It’s the season for resolutions as many of us take the opportunity to round into the new year by establishing goals for ourselves, creating new targets and working toward personal improvement. I read an article in Inc.magazine recently which noted that over 80% of us who make such resolutions ultimately fail. According to the author, the reasons include the facts that our resolutions tend to be too non-specific and/or we set goals that are far too lofty.
According to Stanford University behavioral scientist, BJ Fogg, the best way to effect such change is to “go small”, that is to convert bigger goals into smaller habits and to work to incorporate those habits into our daily routines. Fogg describes this in Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything. The general idea is that you make the task so small that it’s almost impossible not to do it. Then, once it’s part of your normal routine, you increment up slowly in the direction of your broader objective.
I’ll admit that I’ve been putting this into practice and, more often than not, it’s working. Rather than trying to walk 10,000 steps every day, I started much smaller than that. Rather than journaling consistently, I began by adding an entry just once per week. I built up from there. BJ Fogg’s onto something here.
I was reminded of this once as I prepared a homily and reflected on the Beatitudes. Talk about some lofty goals, the Beatitudes espouse the importance of living the eight distinct attributes Jesus describes as essential for redemption. These include being poor in spirit, meek, merciful, righteous, and pure of heart. Just a week ago, as I was considering John’s Gospel for Christmas and the ways we personally can accept the gift of divinity entering into humanity, I noted the call to forgive, the importance of actively rejecting racism and hatred, the need to prioritize prayer, and seeing Christ in the face of others, especially when most difficult. Again, these are lofty goals.
Using the small habit approach, the beginning of a new year is a good time to consider our spiritual goals and break them down into doable tasks that we can continue and build upon over time. For example, if you aim to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis, set out to go to Confession once before the Fourth of July, then again before Christmas. Or, if you wish to keep a prayer journal, start by recording just one item each day which describes something or someone for which or whom you are grateful.
Some other examples of small habits:
Pray one decade of the rosary each day.
Begin every day by praising God, before you get out of bed.
Read one paragraph of the bible every day.
Meditate on forgiveness and consider one person to forgive.
Find just five minutes of prayerful silence every day.
Begin to listen to spiritual and worship-oriented music instead of other alternatives.
The path to heaven begins with baby steps. Instead of trying to take a dramatic leap forward in our spiritual lives this year, let’s walk the path more deliberately and in manner we can sustain over time. Research shows we’ll likely be far more successful.