New Year resolutions are notorious for their failure rate. People give up on 80% of their resolutions before February, right? We all heard about it somewhere. Wrong! John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton who has made New Year resolutions an object of his multiple studies, says this number is… nonsense. "Contrary to widespread public opinion, a considerable proportion of New Year resolvers do succeed," says Norcross. In fact, about 40% of people manage to stick to their resolutions well into June.
So, whether you rely on the magic of a clean slate or just want to improve your goal-setting skills, New Year resolution is an effective way to improve your life and become a better version of yourself – or at least make the first step towards it.
Here are some tips on avoiding the pitfalls and maximizing the benefits of your resolution list.
First of all, make sure you are not just making a wish but setting a SMART goal:
- Specific: not "Be more organized" but "Write my papers on time and finish them one day before the deadline."
- Measurable: not "Sleep more," but "Sleep at least 8 hours every day."
- Attainable: not "Become carbon-neutral," but "Start cycling to college instead of taking a bus."
- Relevant: not "Study harder," but "Learn more about my chosen professional field."
- Time-bound: not "Lose weight," but "Shed 15 pounds by November."
Second, don't be too hard on yourself. Although most resolutions are worded positively, they still impose restrictions and create additional challenges. Experts advise prioritizing self-compassion this year since we have enough stress with the pandemic. Wendy Wood, a social psychologist, believes that "There are times where we're in flux, and it won't be so easy to come up with solutions that will stick, and I think this is one of those times." So, focus on self-care, and take one day at a time. Don't give up if you had to skip on your resolution for some reason. It's not an "all or nothing" situation.
Most experts agree that to make a positive change in times of uncertainty, you should scale down on your goals. Instead of planning your entire year, try setting micro-goals for a month. Also, maybe don't try to do too much all at once. Instead, try asking yourself, "What's the one thing I can definitely do consistently?"
Now, here are some ideas for your resolutions list this year. You don't have to pursue every single one that you deem worthwhile. Choose one or two you feel you can manage – and that will already be great. Also, the ideas here may sound vague, for example, "Drink more water." It's up to you to make them into SMART goals ("Drink six glasses a day") because only you can assess your needs and capability.
1. Move more
College is pretty much like a full-time desk job, only worse. In the time of lockdowns, a sedentary lifestyle is hands-down out of control. Medical specialists compare sitting to obesity and smoking (as in "very bad for you.”) That's why you should definitely address this and add more movement into your daily routine. Luckily, studies show that as little as 60 to 75 minutes of moderate physical activity a day counter the adverse effects of too much sitting on your health. Just an hour of brisk walk and some 15 minutes of dancing to your favorite music to clear your head between studying sessions – that's not hard. Set this as a daily goal in your phone or smartwatch, and start walking, running, or taking bike rides. Your future self will be endlessly thankful.
2. Start reducing your carbon footprint
As an individual, you might feel helpless in the face of the global ecological crisis, but little decisions add up. Don't underestimate the power of grassroots movements. You are not only doing your bit – you inspire others around you. You show them how easy it is to buy less, recycle waste, opt for local organic food, or whichever thing you will choose to commit to. Start cycling, and you can kill two birds with one stone here. Just sayin'.
3. Spend several minutes a day tidying up
College rooms tend to look like disaster zones. If you are fine with controlled mess (or do you prefer calling it "my system of organizing stuff"?), good for you. However, some students find mess stressful. They'd feel better in a neat room. Yet keeping things prim in a limited space is too challenging, especially if you have never been responsible for your own room before. Start by spending just 5 to 10 minutes a day on cleaning and organizing. You will see how it improves the overall look in the long run!
4. Start controlling your expenses
Being smarter with money and saving more is a resolution most Americans make regardless of their age. However, keeping track of your spending is a skill students have to learn on the fly. New Year is a time when most freshmen look at their bank statements in awe and trepidation, asking themselves, "How did I manage to spend so much in just six months?" You will be doing yourself a big favor by learning how to live on a budget – and to do it, you will have to set a monthly budget in the first place. Select one of the free finance apps and take control of your expenses.
5. Get rid of one bad habit
That's a tough one, but to be fair – you choose which habit to ditch. Skipping brushing your teeth in the evening? Nail-biting? Stress-eating? Slouching? Using a smartphone in bed before going to sleep? It's your call. Start working on curbing and eventually eliminating one harmful behavior from your life. It depends on the habit in question. Yet, according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes about 21 days for an old habit to dissolve, 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic, and 254 days to cement the success. Makes for an excellent New Year resolution – attainable, measurable, time-bound, and everything, wouldn't you say?
6. Try something new this year
Widen your horizons and try something you never did before. Get in touch with your creative side: try painting or take dancing classes. Never went camping? Plan a trip with your friends. Have a reserved personality? Get out of your shell and try being more outgoing. Party animal? Try being along with yourself, contemplating, or meditating. Compulsive planner? Embrace spontaneity and go with the flow at least once a week. Try and see how that makes you feel. You might be surprised.
7. Try slow eating
Mindfulness starts with little things. Try being in the moment by savoring the food you eat instead of grabbing a quick bite on the go. You don't have to commit to cooking or shopping at the farmers' market. Start by chewing on those chicken nuggets slowly and with gusto. First of all, this is healthier. Slow eaters are 40% less likely to become obese because they don't overeat. Their brain simply has enough time to signal satiation. Second, you will get more enjoyment out of the same food. Third, you will become more attuned to your body and its needs. Win-win-win.
8. Keep a journal
Journaling is a great way to take care of your mental health, improve your mood, reduce anxiety, track your progress, prioritize your problems, or just perfect your writing skills. Make keeping a journal your resolution this year. Dream journal, success journal, diary, morning pages, free-writing – choose whichever sounds more interesting to you. Then set a frequency – daily, weekly? At least six entries a month? You decide.
9. Strive for study/life balance
That balance is a bit like a unicorn. Sounds beautiful but nowhere to be seen. There's always another deadline to meet, another test to revise for, another work shift on your part-time job. Yet unwinding and restoring your energy is a vital component of productivity. So if not for your wellbeing, then in the name of efficiency, take a look at your routines. How much time do you dedicate to studying, working, socializing, hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation? Does any area of your life seem lacking? How can you improve this? Make one of your resolutions about better balance.
10. Work on reducing debt
Student debt is a shadow looming somewhere ahead, remote but inevitable. It makes you anxious, and you push it to the back of your mind, like a disturbing dream you are trying to forget. It doesn't have to be this way. Do yourself a favor and start working on reducing your debt – many small but meaningful steps are within your power. Apply for scholarships, find part-time employment, or become aware of your emotional spending patterns. Choose one thing you can start doing this year and reduce your debt instead of growing it.
11. Tackle procrastination
The worst thing about procrastination is that we can be fully aware of what we are doing – and still procrastinate. Admit it, how often do you actively seek anything else to do only to avoid writing that paper you dread? This year, try at least one strategy to break this pattern. Try the Pomodoro technique, practice the "do-it-now" rule (if it takes less than 10 minutes, do it now), or two-minute rule. Come up with your own strategy – and implement it consistently. Stop dumping all the worst problems on your future self.
12. Keep in touch with your family
Call your parents, chat with your brother, send a handwritten postcard to your grandma via snail mail. They need it because they miss you, but you know what? You need it even more. Your life is hectic right now, and these connections keep you grounded. People with strong relationships have a 50% increased chance of longevity, lower rates of anxiety and depression, and higher self-esteem. We are biologically and cognitively wired to love and belong – and this need doesn't go away even under stay-at-home orders. Take care of yourself and stay connected with your loved ones in 2022, whatever it brings.