By the time February rolls around, I’ve either forgotten about the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year, or gave up on them weeks ago. As someone who often enters a cycle of tackling new goals, then getting lazy, burned out, or discouraged, I like to view February as a “Second New Year.”
This year, I want to focus on centering my life around my faith and maintaining my relationship with God through prayer. February is a particularly great time to recommit to these resolutions, as Lent, the season of repentance and renewal, inches ever closer. Below are some tactics I’ve been using to help stay on course.
Live by the Church calendar
Instead of looking at the year based on my work calendar, I look at the months ahead as periods of liturgical activity. Inevitably, it leads me to ponder the why behind each month and season, and helps give my goals a faith-based infrastructure. This year, I want to incorporate exercise into my daily routine (don’t we all?) and a great way for me to stay motivated is to think of my workouts during each season as a different spiritual offering. For example, incorporating exercise into my Lenten sacrifice makes each workout a chance for me to practice discipline and offer up my activities as prayers. Once Lent is over, I hope to maintain the new routines I’ve created and to use Ordinary Time as a way solidifying those new habits. As Advent rolls around and the year comes to a close, I’ll use the quiet anticipation of that season as a time to reflect on my improvement and how God has helped me throughout the year.
Visit your local priest
I recently went to talk to my church’s priest because I was beginning to feel spread too thin and increasingly distant from God. We discussed my prayer routine (or lack thereof) and the areas in my life where I was leaving God out. I walked away feeling lighter and reinvigorated. No, he didn’t give me the answer to life’s questions but he did provide a listening ear and suggestions for how to stay encouraged. If the thought of asking for your priest’s time gives you more anxiety than peace, consider what my priest told me: They are there to keep us “spiritually alive” and to encourage as well as correct us. They are there to help guide us and support us where they can – priests are also people with their own resolutions; they can relate! Talking to my priest as I would to a friend was a wonderful way for me to check in with myself, God and my goals. (P.S. Priests need community too — I’m certain your local priest would love to hear from you.)
Visualize a clean slate
Like many, I am very skilled at beating myself up for a failure or mistake. When I allow myself to let go of past slip-ups — aided by the Sacrament of Reconciliation especially — and just focus on today, it is much easier for me to stick to the goals I set for myself. There are two reasons for treating each day as a new year: 1) Today truly is a new day — the only thing stopping me from trying again is myself. 2) Memento Mori…remember our death! I don’t know when God will call me home, so I attempt to live this life as best I can. This concept of remembering my death is not meant to be depressing but uplifting: I am here today for a reason. God has a plan for me…and the same goes for you. Remembering my death pushes me to try hard, to be grateful and to look for beauty, goodness and truth in each moment. I don’t want to take time for granted by being overly hard on myself, or conversely settling when I know I can do better. We owe it to each of ourselves to be the best we can be.
Find a partner
Having an accountability partner has changed the game for me because it makes my efforts more public — if I fall, I have someone who can encourage me to keep going or maybe even push me to try harder. None of us are meant to go it alone in this world. An accountability partner can also suggest a good resource for your goals! I’m in the process of reading “Dating Detox: 40 Days of Perfecting Love in an Imperfect World” by Kevin and Lisa Cotter, which was recommended to me. I resolved to become more positive about myself and the world around me. Instead of falling back into unhealthy routines and relationships, I want to be able to love freely and live life according to God’s plan for me as he reveals it to me. This book has jump started the process by giving me concrete challenges each day to focus on standing behind my values and striving to live life the way God wants me to. As important as it is to be independent, my accountability partner showed me it’s just as important to have a community of people behind you who love you enough to help you be the person you, and more importantly God, wants you to be. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, they will the best for you and you reciprocate that by willing the best for them.
Of all these tactics to stay on my path of transformation, the most important for me is making time to pray, to plan and to prepare. Each week, I pick a day that I use to plan the week ahead as well as reflect on the previous week. I also use that time to make grocery lists, to-do lists and my favorite: research the feast days of that week to provide that faith-based foundation I’m looking for. Making these lists and doing this research makes my week easy and enjoyable — it’s fun to find reasons to celebrate and even more fun to have all my plans written down and ready to go.
The days that I make prayer and preparation a priority are the days when I tend to see a big difference in how hard I work to make my goals a reality. Sticking to schedule prepares me for whatever I face that day, because I’ve made my relationship with God a priority before anything else (Philippians 4:13). I’ve learned that when I focus on what my priorities and goals are and put God at the center of them, I set myself up for success, hopefully for the whole year through!