Quizlet is proud to partner with real students and recent graduates to showcase authentic voices on our blog. This guest post is by Nicolette Kier, who just graduated from the University of Pittsburgh.
I’m 23 years old and if I’m qualified to teach about anything at all, it’s failure. And I’m not alone. For about 80% of the population who decides to make New Year’s resolutions, failure is highly relevant.
Luckily for us students, learning from failure is one of the best ways to succeed in the future. Do you want to become more organized in 2021? Get better grades? Start learning a new language? With all of my failure, I’m well positioned to teach you the pitfalls of making and keeping your New Year’s resolutions.
So I’m going to inform and entertain you through the inspiring, ridiculous, disastrous tale of my 2019 New Year’s resolution: To wake up earlier.
(Don’t worry, I succeeded in 2020. But that’s only because, in 2019, I learned how not to go about making a New Year’s resolution.)
Step 1: Don’t set out to change everything at once. Choose just a few things you really want to focus on.
So there I was on the first day of the warm, cozy hug of a year that 2019 feels like when compared to 2020, opening my eyes to the late afternoon sunshine, thinking, “Alright, this is my year.”
I sat down with my planner to write a list (who doesn’t love a good list?) I wrote down all the things that would be different:
- I was going to plan out my meals for the week, using ample amounts of fresh food.
- I was going to hit the gym four times a week.
- I was going to turn in my homework way before it was due. There would be no more 11 p.m. assignment submissions for me.
In hindsight, there were just too many big, vague goals for me to start working on any of them.
Step 2: Lower your expectations (I know, shocking).
When I tried to change everything at once, I got easily overwhelmed and gave up quickly. Around 81% of people give up on their goals by the end of January every year, so I knew I wasn’t alone.
After this failure, I walked into 2020 with much lower expectations. I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This goal seemed much more manageable, so I wasn’t immediately discouraged.
(And in the back of my mind, I thought that if I could make this a habit, I could add in new healthy morning habits later. But first I had to stick to a regular schedule, so I focused solely on that.)
Step 3: Know that you aren’t going to go from zero to 100 in a month.
I thought I was just going to “be different”, which sounds ridiculous to me now.
Me: “All I have to do is just lay down at 11 p.m. every night, and get up at 7 a.m. the next day. This should be easy. I’m just going to do it.”
This was such a ridiculous thought that I’m laughing as I’m writing it down.
You don’t decide to be different and then break a habit immediately, without any real effort or setback. You have to slowly unlearn a habit, and slowly start to integrate new ones.
Understanding that you won’t just change overnight allows you to be kinder to yourself when you do hit setbacks. Knowing that you won’t immediately transform into an amazing new self who gets up early every day, or who goes to the gym four times a week, will also help you with the following steps.
Step 4: Break your end goal into a bunch of smaller ones. Build up to your end goal.
In 2019, I had a really bad habit of going to bed and saying to myself: “I forgive myself for my shortcomings today, and vow to do better tomorrow.” The first part was great. The second part was not, because I never actually thought about how I was going to “do better tomorrow.”
Step 4.1: Figure out the barriers that are keeping you from your New Year’s resolution.
A lot of people think that you have to gain willpower to make better choices or build new habits. But the truth is that you have to remove barriers. I really wanted to reach my New Year’s resolution, but there were things holding me back.
When I sat down and thought about it, I identified these barriers:
- I spent more time worrying than actually resting before it was time to get to sleep.
- I didn’t spring out of bed in the morning, and I didn’t really have a reason to.
- I spent a lot of time on social media and watching TV before bed.
Then I had to figure out how to remove them.
Step 5: List what concrete things you need to own or do to remove your barriers and reach your goal.
There are practical things you can do to remove your barriers and set yourself up for success.
For example, coming into 2020, I already knew that I spent too much time on electronics at night. To avoid this pitfall, I set a “bedtime mode” for my laptop and phone. I also got the person who lives with me to literally close my laptop if I’m on it past midnight.
Step 5.1: Find ways to slowly reduce bad habits, and then replace them with more positive ones.
This comes back to the fact that you can’t go from zero to 100 overnight. Start by slowly changing bad habits in concrete ways.
For example, in 2020, I set out to only sleep in on the weekends. Then, I set out to only sleep in on Sundays. Now, I wake up at the same time every day of the week. In 2021, I would like to move my body in healthy ways in the morning. But I know that’s going to take a lot, so I’ll start with only exercising once a week, and then twice, and so on.
Step 5.2: Establish some due dates for those smaller goals.
It’s hard to succeed in a goal if you only have a vague idea of when you’ll reach it.
You’re going to need to set solid due dates for smaller goals, just like in school. Otherwise, you’ll end up a resident of procrastination nation until next year.
Step 6: Start to meet your due dates. Before you realize it, all those small steps of your epic New Year’s resolution quest will have taken you to the finish line.
This is about to be you.
Congratulations! You have created the model New Year’s resolution: It’s reasonable, obtainable, and the steps are laid out before you. Now, you just have to get started.
Some people have a lot of trouble with self-assigned due dates (guilty), because it takes discipline to follow through on the task at hand. Consider an external push to get you where you need to be.
An example: When I wanted to get up earlier, I took a 10 a.m. class with a mandatory attendance requirement. Nothing motivates like the idea of having to spend thousands of dollars to repeat a course because I couldn’t manage to wake up in time as a senior in college.
Again, just for the record, I did accomplish my New Year’s resolution eventually. I just had to learn what not to do to reach my goals first.
You now know how to avoid the pitfalls of New Year’s resolutions. So get moving, and let’s all hope that 2021 is very different from 2020, both New Year’s resolution-wise and in general.
Nicolette Kier just made it to the other side of a degree in physics and writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She reaped the usual rewards of college: knowledge, a job, and debt. She thinks it was worth it.