“It will make your back feel better, protect you from injury, and give you great abs.”
The physical therapist was making a compelling case for why I should make time every day for the exercises she was prescribing. Years of working in awkward positions as a dental hygienist, combined with the hours of computer work I do every day was causing me discomfort—enough discomfort to seek medical advice. The exercises she prescribed would take less than ten minutes a day, and I should feel better almost immediately. I eagerly embraced her recommendations. After all, it was my idea to seek help.
Yet I didn’t do the exercises.
Oh, I thought about them every day. I agreed they were good for me. I acknowledged I should do them. I even bought an exercise ball and put it in the family room so I’d have everything I needed to follow her plan.
Yet I didn’t do the exercises.
One of my dental patients shared a similar story. “I know I need to floss,” she said. “When I do, my mouth feels cleaner, my breath smells better, and my gums don’t bleed. I read just yesterday how having healthy gums can help prevent heart and kidney disease, which is really important since my father died of a heart attack.”
Yet she doesn’t floss.
I even hear this in regard to spiritual disciplines. “I know I should ________________(read my Bible, pray, give, serve). When I do, I feel less fearful, more fulfilled, and more productive. I handle stress better, and my husband and I fight less.”
Yet many don’t have regular times of Bible reading and prayer.
Why do we struggle to do the things we should? Even the things we want to do and acknowledge are good and helpful?
Even the mighty apostle Paul struggled with this. He expressed his frustration in Romans 7:18-19:
"I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”
If Mary Hunt, the brain behind the money-saving blog, Everyday Cheapskate, had been around in Paul’s day, he would have benefited from her advice. Thankfully, Mary IS around in our day. She shared a post called “Why 88% of New Years Resolutions Fail and How to Make Them Work.” It’s a practical, helpful read, and one I suggest you print and keep.
Without copying and pasting the whole article here, she and B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, share four steps to new year resolution success:
1. Pick only one resolution. Instead of vowing to lose 30 pounds, exercise daily, and cut out everything but vegetables and tofu from your diet, choose one goal. My goal is to do my physical therapy exercises.
2. Take baby steps. “Make it tiny, even ridiculously so,” Hunt advises. The characteristics of a truly tiny step is that it’s quick and easy. For me, it would be doing one set of my PT exercises (there are 10 in the overall plan). For my floss-flunking patient, it might be to floss one tooth.
3. Become accountable. Write it down. Tell someone else. Enlist a partner to work on one resolution of her own and compare notes at the end of each week.
4. Give yourself positive feedback. Reward yourself, do something that makes you happy, or celebrate with your accountability partner.
After sharing our mutual self-improvement failures, my dental patient and I agreed to make ourselves accountable to each other. “I’ll work toward doing my exercises regularly,” I told her, “and you work on developing a regular floss habit.” She agreed, and when she comes back in 6 months for her checkup, we’re going to compare notes.
I’ve been working Mary Hunt’s plan for about a month now. Instead of trying to do all the sets of exercises my physical therapist prescribed every day (ten in all), I decided to exercise on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On those days, I might not do all the exercises, but I at least do something.
Four weeks into my experiment, I'm still exercising. There’s something delicious about giving myself the freedom to skip a day in between. And take the whole weekend off. One day this week, I chose to do my exercises on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, because I knew Wednesday would be busier. SCANDALOUS!
Instead of experiencing defeat and a totally failed resolution, I’m successfully building a habit. And you know what? I feel great. No back pain. No muscle cramps. And I think maybe, just maybe, I see a hint of an ab muscle forming . . . imagine that.
As you move into the new year, I hope you’ll choose one discipline to work on. Begin with baby steps, make yourself accountable, and reward yourself for progress. At the end of the year, you’ll be delighted with what you’ve accomplished.
And if spending time with the Lord every day is your goal, may I suggest a resource that will help?
And it’s available on Kindle, so if you carry your phone with you, you can also carry my book. At $2.99 for the Kindle version, it’s cheaper than your favorite latte and will be a great investment in your spiritual life in 2016.
Whatever your goals for the new year, I pray God’s blessings on your efforts. And if you’d like to make yourself accountable, leave a comment below, and I’ll pray for you. Happy New Year!