Jan 21, 2023
How to stick with your new year’s resolutions (and some ideas if you haven’t set any yet)
The setting of new year’s resolutions is an age-old tradition that first began with Ancient Mesopotamian harvest rites nearly 4,000 years ago. Over the course of an annual 12-day festival, the citizens of Babylon promised to repay their debts in hopes of winning over the favor of the gods. While today’s obsessions with self-improvement and weight loss may be far removed from the original practice of returning borrowed farming equipment, there’s always been a universal appeal to wiping the slate clean with the coming of a new year.
Also universal is our abhorrent track record in terms of keeping these resolutions. A study from Scranton University found that only 19% of people see their resolutions through to the end of the year, while the majority are abandoned within the first 6 weeks. The reason most resolutions collapse is not that we have an inborn propensity for failure; rather, it’s because there are often flaws in the ways we approach them. It’s common to be too ambitious, vague, or overly fixated on the end results instead of the process.
Although that cringe-inducing slogan “new year, new you” might make you die inside a little each time you hear it, there’s still tremendous value in setting resolutions. In general, they make you prouder of your past accomplishments, more conscious of what’s working and what’s not, and more optimistic about your future. They provide you with a purposeful roadmap for the year ahead, so you’re not just going through the motions. Even if you don’t end up achieving your resolutions, you are up to 10 times more likely to witness some change in your behavior just by making them. And if January 1st seems like too arbitrary of a date to be setting new goals, you could always take the time to reassess your existing ones, or pick any of the 364 remaining days as a starting point.
So, how can you maximize your chances of sticking with your resolutions?
1. Be clear on why you want to set a particular goal.
Before you set out on your resolutions, make sure you can justify the reasons behind them. How does your goal fit with the bigger picture of who you want to become? Are you motivated intrinsically, or because of pressure from parents, friends, or social media? Ensure you know the essence of what you want to do so you can focus your energy on what’s most important and avoid targets that may ultimately be unfulfilling. By finding a central philosophy to center your resolutions around, you give yourself the flexibility to pivot to new avenues of achieving similar results if things don’t work out a few months down the line.
2. Strike a balance between ambition and practicality.
Ambition inspires, while practicality ensures your goals have a sound design and prevents you from falling flat on your face. You’ll need a mix of both for your resolutions to take flight. In general, if you have a very ambitious target (ie. writing a novel), you will have to be all more detailed and thorough with your planning. On the other hand, if your goal is too easily attainable or commonplace (ie. completing an English assignment), you might need to think of ways to spice it up to give you the motivation to see it through.
3. Be specific—not just about what you want to achieve, but how you are going to achieve it.
Ensure there is a measurable way to track your progress, and give yourself an explicit time frame to work with. For example, rather than saying “I want to become a better writer”, commit to “selecting one writing prompt to respond to each week for 30 minutes, reading one book one book a month in January through June, and submitting my work to at least 3 publications in July”. It would be even better if you named the individual prompts, books, and publications; the more specific, the easier it will be and the more momentum you’ll have. Additionally, try to plan for challenges and come up with solutions ahead of time. What time of the week will you complete your writing prompts? What happens if something comes up that day and you’re busy? When will you check in on your progress and how? Answering these questions is arguably the most important component of the entire process.
4. Write down your game plan.
We’ve all had the momentary streak of self-discipline and resolve to “set things straight” at 9pm on a Sunday evening only to forget everything the next morning. Put pen to paper to hold yourself accountable and to ensure your thoughts are translated into concrete, detailed steps. Not only are you less likely to “forget” your resolutions by having a physical copy of them, you can also share them with your friends and family to build up a network of support that can cheer you on when the going gets tough.
5. Celebrate your accomplishments.
At the end of the day, this isn’t about reinventing yourself in the span of a year—it’s about continually building on all the progress and experiences you’ve made so far. Be proud of the small victories along the way, and cut yourself some slack if things don’t turn out the way you expected. Having the resolve and dedication to make a change is an accomplishment in and of itself.
What kind of resolutions and goals would be relevant to high school students? Here are some ideas below to work off, in case you haven’t decided already:
Explore your interests and passions. Try out a new co-curricular or interest club. Set activity-specific resolutions, such as practicing a musical instrument or adopting a more rigorous training regimen for a sport. Take some time each week to dig deeper on a subject you’re interested in on your own.
Review your academic progress in Term 1, and set some goals for growth in each class, especially ones you may be struggling in. What resources and supports can you seek out to help you improve?
Commit to setting a good foundation for your organization and time management skills in the new year. Fix up that calendar, clear your inbox, restock your school materials (and you should probably sort out your Google Drive while you’re at it).
Stay on top of your Canvas.
Seek out a community service commitment. Not only does volunteering at an organization benefit those in need, it also helps you build up relationships and can be incredibly personally fulfilling. You could even get a part-time job.
If you’re in the upper grades, block out some time every month (or week) to research summer programs, scholarships, and universities. And maybe get familiar with Naviance.
Reduce procrastination and cut down on distractions such as social media.
Take up journaling. Read a book. Or two. Or three.
Polish up your resume (or take the time to create one). Review the goals you have created at least every month.
Hang out with friends you might not have talked to in a while or say hi to someone you’ve never met. Strike up a conversation with a teacher. Spend more quality time with your family. Think about how you could be more appreciative of your parents.
Prioritize your mental health. Get a better school-life balance. Schedule downtime in your calendar—time to do anything or nothing at all. Make an appointment with your counselor so you can get to know them a bit.
Know who to ask for help.
Do something nice for yourself, or someone else. Make it a regular habit.
Whether you’re reading this in January, May, or November, it’s never too late to get started. What’s important is that you have the resolve to see it through to the end. In the meantime, thanks for reading—I hope your 2023 is off to a great start.