By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

The start of every New Year seems to trigger two phenomena:

  • Pundits gaze into their crystal balls and tell you what the future is going to hold for you; and,
  • The vast majority of people adopt a list of New Year’s Resolutions to improve on last year’s outcomes.

Each trend comes with its own hazards.

About the hazards

Crystal balls are notoriously inaccurate and misleading. And Murphy’s Law says the more risk you take betting on a particular outcome in the future, the more likely something will come along to mess it up.

As for resolutions, we’re inclined to break them as fast as we make them. It’s one thing to adopt a goal. It’s quite another to achieve it. And it’s a bummer when we look back and realize how poorly we did.

About the benefits

That said, there are some benefits to both of these seasonal practices.

While crystal balls aren’t reliable, the practice of taking a long view across the broad horizons of our personal and professional lives is a good one. Even if it doesn’t yield any certainties about the future, it does give us a better perspective on where we are and where we are going – or ought to be going.

As for resolutions, it’s a good and healthy thing to try to set new goals for personal or professional improvement at least once a year. What’s not healthy is thinking the work is done then. Instead, we have to remember that the root of resolution is resolve. To each resolution we adopt, we have to bring enough resolve – persistent resolve – to actually accomplish it.

That’s not a once-a-year thing. It’s a day-in-day-out thing. We need to stick to our guns. And when we fail, we need to try again – with even greater resolve than we had initially.

Looking ahead

If you are an organizational leader, now is a good time to look out over two horizons:

  • Your personal domain. What would you like to see happen in your life in the coming year? What concrete things can you do to increase the likelihood that they will happen? What incremental steps can you take to achieve those concrete steps? What should you avoid thinking or doing?
  • Your organizational domain. What would you like to see happen in your organization in the coming year? What elements are within your scope of influence? What can you do to increase the likelihood that what you want is what will happen? What incremental steps can you take to support your goals? What should you avoid thinking or doing?

If nothing else, asking and struggling to answer these questions will help make you more intentional in the year ahead, and that’s a good thing.

Cultivating habits

Whether we are trying to develop a clearer picture of our future or trying to influence its outcomes with a series of resolutions, it helps to recognize that a powerful approach to getting outcomes to match our intentions is cultivating effective habits.

Most of us are familiar with the observation, mentioned by Stephen Covey and countless others:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

The fact is that we become – and come to be known for – how we consistently behave.

Many of our habits and aspects of our character just accumulate from the life experiences that we have. We don’t nurture them. We don’t give them much thought. We often aren’t even aware of them.

But the good news is that we can actively participate in the development of our habits and character – and, indeed, we absolutely should do so. Why leave our very identity to matters of whim and circumstance?

Of course, developing new, healthy habits takes hard work – especially at the beginning, when our habitual behavior does not correspond to the behavior we want to become habitual. That’s when we need resolve – a persistent focus on achieving a new behavior that will in time become our “second nature.”

Stick to it. Meet failure with greater resolve.

The believer’s edge

Here I think believers have an edge – because we don’t have to go after achieving goals, forming habits and developing character alone.

Assuming the goals, habits and character we desire are healthy, we can enlist God’s help – in all three persons of the Trinity. And frankly, we would be foolish not to.

And that gets us to the most important habit of all we can cultivate: prayer.

I’m talking about daily frequent prayer. I’m talking about spontaneous prayer as well as planned prayer time. I’m talking about heartfelt prayer as well as more formal prayer.

I’m talking about a single sentence or two on the fly – a simple acknowledgement that you’re not alone, but always in God’s presence.

Make frequent off-the-cuff prayer a habit and your life will change – dramatically.

  • You will never be alone;
  • You will never need to be afraid;
  • You will experience the confidence that no matter what happens, you are always wrapped in His loving embrace.

Even without the benefit of a crystal ball, we’re betting that will make 2018 a wonderful year for you.

Happy New Year!

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