Why Our New Years Resolutions Fail – And The One That Matters

The New Year: a time to symbolically start over. Resolutions provide an opportunity to “fix” ourselves and correct all of last year’s mistakes. We hope to discover a perfected, happier, better version of who we are.

You’ll find no shortage of articles in both secular culture and Catholic circles about how to improve ourselves. We set the bar at a nearly unattainable height for faith, family, finances, and health. “I should pray more.” “I should be more loving to my family.” “I should be more responsible with my money.” “I should eat right and exercise more.”

“I should be better…” “I should…” “I should…” “I should…”

The natural starting point for many of us is to focus on our imperfections. We stay distracted by all the ways we fall short of impossible standards. We get tangled in half-truths. We believe the closer we get to perfection, the more lovable, respected, competent and accepted we will be. We tell ourselves that attainment of perfection reflects our worth, our goodness. And when we deviate from our plan even the slightest bit, we feel guilt, shame and eventually give up. This is why most New Year’s resolutions don’t last very long. What an impossible and incredibly discouraging undertaking!

New Year’s resolutions draw us in by preying on our fear that we are not good enough and reinforce a distorted belief that we need to earn love. This jumpstarts our anxiety, motivating us to strive to correct our imperfections. And although the resolutions that we strive for are good, there is a reason why they often don’t last the year. We start in the wrong place. We try to find our worth in things that by their nature will never fulfill us.

Instead of living in this distorted reality, our faith invites us to become aware of a profound truth. True reality is that we were created good and that we are loved, just for being alive. Our dignity comes from Christ’s redemptive love which incorporates us into God’s adopted family. It provides us with the belonging that we all seek. God loved us first (1John 4:19). We don’t need to earn it!

As a psychotherapist, I frequently see cycles of discouragement. One of the most important realities I try to communicate with each person seeking healing is that they are lovable and good regardless of their efforts. I hope to clear the obstacles standing in the way of being receptive to God’s unconditional love.

This love is certainly salient in the sacrament of confession. New Year’s resolutions are often a catalyst for change. The experience in confession can be similar to this, but the difference is that we come to the Lord in our brokenness. Confession brings to mind that our goodness does not depend on our efforts. We experience there what we are truly looking for at the deepest level. We are loved in our brokenness, in spite of our brokenness, and beyond our brokenness. The Lord sees us. The real us. And He accepts and loves us in our failures.

In confession, we are given the grace to be receptive to God. By starting here and accepting His love in our areas of weakness, all the goals for self-improvement begin to happen as a fruit of a loving relationship. And it happens in such a smooth and natural way. We are awakened, empowered, and enabled by God’s grace, to be holier, to be more loving, to be better stewards of God’s gifts, to be healthier and more virtuous. We become more of ourselves when we receive God’s never-ending outpouring of love.

My New Year’s Resolution for 2016? I just want to be in God’s presence. I want to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). I want to see me as He sees me. I want to see you as He sees you. I want to know His love.

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