As our new decade begins, the media, merchants and politicians are having a field day spinning our hopes for a brighter future in ways that are beneficial to themselves, often appealing to our innate biases and shallower aspects of our being. However, we can choose to use the new year and the new decade in deeper, more sacred ways, by looking deeply and honestly at our lives and deciding to take control to create new, more positive beginnings for ourselves, our families, and our world. Changing for the better is a fundamental human urge, but most resolutions fail within a month if they ever get off the ground. We need to create meaningful goals and develop sustainable strategies if we are to succeed to take our lives to a new level.
The first step is to admit that lasting change is difficult, but understand that we can do hard things, so there is no need to try to avoid them. Many people spend their lives avoiding anything that can be painful and difficult, and that is understandable because our dominate modern culture constantly reinforces this because they have a product to sell you to get you out of pain and into pleasure. But human beings were designed to be able to handle life even when the worst comes before us.
One example of a person who questioned his ability to overcome difficult beliefs and behaviors but ended up doing really good things is this lament from St. Paul over two thousand years ago:
“My own behavior baffles me. I find myself not doing what I really want to do, but doing what I really loathe...I often find that I have the will to do good, but not the power...What a wretched man I am!” Romans, 7:15-24
I know I’ve shared St. Paul’s frustrations at times and know many others have as well. Despite his self-proclaimed “wretchedness,” Paul went on to be a saint. We can also face our difficult challenges with courage and enter our new decade with a firm resolve to bring our lives in line with our deepest and most meaningful values.
Change is automatic, but progress toward our goals is not, and meaningful change is often difficult to sustain because we face hurdles along the way. But knowing that life is naturally a hurdle event puts everything in a different perspective. The effort to jump the hurdle will be the same, but with a new belief, they will become a challenge rather than an insurmountable obstacle. Many of our challenges can be seen more as speed bumps that chisel our characters rather than walls that stop us in our tracks.
Typical new year’s resolutions focus around health, relationships, finances and careers, which are all important areas of life that need to be measured in order to be managed. A book I recommend to anyone wanting to set goals is Stephen Covey’s classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” especially the habit of “First Things First” to assure you are putting your ladder on the wall that is truly most important to you. Set your goals and schedule the activities you must do to attain the goals, otherwise they will remain a dream that never becomes reality.
Some other suggested outcomes to consider can include deeper goals such as living more spiritually and mindfully, maintaining an attitude of gratitude, having good humor and taking time out for fun (Covey calls this “sharpening the saw”), and helping others in anyway you reasonably can because, I promise, this will bring you joy. Keep in mind that everybody has setbacks and suffering in their journey. Our country is facing a controversial presidential impeachment trial in the Senate and the 2020 elections will be one of the most divisive in our lifetimes. About half of our country will be unhappy with the outcomes, but remain in good cheer because everybody wins or loses at certain times. Just because some things are broken does not mean that everything is broken and having a durable optimistic attitude is an essential part of life.
Along with our many challenges, there are many great things happening among people who are committed to the good in our world. We have the responsibility to ourselves, our family (especially our children), our community and our planet to stay on the positive side of the balance. I encourage you to totally commit to at least one major change in the new decade that can contribute to a more joyful and cohesive world because the need has never been greater. Choose to live your life with the broadest possible perspective, from the highest point of view and with the clearest possible 20/20 vision, and you will choose your own greatness and be a positive force in the world.
— Mike Matthews is a retired teacher, counselor and mental health administrator with a mission of creating a healthy and cohesive community.