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Allison Althoff
Allison Althoff
Natalie Lederhouse
Natalie Lederhouse

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January 25, 2013

Failing Gracefully

Is it healthy to set goals for ourselves?


With the start of a new year, it’s easy to set unrealistic goals for ourselves. In today’s “go-getter” society, it seems everyone is striving to achieve more, be more, and consume more. I don’t know about you, but the rat race pace gets to me more often than it should. At the conclusion of the first month of 2013, most of us have recognized our failure to meet the expectations we’ve set for ourselves. Dr. Cliff Arnall, a psychology instructor and “pseudoscientist” from the UK, suggests there is an equation for this failure epidemic:


Variables in this equation include weather (W), debt (d), time passed since Christmas (T), time since failing our new year’s resolutions (Q), low motivational levels (M), and the feeling of a need to take action (Na). The solution of the equation signifies the third Monday in the month of January as “Blue Monday,” or “the most depressing day of the year.” This year Blue Monday landed on Monday, January 21.

The good news is that we’ve passed that date! The bad news is, for my friend Audrey, whom I met at a praise and worship night at my friend’s church during the second week of the year, Blue Monday came early. On the second Friday of the year, we sat around a table and discussed new year’s resolutions and goals we’ve set for ourselves, and how we were doing in achieving them.

“My New Year’s resolution was never to hit my snooze button on my alarm. I hit it three times this morning. Oh well.”

Audrey’s confession, within 10 days of the turn of the year, was only one in a string of many who admitted they weren’t sure if they’d live up to the standards they’d set for themselves. Running marathons, going vegan, and learning banjo were three goals mentioned during our conversation, and we all shared encouragements with one another like “keep going” and “don’t lose heart.”

As I left the church that evening, though, I started wondering if the encouragements I’d shared with everyone were words Jesus would have shared. What if my friend tears her ACL and isn’t able to run the Chicago Marathon? What if my other friend encounters dietary problems and has to, for some reason, start eating meat?

What if failing is an inevitable fact of life?

“Be still, and know that I am God,” the Lord says in Psalms. “Get away and rest a while,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark. Then there’s Mary vs. Martha: Mary discovered that true fulfillment came from sitting at her Savior’s feet instead of running around doing chores and dishes.

While psychologists like Dr. Arnall encourage the world to “use the day [Blue Monday] as a springboard for a higher quality life,” Jesus encourages us to be still and rest for a while. Who are we, really? And who—or what—is at the root of our joy? For me, I know I could learn a little more about lowering the expectations I have for myself and finding rest in God.

Read more about setting goals in this week’s “What I’m Learning About” collection.

Allison J. Althoff is associate online editor of Today’s Christian Woman.

Related Tags: ambition, attitude, balance, challenges, encouragement, failure, rest

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