Great news – 1 in 8 New Year’s Resolutions work out! The bad news: 88% of all resolutions end in failure.
Most of us assume that self-control is largely a character issue, and that we would follow through on our New Year’s resolutions if only we had a bit more discipline. But this research suggests that willpower itself is inherently limited, and that our January promises fail in large part because the brain wasn’t built for success.
All of us have experienced some degree of success when resolving to make change. The right motivation – we accomplish more. We can overcome our difficulties. We do the hard work, and have some faith that we can. It is the small action with associated small wins that lead to success. Failure comes when we attempt to take shortcuts or do too much too quickly. Frankly, I think we prefer to rationalize and blame something beyond our control. The opening article for example, “the brain wasn’t built for success.” Taking responsibility is the first action that will provide the right motivation.
There are two authors whom I think provide some insight: Dr. Luke and Steven Covey. First of all Luke, The Temptation of Jesus as written in Luke 4:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” vv. 4.3, 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.'”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” vv. 4.5-8
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” vv. 4.9-12
- Appetite: Jesus was tempted to eat. This is the lie that we should have more. “I’ll never have enough.” We desire to be satiated. The opposite of satiation is fear and the desire for more. Luke made this point in verses 3 and 4. This correlates to Covey’s first restraining force: appetites and passions.
- Ambition: Jesus was tempted to step into glory through a shortcut. This is the lie that we should do more. “I’ll never accomplish enough.” We desire to live in our strengths. The opposite of strength is weakness and guilt. Luke observed this in verses 4-9. This correlates to Covey’s third restraining force: unbridled aspiration and ambition.
- Approval: Jesus was tempted to compare. Pride is comparing self to others. This is the lie that we should be more. “I’ll never be enough.” We long to be accepted. The opposite of approval is shame and rejection. Luke made this point in verses 9-12. This correlates to Covey’s second restraining force: pride and pretension.
First, to overcome the restraining forces of appetites and passions, I resolve to exercise self-discipline and self-denial. Whenever we over-indulge physical appetites and passions, we impair our mental processes and judgments as well as our social relationships.
Second, to overcome the restraining forces of pride and pretension, I resolve to work on character and competence.
Third, to overcome the restraining forces of unbridled aspiration and ambition, I resolve to dedicate my talents and resources to noble purposes and to provide service to others.
We are tempted in the same way Jesus was tempted. Why would it be any different for you? The solution isn’t to try to do more of the same but rather to try something new. The solution is to resolve to make change. Ask God for help. Recognize how and when you are tempted and avoid those circumstances. Take small steps. Accept small wins and turn those into greater success. Develop a plan. Find the right motivation. Find some accountability. And, stop blaming others for your mis-steps. Find personal victory. For more help, check out this free workbook.
*Dave Rhodes introduced this concept to a group of us at a recent workshop. He described what he calls “Life Drifts” or those things that tempt us to take shortcuts. It is a wonderful exegesis of Jesus’ temptation as found in Luke 4.1-14. Here is a great video on the subject.