Time for a Fresh Start!

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A clean slate. The opportunity to start over. The chance to do better. Itís here! The start of a new year gives all of us the wonderful new possibility of making a positive change in our lives. In reality we can make a fresh start at anytime of the year, but we tend to realize this more at the beginning of a new year.

The God of Second Chances

We all need a second chance now and again. Iím not a very good golfer, which is probably why my favorite thing about golf is "taking a mulligan." You know what a mulligan is, donít you? If your first shot on the first hole is a bad one then you just pull out another golf ball, tee it up, and smile, "Iíll take a mulligan!" That means youíre starting over. You get a second chance to hit a good shot and your first shot doesnít count against you!

Thatís what God is like. When we hit a bad shot in the game of life He gives us a mulligan. He says, "Go ahead and try again." You sinned. I forgive you. You didnít give your best. Hereís another chance. God is always ready to give us another chance when we ask for it. And we need to do the same with ourselves and with others. We need to join God in being patient and forgiving and resilient. Try again!

Now is a good time to try again. A new year can be a new beginning. Even if it isnít the start of a new year when youíre reading this article you can make a fresh start. "I tell you, now is the time of Godís favor, now is the day of salvation," weíre encouraged by the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 6:2). Right now is a good time to ask yourself, "What do I need to improve about my life?"

New Years Resolutions

Most people do not even make New Years resolutions or any resolutions for self-improvement. They donít resolve to improve themselves. Often because they donít think they can keep it. They may be afraid to fail or afraid to be disappointed. But to give up on improving yourself for any reason is a tragedy. One thing is sure. If you donít take a swing then you donít get to take a mulligan!

I want my mulligan so I stand up and take my best shot. Probably the best New Years resolution I ever made was the first year I was married. Right after my wife I shared a "Happy New Year!" greeting and a hug and a kiss we made a commitment not to let the sun go down on our anger on any given night. Our goal was to talk through and resolve any conflict or hurt feelings before we went to sleep. Well, as you can imagine we had some late nights! But we kept our commitment to each other and it was good for our marriage. In fact, we still try to practice this, though I must admit that weíre older now and sometimes we finish our discussion the next morning!

Steps to Self-Improvement

There are no good excuses for not seeking to improve ourselves. We all have problems to address and things we need to work on. We all have opportunities of one kind or another. To do our best with what we have is what life is about. When we do we will hear our Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your masterís happiness!" (Matthew 25:21).

Here are the steps I follow to make improvements in my life:

  1. Assess Your Life. I believe the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, "The unexamined life is not worth living." So at the start of every new year (and at other times) I re-evaluate my life. Do I feel good about how Iím living? Am I making a difference for Jesus? For people in need? Am I experiencing a sense of meaning? Love? Enjoyment? Where can I improve?
  2. Find the "Want to." All of us have things that we "should" do differently, better, or more of. Trying to change because you should is a suckerís bet. More often then not youíll fail and then feel guilty. Even if you do succeed then youíll be tempted to arrogance. Making a change because you want to is much better. For instance, if you want to stop a bad habit like smoking, your chances of success are much better if you do it because you want to. If you want to be healthier, save the money, or be free of the odor then you have a fighting chance of implementing a program for overcoming your urges to smoke.
  3. Set a Realistic Goal. Years ago, when I was studying for my Ph.D. in psychology I resolved to read the entire series of Barclayís commentaries on the New Testament. Now that was a lofty goal, especially in the midst of graduate school. I gave up before I was even a quarter done. (Which wasnít all bad, as I benefited from the study I did.) Had I been more realistic in my time frame for my goal I might not have given up. In that case Iíd still be reading now 15 years later!
  4. Give Yourself Options. One year, my goal was to put more priority on friendships and picked two ways to do this. I arranged to start playing tennis regularly with a friend and I joined a support group. The tennis games fizzled, but the support group continued.
  5. Pick a Reward. To help you accomplish a difficult task it helps if you know that thereís a tangible reward waiting for you. Have you ever heard of the "parade of ducks" at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando? While "Stars and Stripes Forever" plays in the background, ducks from everywhere gather to the fountain. A red carpet is unrolled and the ducks march on the red carpet, without a quack, to where the red carpet ends at a curtain. And everybody applauds the ducks. How do they get the ducks to do this quiet, orderly march? Behind the curtain is duck food!
  6. Keep At It. Last year one of my goals was to read through "The Daily Bible." Including the commentary before each dayís reading this was about a 15 minute per a day commitment. Some days I didnít get my reading done and so I fell behind. But because this goal reflects an important value of mine ó to spend regular time in Godís Word ó I kept at it and I caught myself back up each time I got behind.
  7. Value the Process. Donít get so focused on your goal that youíre only gratification is in reaching the goal. If you find meaning and enjoyment in the process youíll be less likely to run out of gas. For instance, if youíre trying to lose weight, youíre best to do it a little at a time by eating healthy and exercising. And along the way to appreciate the benefits of your weight loss program, not just losing some weight, but also increased energy, looking better, improved sense of well-being, and reassurance of knowing that youíre in better health.
  8. Appreciate Any Progress. When it comes to self-improvement, something is better than nothing. For instance, the year I turned 30 I went crazy and set 30 specific goals to live by. The highlight of that project was developing the list! Many of those goals I didnít accomplish. But I didnít focus on that. Instead, I was glad for the ones I did implement.
  9. Pick a Partner. To follow through with your goals it helps to have someone to talk to about how itís going and to encourage you along the way. Ask a friend to hold you accountable, to pray with you, and to remind you why your goal is important to you.
  10. Learn from Your Mistakes. Everyone fails at certain goals. That doesnít mean youíre a failure. The path to success normally includes failures along the way. Accept a failure as a learning opportunity. Perhaps you just need to try again with a different approach. Or maybe youíre having an internal struggle that you need help with. It takes humility and courage to learn from your mistakes and to ask for help. So if thatís what you need to do then do it with your head held high.

By Dr. Bill Gaultiere

© 2001 NewHopeNow.org. Used by permission.