A Professor’s Advice: 5 Steps to Help Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions or Everyday Goals by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Millions of people feel called to make a resolution or set a goal at the start of a new year. Unfortunately, as we know, many of us do not meet our goals. There are many reasons for this which I won’t dwell on here. What I will do, though, is make a few suggestions that I’ve found useful both in my own life and in my university classroom. I find that there are a myriad applications for this advice, including my work with my students. I hope it’s useful to you as well. Happy New Year!
1. Be specific. While "poverty" may be a worthwhile topic to research, it’s just too broad. However, "the effect of evictions on children’s academic performance in my community" is much more specific and manageable. Likewise, "get healthier" or "improve finances" are not specific goals. If you want to have a healthier lifestyle, are you thinking about your nutrition or exercise or both? What changes will you make? What will you add to your routine? In what time frame? If you want to improve your finances, how so? In what financial area? Will you work with a financial advisor or use an app? What time frame? The more specific the goal, the more likely you are to achieve it.
2. Get others’ feedback and support. Going it alone may be tempting as a self-protective measure. In other words, if no one knows your goal, then no one will know if you don’t succeed. However, there are benefits to making your resolution known. First, we’ve all heard the expression "10 heads are better than one." We can learn from others’ feedback and knowledge. In addition, having a support system to encourage you and cheer you on can be very motivating. In the classroom, this looks like peer review partners and classmates providing feedback about a presentation or rough draft. It may look different outside the classroom but it serves the same purpose.
3. Break your goal down into mini goals. The smaller successes will encourage you. If you have to write a 15-page research paper or prepare a 30-minute conference presentation, you don’t take it all on at once. You begin with a thesis or an outline. Resolutions can begin the same way. If your goal is a healthier lifestyle, you might begin with a 20-minute walk. If your goal is to improve your finances, you might download a budgeting app. Nothing worth doing is easy; if it were, everyone would do it, and no one would struggle with it. These things take time; be patient with yourself.
4. Write your resolution down. It’s been proven that if you write a goal down you’re more likely to achieve it. Do so! I tell this to students all the time, from those trying to raise their grades, to students studying for the MCAT, to those working on a challenging goal. I suggest giving yourself visual reminders in a number of different places, whether it’s the goal itself or a visual representation. For instance, you could hang a reminder above your desk, on your refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror, in your car – places you’ll see often throughout the day. You could even change your phone and computer backgrounds to an image that represents your goal. Most of us are visual learners, and visual reminders can play a positive role in our motivation.
5. Incorporate your goal into your daily life. In addition to doing the actual work of your resolution, commit to immersing yourself in the topic of your goal. For instance, you could follow a leader in the field on social media or read a blog on the topic each day. You also could attend a presentation or virtual conference, find an accountability partner; there are so many ways to learn more and make your goal a part of your daily life. I once read a story about someone who was committed to being a writer but believed that he needed to think of himself as a writer first, so he changed all of his passwords to reflect his belief in himself and his writing goals! What a great idea and consistent reminder; every time he logged in anywhere, he was reminded of his goals!
Please remember that you’re not alone. So many of us wish to improve our lives and relationships in one way or another, particularly after a challenging year. My wish for you: that you learn a lot along the way, not just about the area you’re interested in improving in, but about yourself, too.
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