The end of winter break is always a time of strange crossroads. The end of a month-long vacation from school, as well as the end of the first month of the year, comes alongside a new semester of opportunity and possibilities. I thought about this as I went through my list of New Year’s resolutions I kept in my notes on my phone: I hoped to write more, read more and finally learn how to play the piano. (My real goal is to take at least one lesson and hope that I can manage Hot Cross Buns, but that sounds almost too lame to admit.)
As I looked upon my hopes for my future self, I couldn’t help noticing some repetition in my list. Haven’t I always been telling myself I need to write more? And why is it that, despite making a reading list every summer, I seldom seem to finish more than two books? This isn’t the first, second or even third time I’ve set out to accomplish these seemingly easy goals and have failed to do so. Yet every year when the calendar starts fresh, I feel compelled to try again, thinking that this time things might be different.
While it sounds discouraging to keep attempting something that may never come true, setting goals – even unrealistic or overly optimistic ones – is better than starting off a new year or new semester with no expectations for yourself.
Setting goals for yourself, even those you understand may not be met, can increase motivation and could lead to higher achievement rates, according to a study released by Harvard University. It sounds like common sense, does it not? By telling yourself “hey, you should really learn more about astronomy,” there’s a better chance that you may actually set aside time to learn about astronomy.
But the problem is never in setting the goal. The issue with accomplishing goals comes with having to change your lifestyle to complete a task with an arbitrary deadline and no repercussions for not meeting those goals.
Tim Urban, a blogger and writer, gave a TED talk about the mind and thought process of a procrastinator. Hilariously, he used stick-figure monkey doodles as a demonstration for how a procrastinator’s mind works, and how procrastinators often don’t worry about things until that looming deadline that seemed ages away is tomorrow. Then it’s panic time. It’s something that every college student has gone through. You had all semester to start this project. Why start it now when you could spend eight hours watching DIY face mask tutorials on YouTube? Only when all those seemingly countless weeks ahead of you have dwindled down to a few days do you start actually working on that assignment. It’s the deadline that encourages you to move forward.
So what about the tasks that don’t have deadlines? Those resolutions that we say we will work on in the coming year but can always be pushed back and back and back if we want to? After a while, it gets discouraging to not meet these goals we continue to set for ourselves. Our intentions are good, and all we’re trying to do is improve ourselves, but finances, mental and physical health, work, school, family or any other of a countless number of factors end up hindering us from accomplishing what we want.
Regardless of this, we should continue to set goals and strive to find new ways of motivation for ourselves. Maybe you want to allocate more time for friends, start working out at the gym more or learn how to cook. Think of what your goals are for the semester and how you can work harder to make them happen. Try telling a friend about your ambitions so they can help keep you on track and remind you of your goals. Set reminders on your phone or Google calendar to work a little bit each week on your goal. Offer rewards to yourself for any improvements you make toward your goal.
I told a friend of mine I wanted to work on writing a blog for this year just as a way to improve my writing. He began badgering me every day to start one, and even after I finally sat down and made one, he continued to message me about when my next post would be or why I hadn’t posted anything new in a while. He was my constant deadline, and without him, I don’t think I ever would have worked on my blog as hard as I did. (Shout-out to Saffi for being such a dope friend).
Even if I don’t read every book on my list, I want to at least say that I tried. Maybe not every goal you make will be met, but some will. Pushing yourself and aiming to improve your work ethic is what will make the difference between “I’ll do it next year” and “I can’t believe I got this done.”