3 Keys to Lasting Growth and Change
In January many people resolve to make changes. But these resolutions often fail. Is there a better way to achieve personal growth in your life?
Every 365 or 366 days, when a new calendar year rolls around, we hear about resolutions. People resolve to do something different—to make changes in their life—throughout the coming year. Usually these resolutions involve stopping a bad habit or building a good habit. They often include things like eating healthier or reducing spending.
The major problem with the idea of New Year’s resolutions is not the goals themselves. The problem is that so few people actually sustain their resolutions throughout the year. In fact, of the people who make resolutions, 80 percent give up on their goal by the month of February! Another study showed that Jan. 12 is the day when, on average, most resolutions have been abandoned.
Let that sink in: Most resolutions (goals) have failed within less than two weeks!
That is a pretty abysmal track record.
The problem with New Year’s resolutions
There are many reasons resolutions fail. Here are a few:
First, they are often extremely broad. They are often huge goals. Sometimes people even make multiple huge resolutions at the same time. But the broad goals prove too overwhelming and are discarded when they become too hard to implement.
Second, setting a goal for an entire year sets people up to fail almost from the start. When people set a broad goal for a 12-month period and then stumble shortly after starting on that goal—the whole goal can seem lost, and people simply give up.
Third, the entire idea of New Year’s resolutions, saving up areas in our life we want to change and improve for one time of the year, is itself problematic. By planning to grow at just one time of the year, people set themselves up for failure.
There is a much better way!
The vital importance of personal growth
The Bible has a lot to say about personal growth and change. In fact, it’s not an overstatement to say that growth is one of the biggest themes of the Bible. God doesn’t want people to be satisfied with the status quo of their life, and He doesn’t want us to continue habits and behavior that hurt us. He wants us to change and grow!
Notice how the apostle Paul described it: “Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, emphasis added throughout).
“Abound more and more” is just another way of saying grow! Constantly strive to become a better person. Every day, every month, every year, we should endeavor to walk more like Jesus Christ (1 John 2:6) and strive to live a life more pleasing to God.
In another place, Paul told a congregation of Christians that he constantly prayed that “you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
Being fruitful means growing in the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit—the nine characteristics we find in Galatians 5:22-23. Increasing in the knowledge of God means we are diligently studying the Bible to grow in our understanding of it.
As these and many other scriptures show, growth is inseparable from genuine Christianity!
This is why the idea of New Year’s resolutions is a flawed idea. A Christian shouldn’t tie a resolve to grow and change to just one time on the calendar. Growth should be a way of life. It should be something we are thinking about and resolving to do constantly throughout the year.
Three keys to lasting growth and change
Let’s consider three basic keys to being in a constant mode of change and growth in our lives.
- Continually examine the Bible for your highest priority growth needs.
One of the reasons God has given us the Bible, His Word, is for us to use it to examine our lives. We are told that two of the great purposes of the Bible are for “correction” and “instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
In other words, a Christian looks into the Bible to find God’s standard. When we are not meeting that standard, we have to be willing to go through the (sometimes) painful process of self-correction.
The book of James uses a mirror as an analogy for going through this process. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23-25).
So when we look into the Bible and see that we don’t match what it says we should be, we can either forget about it and go on being the person we are—or we can make changes and grow to be more like the man or woman God expects us to be.
For example, we can read through the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 and examine whether or not we are really displaying all nine characteristics in our life.
Am I a loving person? Am I a joyful person? Am I a peaceful person? Am I a patient person? Am I a kind person? Am I a good person? Am I a faithful person? Am I a gentle person? Am I a person who exercises self-control?
The areas where we find ourselves falling short of what we should be are the areas we should really target for growth and change in our lives.
To learn more about how to use the Bible to examine our lives, read our article “Measuring Your Spiritual Growth.”
- Strive to make growth a constant and consistent part of your life.
As we’ve already said, resolving to change and grow should not be something we focus on at only one time of the calendar year. To be effective, it needs to be a constant and consistent way of life!
The word the Bible often uses to make this point is steadfast. That’s a very biblical-sounding word that we don’t use much, but its essential meaning is very relevant: firm, immovable, fixed in purpose. That doesn’t mean we don’t change; it actually means we are in a constant state of change. We are immovable in our commitment to God’s way of life, but are also steady and fixed in purpose in our commitment to continue to grow and change.
We are told to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
A Christian should be steadfast and immovable in abounding (growing). Abounding in God’s way of life is something a Christian is constantly focused on.
As growth-oriented Christians, we should be regularly studying God’s Word and learning about the man or woman God expects us to be.It’s interesting that Paul called it “your labor”—in other words, Christians consider growth their occupation. It’s not a one-time-of-the-year endeavor; it’s our daily job.
As growth-oriented Christians, we should be regularly studying God’s Word and learning about the man or woman God expects us to be, honestly looking at our life to see where our greatest growth needs are and committing ourselves to making necessary changes as soon as we see the need for them.
To learn more about this constant endeavor to grow, read our article “True Christianity: Imperfect People Striving Toward Perfection.”
- Tackle your growth needs through specific, short-term goals.
As noted above, one of the reasons resolutions often fail is because they are too broad and spread out over too long of a time period.
Now there are some people who have the ability to set a broad, long-term goal and be successful. Some people can set their mind to quit a particular bad habit and simply do it, never looking back.
But for others—actually, the vast majority of people—change and growth don’t come as easily. They find broad, long-term goals unmanageable and only rarely achievable. But being in this category doesn’t mean we’re doomed to never grow—it means we need to find better strategies.
One strategy we can use is setting more specific and shorter-term goals for ourselves. These kind of goals can set us up for more success and, hopefully, can lead to permanent, long-term growth.
Here are some examples of big changes we can make through specific, short-term goals.
- Big goal: “I want to display more of the fruit of gentleness in my life.”
- Specific, short-term goal: “Over the next week, I will make a conscious effort to demonstrate more gentleness in every interaction I have at work.”
- Big goal: “I want to read the Bible more consistently.”
- Specific, shorter-term goal: “Over the next two weeks, I will complete a thorough study of the Gospel of John. When I have completed that study, I will choose a new book or biblical topic to study.”
- Big goal: “I want to be more generous and giving.”
- Specific, short-term goal: “Over the next two months, I will set aside $40 from each paycheck to use to help someone in need, perhaps by taking someone in need out for dinner or giving him or her an anonymous cash gift.”
- Big goal: “I want to exercise more self-control in my finances.”
- Specific, short-term goal: “Over the next month I will budget exactly how much I need for my weekly necessities, take that amount of cash out of the ATM at the beginning of the week, and limit myself to spending only that cash and not using my credit or debit card.”
Many may find short-term, specific goals more effective. If we do not accomplish them perfectly, we’re not failing in a whole year-long goal. Instead, we simply extend the goal or set a new goal and try again.
The real goal: Long-term character growth
Ultimately, what we are trying to develop is permanent, long-term character growth. Shorter-term goals can be a helpful step in making changes and building habits of character that last. We are not interested just in short-term behavior modification, but in character growth that will become a part of our life.
For example, when we see the benefits that the fruit of gentleness brings to our interactions and relationships with others, hopefully we will integrate that into our character and be a gentler person. When we see how beneficial a generous spirit is to our lives and the lives of others, hopefully we will integrate it into our character and be a more giving person.
Once those positive changes are integrated into our character, they no longer need to be goals—because they have become a permanent part of who we are. Part of our character.
So over the next 12 months—and on into your future—work on changing and growing. Not because it’s a new calendar year, but because you commit to change and growth as your way of life.