What can Alain de Botton teach you about keeping your New Year’s Resolutions?

Most people start off the year filled with enthusiasm to change their lives in one form or another. Most of us make New Years Resolutions, but I don’t actually know of anyone who keeps them, which is a shame because any chance to improve ourselves should be seized upon.

Your goals don’t have to be big. Maybe you want to loose weight, start a garden, quit smoking, spend more time with your family and less time working. It doesn’t matter. What counts is being able to persist with change despite your old habits trying desperately to reassert themselves.

The good news is that you don’t have to struggle down this path alone.

While giving a lecture at the Sydney Opera House, the popular modern philosopher, Alain De Botton, examines how the structure offered by religion can help improve our lives.

De Botton, a staunch atheist, argues that anyone can borrow from the “buffet” of tools that religion has created to help us live better lives. He calls this selection process “pick and mix.” In his lecture, De Botton lists the four ways that you can stick to your new year’s goals, that are as follows:

1. A Sense of Urgency

When you compare a sermon to a university lecture, you’ll find that the sermon is delivered in a much more urgent way. The preacher wants to save your soul – RIGHT NOW! People respond well to a sense of urgency because, let’s face it, most of us are lazy.

Your goals need to be urgent, it’s the only way you’ll keep them. If you found out you had a tumour, and quitting smoking today would make it go away, what would you do? You would put down the lighter and go chew some gum, because no one wants to die. Quitting Smoking has just become a high priority. It’s urgent. Find a reason why your goals should be fulfilled immediately.

2. Humans Are Forgetful

De Botton argues that religions think human beings are incredibly forgetful. “Our wills are weak,” he remarked. He’s right.

That’s why prayer has been a major learning tool of religions for thousands of years. If you learn something in the morning, chances are you will have forgotten it by lunchtime, and by night it’s definitely gone. That’s why praying should be done three times a day without fail, because we need to be reminded.

Try employing the same method with your goals. Remind yourself. Daily. Several times a day even, and don’t feel bad about having to do it.

3. Become Passionate

Religions are painfully aware of one thing that universities have yet to realise. To get an idea through to a crowd of people, you have to be a good public speaker. You have to be passionate. The same principle applies to keeping goals. You have to be passionate about them, otherwise you won’t have the drive to persist when life tries to get in the way.

4. Just Do It

Although De Botton doesn’t mention this, I’m sure he’d agree that all the talking in the world won’t get something done unless you just get up and do it. Don’t give yourself time to create excuses, just do it. Discipline will get you further towards achieving your goals than anything else.

Lastly, don’t give up. It’s a cheesy thing to say, but it also happens to be true. Research shows that it takes over two months create a new habit. Stick with it.

Ilana Pender-Rose

Would you like to find out more about this topic? You can find Alain de Botton’s book Religion For Atheists here.

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