Saturday, February 13, 2016

2016 New Year’s Resolutions: Changes

(photos will follow)

Last week we discovered that we need to learn how to make healthier lifestyle choices.  However, many of us don’t have concrete plans to achieve our goals, which often results in disappointment.  We recognize that the excitement of a new year stems from the promise of fresh starts, new beginnings, and ‘second chances.’  Christians serve and cling to the God of second chances, because we all have regrets and desire the opportunity begin anew. Thankfully, a fresh start, is exactly what God offers to each of us (e.g., 1 John 1:9; Isaiah 65:17; and Lamentations 3:22-23).

This new beginning is not only for our spiritual growth. Unfortunately, many religious teachers have focused almost exclusively on spiritual development even though we are multi-dimensional creatures made up of hearts (emotions), souls (spirituality), minds (intellect/thinking), and strength (physical/body), and we are created to love God with the totality of our being (see Luke 10:27).  Jesus modeled a balanced life for us—not just how to care for others, but to also engage in healthy self- care. In fact, most resolutions focus on self-care –perhaps that is because we often neglect this area (e.g., when experiencing stress or trauma). Unfortunately, many churches have belittled self-care declaring it to be selfish. Of course, they would never state that Jesus was being selfish when He engaged in self-care, because He was busy ministering to throngs of people and would have been exhausted without rest and nourishment.  Yet, we also live very busy lives that drain our energy and resources. Dr. Phil McGraw, a popular TV personality and author, illustrates the need for self care in his analogy of travelling on an airplane with a dependent: If the plane is in trouble, the oxygen masks will descend, and individuals need to put the masks on.  Passengers travelling with dependents may automatically think they should place the masks on their dependents first. Dr. Phil emphasizes that this would be the WRONG decision. If the caregiver places the mask on their dependent first, what happens if they then lose consciousness from lack of oxygen?  Then the dependent is left without someone to care for them. The message is clear: without self-care, our resources become drained, and we have nothing to give to others.
Just as Jesus led a balanced life, we also need to practice balanced giving and receiving. My chaplain friend uses a 9” builder’s level as a visual reminder of the need for balanced living; the words, “heart”, “soul”, “mind” , and “strength”  (Luke 10:27) are written on it.

 If we sort our goals into these four categories the level can also help keep us on track with our resolutions, including pointing out where the imbalances in our lives lay (i.e., if there is a longer list in one of the areas, such as ‘strength’, it may indicate we have neglected our physical well-being), and what we need to do to restore our equilibrium. The good news is that some changes only require fine-tuning of the healthier habits we have already established, and small changes can add up to large benefits. Plus some changes may involve getting back on track. How do we make these essential changes?

Let’s consider our approaches and strategies to achieving our goals.  One approach is to slowly wean ourselves from an unhealthy habit (e.g., to quit smoking by reducing the number of daily cigarettes being smoked). Another method is to totally stop the behavior, which is the approach used in addiction programs. Both approaches are useful for stopping unhealthy behaviours.  Adding healthier habits to our lives can also be done in increments, and the positive changes increase balanced living. In addition, we need to be clear about why we want to change and if we are ready to do so. This clarity will result in being more committed to our goals and reduce the resistance to change. Also, our lives operate from much habitual behaviour. So we need to transform our resolutions into automatic habits, which are formed by consistent repetition. Research shows that forming a new habit takes approximately 66 days; thus, we need to be persistent.

Some practical tips to increase our success:
1. Set Goals that Motivate You; 2. Set SMART Goals (goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound); 3. Set Goals in Writing; 4. Make an Action Plan; 5. Stick With It!

Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk
Former Salvation Army Officer


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