group of caring supporters to hold us up during the change process.
4. Set Up a Support Network
Prior to enacting your plan, recruit at least two (or three to five if possible) close friends who can cheer for you, celebrate successes, and lovingly push you forward when you are discouraged. Change does not happen in isolation because we are not in isolation. We have contact with other people all the time. Inviting others to join us on our trek may not only help us, but our companions as well.
At the same time, you can serve in that same support role for someone else. When we intentionally bless others in their endeavors, we too feel encouraged and strengthened as we face the challenges presented to us. These relationships become a two-way street of mutual support, encouragement, and progress.
As you prayerfully move forward on your resolutions for 2015, take a moment to ask God:
What would you have me change?
Please send others to help and support me.
Who can I support or encourage this year in their endeavors?
Help me to use these changes to bring You glory and honor.
By Steve Brasel,
Associate Dean for Counseling Services at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL