How to make this year’s resolutions stick

Jan 07 2022

How to make this year’s resolutions stick

One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: To rise above the little things.
–John Burroughs

Photo source: San Antonio Parks Foundation

The week after winter break offers a type of fresh start for the school year: new semester, new energy – and typically – a desire to consider resolutions for the new year. Now some people might wonder about waiting until January 1 to change, and say the best time to try something different is today, regardless of the calendar date. Other people might argue that after all we’ve been through in the past couple of years, the last thing you need to do is find another reason to be anxious by making promises that will be hard to keep. And a third group may suggest that January’s promises become February’s failures, so don’t even bother.

Nevertheless, there can be a benefit in taking stock at the end of one year and resolving to improve in the next twelve months. Perhaps the act of making a resolution even if one doesn’t keep it is in of itself beneficial. It forces us to pause, reflect, and commit to doing better in the days and months ahead.

A recent Harvard Business Review article called “Should You Even Bother with New Year’s Resolutions This Year” by Elizabeth Grace Sanders advocates for making resolutions, but doing so with a sense of purpose and realism. As Sanders points out, “making a resolution and keeping it could greatly boost your sense of self efficacy, i.e. your belief in your ability to take action that benefits yourself and your situation.” This may be all the more true for children and adolescents who may feel stuck and unable to make a change.

Sanders proposes several tips for success in meeting one’s annual goals:

  • Assess your willingness – realistically judge your own determination to succeed. If we wish to achieve something, we require a compelling reason; without this, we will most likely fail. A student’s resolve to study more without a goal of getting a better grade or gaining a deeper level of understanding will probably go nowhere; however, with a strong reason, she could find that spending more time reviewing for tests may bring dividends that are self-reinforcing.
  • Limit the number of goals – Sanders advises that we choose one or two goals and really focus on those rather than a scatter-shot approach with multiple objectives. This may be a case where “less is more” and we can achieve success. Here again, students should hone in on a single aspiration or a couple of goals and concentrate their efforts accordingly.
  • Create a plan – The author of “The Little Prince” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Sanders concurs. Once we have identified our resolution, we should develop a course of action. Absent a set of steps toward success, we may flounder. Sanders suggests, “Choosing in advance what actions will align with your new year’s resolutions and when you will complete them makes it simpler for them to stick.”
  • Create measurable goals – Sanders also proposes that we create goals that are easy to quantify and that we can track. Although “to dream the impossible dream” may be admirable, ultimately, as the song from “The Man from La Mancha” shows, we will end up tilting at windmills. Similarly, a goal should have some measures of success along the way. Perhaps, the ultimate aim should include incremental goals so we can gain small victories that keep us going when things get hard.
  • Don’t do this alone – Sanders counsels that we get support to help us along the way. Whether it’s a group of friends with whom we walk or a coach pushing us at the gym, having somebody else helping to hold us accountable improves our chances of success. Students may want to have a study partner, a practice mate, or an adult with whom they periodically check in. The mere act of someone else knowing our goal and having to answer to them can push us harder than if we alone know what we wish to accomplish.

Ultimately, like other goals in life, New Year’s resolutions force us to look inside and try to do better and to be better. Perhaps the best part of making goals in January is they ask us to reflect, resolve, and change. Our younger son often quotes the line by Courtney Stevens that, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” We hope that whatever you resolve this year, you find happiness and success in 2022.

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