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Tomorrow, on January 1st, much of the world will celebrate a brand new year—and make New Year’s resolutions to improve their lives.
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution? Many of us do, but it turns out that few actually succeed: a 2007 study of 3000 people who made those annual resolutions, done at the University of Bristol in England, found that 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail.
Why? Well, the researchers concluded that our goals aren’t granular enough—in other words, most people tend to set big, hard-to-reach targets instead of employing a sequence of steps that use small, measurable goals to reach that bigger target.
Say, for example, that you’d like to lose weight—one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Rather than resolving to lose twenty pounds in the new year, then getting discouraged and quitting when that goal seems too remote and hard to accomplish, the study’s researchers found that setting smaller, more specific daily or weekly goals tended to produce much better results. Resolving to lose a pound every week, for instance, works much better than trying to accomplish that larger 20 pound goal. If the subjects of the New Year’s resolution research used this kind of achievable, step-by-step goal-setting, the study determined, their success rate went up by 22%.
I learned that lesson myself when the large healthcare organization I once worked for decided to help its members and patients get healthier by walking 30 minutes every day. Medical research has shown that daily walking for half an hour prevents weight gain, strengthens muscles, benefits the heart and extends lifespan up to seven additional years. It doesn’t cost anything, either. We wanted everyone to know those facts, so we got the cast of the TV show The West Wing back together and helped make this short video about walking:
That experience taught me something important—that the “dailyness” of my own goals made them achievable and successful. So what about resolving, in the new year, to give your body and your heart 30 minutes a day by walking?
Why Have a Spiritual New Year’s Resolution?
If you can do that, you may want to think about your inner life, too, and set aside some time each day for the spiritual development of your mind, your character and your soul. The Baha’i teachings suggest doing that by resolving to pray, reflect and meditate each day:
If ye will trust in the Word of God and be strong; if ye will follow the precepts of Baha’u’llah to tend the sick, raise the fallen, care for the poor and needy, give shelter to the destitute, protect the oppressed, comfort the sorrowful and love the world of humanity with all your hearts, then … day by day each member will advance and become more and more spiritual. But ye must have a firm foundation and your aims and ambitions must be clearly understood … be humble in your attitude towards God … be constant in prayer to Him, so as to grow daily nearer to God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 72-73.
Encouragement to develop and sustain this kind of daily spiritual practice has a prominent place in the Baha’i teachings. Baha’u’llah revealed three daily obligatory prayers, and ordained that each Baha’i say one of them each day. The shortest one, which Baha’is recite at noon, goes like this:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. v.
Baha’u’llah also asked each Baha’i to reflect, at the end of each day, on their actions:
Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 11.
Developing a daily practice of prayer, reflection and meditation, just as walking generates energy and stamina, builds moral and spiritual strength. If you’re making New Year’s resolutions this year, why not resolve to engage in a period of meditation and prayer every day? It doesn’t have to be long or involved, but it does need to be consistent.
Once you’ve established that spiritual practice, you’ll inevitably begin to understand yourself better, grow closer to your Creator, and strengthen your soul.