richie leber

As we progress into 2020, my hope is that the new year brings us new possibilities and new disciplines that we are passionate about.

It’s one of the most time-honored traditions across America every year to commit to change by adopting a New Year’s resolution. However, according to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of resolutions fail by February. If your resolutions don’t last, you’re not alone.

Over the years, I have personally failed in some of the most popular categories like losing weight, learning a new skill or even spending more quality time with my family. Maybe you can sympathize with the feeling — the apostle Paul did. He wrote in Romans 7:15, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.”

Sound familiar? I’ve said this to myself more than a few times. Recently, I’ve started to look at goal-setting with a new perspective that has helped me achieve a few wins, and I hope what I’ve learned can help you make a positive, lasting change in your life too.

Life.Church Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel says, “Our life is the sum total of all the small decisions we make.” So often we think of big things when we set goals, things that move the needle. I know I’ve said before that I want to lose 20 pounds. I eat healthy and go to the gym for a week, but then I give up because I’m sore or eating healthy just isn’t very fun. Goals that last often start with a small decision that compounds over time.

We can also find success when our “what” is driven by a powerful “why” that we can define. When I made the resolution to lose 20 pounds, it was because I wanted to lose the dad bod and my soft edges. As you might imagine, that goal fell flat within the first 30 days. For me to get serious about my health, it took me going to a doctor and hearing him tell me that my lifestyle was leading me down a path that would negatively affect my family and future. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

It reminds me of something Pastor Craig shared in his Leadership Podcast. He suggests that when we commit to a goal, we should “focus on the who before the do.” Many times, I catch myself focusing on the measure of what I want to happen rather than who I want to become as a result of the reaching my goal. When I finally defined who I wanted to become — a healthy pastor, dad and husband who loves Jesus and whose body reflects his passion for his ministry — it was a game-changer.

Another trap I often fall into is trying to start with multiple habits. However, in Zechariah 4:10 it says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” When I try to focus on too many things at once, I actually end up losing focus. I would encourage you to ask yourself, “Based on who you want to become, what one habit do you need to start or stop?”

Something else I’ve let derail me multiple times are the factors that I cannot control. When it comes to goal-setting, the systems we put in place are just as important as goal itself. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” When we create a system that supports our goal, it reinforces our behavior in ways that lead toward making our goal a habit.

For example, to be able to get up at 4:50 every morning and head to the gym, I have to have a system in place that starts the night before. The system starts at 10 p.m. when I brush my teeth, floss, set my alarm clock and go to sleep. I also wear my workout clothes to bed — except, of course, my shoes — so that when the alarm clock goes off the next morning, all I need to do is roll out of bed and get in the car. No thinking necessary. Anything I do from that point forward, I consider a net gain that leads me toward achieving my goal and ultimately toward becoming the person I want to be.

No matter where you stand with your New Year’s resolutions — whether you’re winning or you gave up two weeks ago — I hope you recognize that today is a new day. Today, you have the opportunity to start new goals that lead you to be who God has called you to be! And just as Paul said in Philippians 4:13, You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.