What is your New Year’s resolution?

Ahh, the beginning of the year.

Now that the holiday season is over and you’ve picked out the last piece of confetti from your hair, it’s time to start enacting your New Year’s resolutions, for real.

For most, resolutions are some variant of “lose weight and/or make more money” all of which make sense, of course. For even more of you, your resolution may be to improve your grades, be less stressed out, or to get into your dream school.

But, with each resolution, one question always remains:  Am I really going to stick with these resolutions this year?

Resolutions can be complicated, especially when considering the delicate-yet-often-unfair balance between your work, personal, and academic lives. Do you have the time, energy, and attitude to make these changes?

The new year can be a great time to reflect not only on what you’d like to improve but, most importantly, how you can effectively do so. So, here are a few tips to help you make your resolution stick this time around:

1. Set realistic expectations.

Nothing is more demoralizing than setting lofty goals. Why? Setting unattainable goals are just that– unattainable. Yes, you can vow to improve your test scores by 800% and lose 30 lbs. in a week but the reality is, when these goals aren’t reached, this only amounts to feelings of defeat– and, bam!, there you are, back at square one.

So, how do you combat this?  Think about the things you’d like to change as well as what this realistic change would– and should— look like.

Say, for example, that you’d like to get your grades up– a perfectly reasonable if not encouraged goal to have in mind. But, before you start thinking of how nice summa cum laude would sound, consider you fared last semester. Is this an achievable goal? Instead of aiming for straight A’s across the board, consider aiming for a particular point increase in your GPA. Or, raise the bar for yourself– say, nothing lower than a B. This is especially relevant if you’re facing a particularly difficult course load this semester. Aim for realistic grades within each class instead of demanding perfection across the board. Don’t get me wrong, perfect grades are certainly laudable and encouraged, but don’t set yourself up for defeat if you already know this semester may be incredibly difficult as it is.

In your personal life, setting realistic expectations is just as important.  Don’t focus so much on suddenly trying to become a radically different person from the start. Instead, focus on the particular parts of yourself that you’d like to improve—such as your time management or leadership skills, for some examples—and work on those. Do you want to be more in control of your work load, and have less stress in your life? Think about improving your time management skills. Thinking of changing careers or moving on to the next step in your education? Start doing your research and start thinking concretely about how you can achieve this.

2. Set both specific and general life goals.

Work and academic life involves managing many, many details all the time. So, setting New Year’s resolutions that deal with specific goals—such as working on your final paper at least a week in advance and getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night —is important for making your life more manageable.

But, as every student knows, your life can still be a mess even if you manage some of the details well. This is why the bigger picture is also incredibly important. True, you may have gotten everything done on your task list for a certain day, but you didn’t eat well, you missed a planned night out, and you haven’t slept enough. Your life, in the big picture, can be seriously lacking if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the more holistic sense.

Good New Year’s resolutions then focus on both the details and this bigger picture. Set a few goals for what you’d like to experience in your life next semester, this year, and onwards, whether it is to be better rested, in better physical shape, more balanced and less crunched for time.  As time goes on, you should check-in with yourself regularly– I like to on the first day of each month– and see how you’re doing: Do you feel more in control of your time? Balanced?  How have you been treating your body? Are you well-rested? If not, start setting smaller, specific goals to help you achieve these larger ones.

3. Focus on the means, not just the ends.

Sometimes, focusing only on the end result can be just as self-sabotaging as lofty goals. Why? Many of these goals are not immediately attainable but instead are true works in progress, and focusing too much on its end can lead to impatience… and possibly premature disappointment.

One of the best ways to set– and keep–New Year’s resolutions is to focus on the means of getting to where you want to be, not just on why you haven’t arrived there yet.  If you’d like to reduce your stress, focus on incorporating stress-reducing activities into your routine (exercising for 30 minutes each day, for example) as well as getting your work done in time. If you’re aiming to improve your grades, consider developing a better rapport with your professor on top of studying harder. Developing the ability to make better choices is just as important as the choices themselves.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? And, how are you working on them? Let me know in the comments!

Stefanie Arr

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