Don't Make a New Year's Resolution for 2017. Do THIS Instead.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.
— Providers 16:9

It's that time again. Everybody gets a fresh start, whether we're ready for it or not. It's a great time to ask the following questions with unflinching honesty: DO I LIKE WHO I AM and DO I LIKE WHERE I'M GOING? Take courage. There is still plenty of time to make a difference. Here's a way to make 2017 incredible without a list of resolutions that will be obsolete by mid-January.


1. Write a Mission Statement

Instead of focusing on what you want to do, focus on who you really are. This is a godly principle. Not only is every individual made in the image of God, every believer has a unique set of spiritual gifts brought to life by His presence. When we compare ourselves to other people, it's a recipe for discouragement. You will find freedom and joy by taking a moment to focus on who you really are, and forgiving yourself for everything you're not.  

My mission is to (verb that describes you best) + (thing that you're deeply and uniquely passionate about) in order to (the deepest goal of your life).

I've taught classes on how to develop a personal mission statement. I use this simple formula to help people spend some time discovering God's fingerprint in their life. It's a great tool for making decisions with greater focus and clarity. I wrote my first mission statement when I was 19 as part of a missions training exercise for a trip to India. It has really guided and empowered my life in some significant ways. It lead me to church planting, it helped me understand what kind of business I wanted to launch, and it even motivates me to continue writing. My mission statement is pretty simple:  TELLING THE STORY OF GOD TO INCITE LIFE IN PEOPLE. It's short, but every word is carefully chosen and very important. I would love to hear your mission statement or a good working rough draft.  Feel free to email me.


2. Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

Ideas are a dime-a-dozen. Follow-through changes the world. You will be so motivated by the company that you keep. It's ok to choose your friends based on who makes you laugh, who needs your help, and those that share your tastes in junk food. However, if you really want to change, you need to find people who challenge you -- people who get things done. Don't abandon your old friends, but take some time to invest in some new relationships. Consider asking someone to coach you in a specific area of your life. Find someone you admire, and ask to buy them lunch. When you spend time together, ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers. You will be amazed at how a fresh voice can motivate you.

I'm going to be honest. When I moved to Portland last year, I was overwhelmed by all of the men and women who were already there serving Jesus. On many occasions, I found myself intimidated by their talent, drive, and point of view. Rather than allowing myself to feel threatened, I tried to reach out. It wasn't always easy. However, most people were so gracious in giving me their time and their insight. I'm a better person because of these investments in my life. I never want to stop learning. The biggest lesson I've learned is that if we're willing to look, everyone has something to offer.


3. Focus on a Healthy Personal Rhythm 

Only about 8% of people will actually keep their New Year's resolutions. No wonder people give up.  According to the website Statistic Brain, these are the top five goals people set for the new year: losing weight, getting organized, spending less money, enjoying life to the fullest, and staying fit and healthy. These are great goals! It's depressing to think that most people won't achieve them. So, here's a different approach I've found to be helpful. Instead of making a list of things I want to do eventually, I try to focus on the way I function at my best every single day.

For example, I began to notice that if I set a fitness goal for myself, I would get discouraged and would quit at the first sign of failure. If I focus more on the way I want to live my life on a daily basis, even when I get off track, I always know what I can come back to. For me, it was as simple as realizing a few things.

  • I hate mornings, but I'm so much happier if I wake up early.
  • I need time to read, listen to good music, and connect with God before anything else. Rather than seeing this as a duty, I embrace it. It feels indulgent. I have a special room in my garage where I go. As soon as I walk into that room, it feels like I'm going to see an old friend. Almost anything good that has happened in my life in the past few years has originated in these morning meetings.
  • I need to journal. I'm always thinking, and I struggle to pray silently. My mind is always wandering to something else. A few years ago I downloaded the Evernote app on my phone. I have a special folder in the app called prayer journal. (super original) I start every devotion time with some honest, and real reflection with how I'm doing. I pour out my anxiety, my fear, and my gratitude. I give it to God in written form. This has dramatically changed my intimacy with God. It's a huge part of my daily rhythm.
  • I need to exercise. I've found that instead of focusing on an intense, short-term goal, I do best when I find something I really like. It helps me keep up with it for the long-haul. This year, I'm adding a few new things to my daily routine. I'll let you know how it goes. ;)
  • I like to have breakfast with my daughter. This brings me a ton of joy. I try not to miss this time.
  • I like to have dinner with my family.

What rhythm works for you? Don't just ask, "What should I be doing?" Ask, "What really makes me thrive?" Maybe journaling would be a terrible idea for you. Perhaps you need a more rigorous workout regimen. Maybe you need to include some well-placed solitude in your day. Try some things out. Be honest about what is and isn't working. Structure a life that brings out the best in you. Write it down. You will definitely get off track at some point. Don't worry about it. When you're ready to start again, pick up the schedule, and settle back into your rhythm.  Little changes over a long period of time - that's what will really make a difference.


4. Focus on Joy

I can't take credit for this next point. A good friend by the name if Isaac recently gave me a book that's having a huge impact on my life. It's called Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead. Wow. Do yourself a favor and take a look at this sometime. Instead of butchering the concepts, allow me to share some of my favorite quotes.

We might say that leadership travels at the speed of joy. Joy levels are important in at least three ways. 1. The fast track in the brain is motivated to learn through joy. 2. People with emotional intelligence and relational skills always create joy around them. 3. Leadership skills do not transfer from one person to another in the absence of joy. Leadership that neglects joy rapidly becomes management instead of leadership.
— Warner, Marcus; Wilder, Jim (2016-03-18). Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead (Kindle Locations 308-313). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
RETURN TO JOY. Perhaps the single biggest factor in producing sustainable motivation is the leader’s ability to return to joy from a variety of negative emotions. Leaders who can experience upsetting emotions such as shame, anger, fear, and despair— yet possess the skills to recover quickly and help their people recover as well— are rarely overwhelmed by the situations they face. Groups that learn how to face these emotions and recover collectively grow a strength that can face almost any problem.
— Warner, Marcus; Wilder, Jim (2016-03-18). Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead (Kindle Locations 336-340). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Here's the bottom line. You can't control what happens to you in 2017. However, you can always control your response. You can also focus on some simple, healthy principles that will give you the upper hand in being pro-active. I'm excited about what the future holds. I hope you are too. 

Aaron is the pastor of Spring of Life, a new church in Portland, Oregon. He's the owner of Amplify Creative.