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New Year and New Semester: Making a 'Fresh Start'

Jan 7, 2014

It's the beginning of a new year and a new semester. You're back from the holiday break with clean clothes, positive outlook and unshakeable resolve: you will never, ever get behind on coursework again. When the clock chimed midnight, and everybody was toasting the new year, you were resolute: This is it. I'm a new person.

It's natural to think of the new year as a chance to start over. Every self help guru and Facebook post from January 1 affirms it—so it must be true, right? Not exactly: this way of thinking can also be a trap. A study by the University of Scranton showed that only 8% of people who made New Year's resolutions actually kept them. All-or-nothing thinking can sometimes set you up for failure. (We see a similar type of thinking in people who engage in high risk or problem gambling: they count on one big win that will cancel out all previous losses).

A better way to approach your goals is to keep them manageable and realistic—and consistently strive for these goals all year...not just on landmark dates (first day of the semester, new year, birthday).

How to make big, audacious, overwhelming New Year’s resolutions more manageable

It's important to have have goals, assess where you're at and to adjust where needed—it just doesn't all have to happen at once or because the calendar says so. Here are some ways to turn those New Year's resolutions into doable, practical goals:

  • Break it down: For example, instead of completely overhauling your diet all at once introduce one new healthy food a day or promise yourself that you’ll eat breakfast—no matter what. Or dedicate 15 minutes a day reviewing class notes, slowly increasing the time you study each day.
  • Introduce change all year: The idea behind New Year’s resolutions is that you set a specific date to make big changes and go for it. But that will most likely backfire. A better strategy is to slowly introduce changes in your life throughout the year.
  • Push through...and do things you don't want to do: It's a fact of life. Resolutions promote the idea that you need to be in a certain mind space before you can get started with the hard work of change. Accept lack of motivation, indifference, that 'meh' feeling.. and do it anyway!
  • Avoid beating yourself up: It's natural to stumble a bit—you skip breakfast, procrastinate on a project, sleep in, basically get off track in some way. Move past it and move on. Don't let a temporary setback be an excuse to give up on your goals. Missteps on the road to success are natural. The key is to re-commit and keep at it!