12/28/2013 12:09 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

With New Year's Day coming up, here's the question: New Year's resolutions -- to be or not to be? And if they are to be, will you and I keep the ones we make?

For some reason, the New Year has slipped up on us. By Wednesday of this week, January 1, 2014, the time will have come for us to decide whether or not we will make any New Year's resolutions.

Why is it that people make New Year resolutions anyway? In general, a New Year's resolution is a decision one makes to reform old habits or achieve new goals. One's success in fulfilling his or her New Year's resolution(s) depends, to a considerable degree, on the nature of the resolution and the determination of the person making the resolution.

These are the three characteristics necessary for a New Year's resolution to be worthy of being made in the first place and then of being reached and sustained.

(1) Realistic. In order for a New Year's resolution to be worthy of being made and able to be maintained after being made, it must have a genuine basis for longevity -- in other words, it must be realistic, practical, attainable, or doable.

If your resolution is to make a rocket that will fly you to the moon, or to run a mile in three minutes flat, or to find a new job that will pay you several million dollars a year, or that you will win a lottery or a contest that will make you independently wealthy for the rest of your life, or some such resolution, you are making a resolution that is unrealistic or impractical in the first place. It is very unlikely that you will be able to keep such a resolution. There are many underlying reasons for making such resolutions, but the primary one is not taking the entire concept of New Year's resolutions very seriously.

On the other hand, such resolutions as -- I'm going to stop smoking, or stop drinking in excess; or that I'm going to lose weight, or find time for exercise and fitness; or that I'm going to spend more time on my homework; or that I'm going to eat dinner regularly with my family; or that I'm not going to get any speeding tickets or overtime parking tickets -- are realistic and do have a genuine basis for longevity.

2. Measurable. A resolution needs to be measurable -- one needs to be able to determine for a fact that his or her resolution is being fulfilled and maintained. Simply to say that I'm going to smoke or drink less is not really measurable. The same is true of I'm going to spend less and save more. Or to say that I'm going to spend more time studying or that I'm going to exercise more are generalities -- not measurable specifics. But these are measurable -- I'm not going to smoke anymore, period; or I'm not going to drink more than a specific amount each week; or I'm going to exercise at least thirty minutes a day; or I'll spend at least two hours each weekday on my homework; or I'm not going to charge anything on my credit cards for Christmas presents; or I'm going to get the oil changed in my car every 3,000 miles; or I'm going to volunteer at the hospital one afternoon each week. Do you see the difference?

Goals need to be such that a person can keep track and determine specifically whether or not they are being achieved.

3. Challenging. As I point out above, New Year's resolutions need to be realistic or attainable. But I did not mean to suggest that they should be easily doable. New Year's resolutions are meant to improve on the present, to reform old habits, and to achieve new goals. New Year's resolutions are meant to stretch you beyond where you are now.

I can identify with older people who say, "I can't improve any -- I'll be lucky just to stay where I am, and that's being realistic." But I am told by doctors and therapists that regardless of how old you are you are always able to make things better than they are now. And that is what a New Year's resolution is really all about -- making your life, and the life of others, better than they are now.

New Year's Day has historically been a time for looking both at the past and forward to the future. It's a time to reflect on the changes we want (or need) to make and to muster the resolve that it takes to follow through on those changes.

Jesus hit the nail squarely on the head when he compared "a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock" to "a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell." (from Matthew 7:24-27, Revised Standard Version) Life is full of various kinds of storms, and whether you are able to withstand the winds and floods of life depends on the basic principles, aspirations, and goals your life is built on.

Think seriously about your life as it is now. Aren't there things that you need to change? Well, now is the time! Make some realistic, measurable, and challenging resolutions that you will definitely adopt and begin to measure up to starting January 1, 2014. That is what New Year's resolutions are all about!