I keep an online file of ideas for this monthly column, and as I was perusing it for something appropriate for the new year, I found this quote by Elder Jörg Klebingat: “If, starting today, we do everything the way we did it yesterday, everything will be tomorrow as it is today. Nothing will change! If we don't already study the scriptures daily, then it will always be a challenge for us to do so unless we make a change in our lives.”
It strikes me that this concept could apply to virtually any behavior, habit, or trait we want to change if we replace the words “study the scriptures” with our intended choice. It reminds me of the old adage, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This seems to happen to many of us when it comes to New Year’s’ resolutions.
According to a Statista study of 1500 Americans’ top three New Year’s resolutions for 2021, 50% of respondents wanted to exercise more, 48% wanted to lose weight, and 44% wanted to save more money. I looked up the most popular resolutions for 2019 and 2020 and they were pretty similar. Apparently, most of us aren’t particularly successful at keeping our resolutions, because we make the same ones year after year. Maybe we just don’t have a lot of confidence in our ability to actually make changes. Maybe we have failed so many times that we have lost hope of ever actually succeeding. Here’s a thought: Maybe we have indeed messed up over and over, but we can’t go back. We cannot erase the past; we can only go forward. Henry David Thoreau said, “Begin where you are and such as you are.”
As Elder Klebingat suggests, we must make small changes in our daily lives to move forward. Our destiny depends on the daily decisions we make, and we must make different decisions today if we want to have different outcomes tomorrow.
This can be difficult. We become comfortable with our complacency. It’s easier to continue looking at our phone than to put it away, read a book, or go for a walk. It’s easier to open a bag of potato chips and mindlessly eat the whole thing than to make a healthy meal. It’s easier to sit in front of the TV bingeing Netflix than to declutter that drawer that’s been on our to-do list for the last week. Is there a way to make small life changes that really stick?
In last February’s column, I referenced two ideas from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits regarding the two-minute rule (when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do) and shooting for a one percent improvement. Can either of these principles actually make much of a difference? James Clear points out that one percent does not appear to be much, but if we improve one percent each day, we will end up 37 times better at something by the end of the year. And he also reminds us that declining by that amount each day for a year takes us almost to zero.
So what is that small change we can make today that will make our tomorrows much more productive and promising? For each of us, it will be something different. I like Elder Klebingat’s suggestion of reading the scriptures. Perhaps if we put God first by reading His word for even two minutes a day, the rest of our priorities will become clearer to us. Maybe God can then give us the courage to make the improvements we know we need to make to more closely follow our Savior.
Kristine Gifford is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.