Go to the gym five times a week. Meditate and journal every day. Never procrastinate. Start a YouTube cooking channel. Ambitious ideas like these emerge from people’s minds at the cusp of a new year, and renewed hope inspires people to try and turn their idealistic lifestyle into a reality. As a result, people create lofty goals, or these so-called “New Year’s resolutions,” writing them down on a sticky note and placing it on their mirrors so they can be reminded of them everyday. But after the clock strikes midnight and people clink wine glasses and pop confetti cannons with their friends, it is time for an abrupt snap back to reality. Those dreamy goals are quickly forgotten as people return back to their old routines. New Year’s resolutions don’t help with their achieving goals; they are just ineffective.
With New Year’s resolutions being created at around the start of a new year, people often wish to fulfill them in a few months, by the end of the year, or even without a specific time constraint. But trying to accomplish something over a long period of time is a difficult task because once someone derails from a disciplined mindset, there are no guardrails to keep them from tumbling down a slippery slope. Eventually, life carries them away from the goals that they previously set. According to a 2019 study conducted by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center about the effectiveness of New Year’s resolutions, “One week into the new year, 77 percent of participants had maintained their resolutions; the number decreased to 55 percent after one month, 43 percent after three months, 40 percent after six months.” Setting goals with such a long frame is the downfall of a New Year’s resolution, especially since they can be very general and aspirational.
During a conversation with a friend in the first week of January, he shared how his New Year’s resolution was the same every year: be more productive. Resolutions are often vague; they are ambiguous goals that disregard the intricacies of life. They paint a fantasy of what people dream to be, without providing a roadmap for how to reach the destination. In order for a simple phrase like “be more productive” to manifest, several steps need to be taken and various habits need to be changed. For example, putting your phone on Do Not Disturb, finding a suitable work environment, and making a to-do list all contribute to the end goal of completing more work. That’s why telling ourselves to be more productive every year just hasn’t worked yet. New Year’s resolutions are usually created with just that one ambiguous phrase, and without concrete ways to implement this objective into your life, these goals are almost impossible to achieve.
The new calendar year provides an opportunity for you to evaluate and reflect on your current life situation by recognizing what aspects need to be improved or removed. But why reserve careful self-reflection for the last few days of the year? If you only evaluate yourself at the end of the year, there are not enough moments of reflection to maintain steady progress towards your goals, and there is a high possibility of settling back into your previous lifestyle. Consistent evaluation of your lifestyle throughout the year allows you to create reasonable and attainable goals. For instance, every month or so, I reflect on my quality of life using metrics like hours of sleep, number of coffees consumed (the lower the better), and of course, grades. By tracking my progress more frequently over smaller increments of time, I give myself the opportunity to adjust my goals and set healthy and attainable standards for my current needs.
It’s time to be real. Look past the false hope that you get when you set New Year’s resolutions. Instead, focus on intentionally creating goals that will help you succeed. Perhaps you have heard of this from the Academic Skills Center or your advisor, but setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals is just one of many ways to ensure progress. These goals include a clear timeline, specific steps, and a precise way of measuring progress. Compared to those hazy, vague, and unrealistic New Year’s resolutions, SMART goals can help you reach your goals more effectively.
The turn of a new year is the perfect time to think back on the past year, reflect on what you’ve accomplished, and set practical goals for yourself. Toss aside those useless New Year’s resolutions, and maybe seriously consider if creating that YouTube channel is actually worth it.
Editor’s Note: Karen Wang ’24 is a Video Associate Editor for The Phillipian.