Every year, a considerable proportion of the population set their mind to achieving a goal in the form of a New Year’s resolution. Research suggests that only 8% of people achieve their goal with more than a third of people abandoning their resolution before February begins. Social Media platforms today bombard us with video clips and striking visual messages that suggest that an instant transformation into someone other than who we are is possible.

As this new year begins, my prayer for our students is an acceptance that they are loved entirely by God, just as they are; that the words of Psalm 139 will accompany them through days when they might not feel good enough.

‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’

A study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that socially prescribed perfectionism has increased among young adults by 33% in the last 25 years, driven largely by social media. The writer, James Clear suggests in his book Atomic Habits that this pressure to make dramatic changes and improvements in our lives, leads to an even greater sense of failure. He encourages us instead, to make tiny daily changes.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

As we begin this new year, with its temptation to radically self-improve, the words of St Madeleine Sophie Barat come to mind:

We cannot change our character, it is true, as easily as we change our clothes.
It is the work of a lifetime. It is achieved with God’s grace and constant effort.

We must all go gently forward in our quest to make the most of the year ahead. To make a tiny step towards a more open heart, a deeper prayer life, a greater sensitivity to the needs of others and a stronger relationship with God. Let us encourage our young people to do the same. In the face of society’s call to perfectionism, let us celebrate the ‘little wins’ as Madeleine Sophie calls us to:

Even though you have fallen a thousand times in one day, if in the evening you stand up again on your two feet, you may sing of victory.

So, this New Year, let us resist the urge to reinvent ourselves, choosing instead to recognise the gift we are to the world. We choose in this special year of celebration to abandon wildly unrealistic resolutions and instead to turn in prayer to God, using Madeleine Sophie’s words:

Strengthen in us, O God, the work you have begun in us.