5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Happy New Year!
Magically, as if Cinderella's fairy godmother herself had waved her wand and uttered an exuberant “Bippity Boppity Boo,” your whole personality changed at the stroke of midnight. The saying “New Year, New Me” reflects this idea perfectly, and although many people live by this mindset, it’s unfortunately straight out of a fairytale and utterly unrealistic. The new year alone doesn’t signify any personal changes that cannot happen any other day of the year; it’s the work that you put in throughout the year that will accumulate in the personal realizations you want to see.
Losing weight. Going to the gym every morning. Connecting more frequently with friends. All of these are common New Year's Resolutions, but why is it that we consider January the only time to start new habits? Truthfully, we should feel motivated to spend personal time working on self-improvement more than one out of 12 months of the year.
As signified by the line going out the door of Pottruck Health and Fitness Center earlier this week, Penn students are among the masses who view the new year as the perfect opportunity to start a new habit. Due to Penn's preprofessional nature, the pressure to start the new year strong and make both academic and professional gains may feel even stronger. Unfortunately, 43% of people will fail their set resolutions by February. Whether you’re a part of this 43% or you manage to practice your resolutions further into the year, it can be a struggle to stay consistent.
Admittedly, I am certainly the type of person who sits down at the end of December and reflects on both my accomplishments and failures from the past year. I also create a list of goals that aim to correct some of the disappointments, and I continue the momentum gained from the highs. However, I’m strongly against the notion that goal-setting needs to happen at the beginning of a new cycle around the sun. Goal setting can — and should — happen at all times of the year, and the self-reflection that comes from creating goals should not be a one-off yearly occasion.
Another reason I don’t completely buy this idea of “New Year's resolutions” is that oftentimes people try to plan everything they want for that year in advance. Let's be honest, December 2022 you likely will not have the same priorities or opportunities that December 2023 you will ultimately be confronted with. One of the main reasons people fail their New Year's resolutions is due to a lack of structure in setting their goals. When you can’t imagine or isolate your goals into tangible steps, it may become daunting and a lot harder to see progress.
Bigger is not always better. When it comes to goal setting for the new year, I recommend starting smaller. Think short term, and prioritize goals that you can complete in steps. The New York Times recommends setting goals using the SMART goals model in which goals are “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.” Not only do your goals need to be quantifiable, but they also need to be practical for your existing schedule.
Let’s take the example of striving to work out in the new year and make it a SMART goal. To begin, you would need to clearly outline your parameters: whether it's to attend the gym every day or simply twice a week, make sure you set an agenda you can stick to. Once this is established, factor in your existing schedule and set smaller goals for yourself in order to see progress. Also, consider setting rewards along your journey in order to keep it fun and chart your progression.
Whether your goal involves starting a new habit or retaining an existing one, the most important things to ensure success include strategic planning, upping the stakes with rewards and consequences, and positive association. It is also important to remember that hiccups are both expected and acceptable! One mistake doesn’t mean you are incapable of achievement, as success is not always linear.
Personally, I’m proud to be entering the new year as the same person I was last year. Rather than building changes from the ground up, I’m eager to improve my existing self and allow the events of the next year to shape the path that I take. I encourage you to do the same. While it is important to aim to better yourself, take time to sit back, relax, and reflect on your many accomplishments. And maybe, if you discover a hobby you really like in July, consider making time to pick it up immediately, rather than waiting another six months for the new year.
MIA VESELY is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Phoenix, Ariz. Her email is email@example.com.