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January 9, 2014

MAY: Transforming ourselves

— Last week, we looked at the resolutions that many make at the beginning of the year. Surveys and studies have shown that most of those resolutions don’t last through the month, let alone the entire year.

In the book of Romans, Paul challenges us to not just resolve — try — to do better, but to actually transform ourselves, thereby producing different, long-lasting results.

In Romans 12:1-2 he hints that there are four agents that are at work, trying to influence change in life. First we change when we are motivated on a personal level — from within, our “self” if you will. The second agent at work for change in our lives is the network of people who influence us — sometimes people that we know, and sometimes society as a whole.

We used to call this agent “peer pressure” — it is the presence of a social influence. The third change agent is the structure around us — circumstances, media, physical structures. Finally there is a spiritual level which attempts to influence change.

Let’s consider today how we are transformed on a personal level. W. Edwards Deming said, “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and THEN do your best.” When it comes to changing our behavior for the better — whether our character in a godly way or simply eliminating an unhealthy habit — we have to be very clear and specific about what we actually expect to change.

We have come to believe that as long as we are doing our best, everything will be all right. That sounds like a “fair” thing to demand — our best. It kind of fits into our view of the American way — work hard and that is good enough. But it seems that Paul is asking our thinking to be transformed — not just trying really hard, but having clear expectations about what we want to change.

Let’s say that I have set a goal to lose 10 pounds as the year begins. Ten pounds sounds like a reasonable task. Now it’s up to me to try hard to lose the weight. My expectations are for the 10 pounds — the end result — not on what it will take to actually lose the weight.

That evening as I wait at a favorite restaurant for my family to join me, the menu shows a picture of an appetizer of chips and queso. If my expectations do not include the behavior behind the result, my resolution is doomed.

Without knowing exactly what we want or need to change, we end up spinning our wheels and becoming discouraged at our lack of progress. But when we know exactly what behaviors need to change, we can set forth a plan that can successfully build the desired result. A few behaviors can drive the change that produces a lot of results.

In addition to expectations, our own personality must be considered. What is it inside of you that helps or hinders you in changing behavior?

Will Rogers said that there are three kinds of men: ones that learn by reading, a few who learn by observation and the rest who have to touch the electric fence and find out for themselves. What is in your personality that drives how you learn and change? Do you have to touch the fence?

There are many personality tests like the Myers/Briggs test that can help you identify personality tendencies and trends. You may be an idea person but following through on the details is a weakness. Your introverted personality may make standing up against the crowd more difficult. What are the personality traits that make change difficult for you?

Finally, transforming myself to produce change must take into account critical moments. Think again about my temptation to order the chips and queso. Not all of life moments are equal. Most of the time I was busy, almost on autopilot, and not tempted with by queso. But alone in a restaurant with time to kill and a picture to motivate, the craving began. During the course of the day, the moments when I was dying for the snack were actually quite infrequent.

This is true for all of us and all of our temptations to sin. Not all of our life moments are equally challenging. Few teens struggle with viewing pornography websites when their grandparents are in the room. We don’t lapse into lax behavior at work when our boss is making the rounds. We don’t feel the urge to over spend when we are balancing our checkbooks.

Get the point? When it comes to personal challenges, there really are only a handful of moments when we are the most at risk. Those critical moments are the ones that you need to be able to identify, critique and develop a workable plan for a better resolution.

When you are able to transform yourself — clarify your expectations, account for your personality habits and bends, and isolate your critical moments — you will be able to do more than resolve for a better year. You will actually begin to live it.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com

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