I think that New Years resolutions can be great.  It gives people a set time to make a change in their life.  However, I also have some beef with them.
First off, you don’t have to make goals only on big occasions like New Years or your birthday.  You can make a goal to change something ANY time! Don’t be sitting there in November thinking that you had might as well just wait until January.
The other thing I don’t like about a lot of New Years resolutions (and other goals in general) is that there is a tendency to set yourself up for failure.  For those of you who don’t know, at my job I teach workshops that encourage academic (or social, career, personal, etc) success.  In a lot of the workshops we teach about making SMART goals.
First, think of a general goal.  It might be ‘getting in better shape’ or ‘getting better grades’.  That’s fine and dandy, but you need to do a bit more to actually be able to achieve these things.
S– specific.  You need to know what you want to accomplish.  Vague goals=vague results.  Just saying that you want better grades isn’t specific enough! You could turn it into ‘get a 3.6 GPA’ or ‘be on the honour roll’.
M– measurable.  You want to be able to see your progress!  The number one motivator for a continued change in habit is being able to recognize success.  For example, saying that you just want to be in better shape is pretty hard to measure.  Instead, you could say that you want to run 40 miles every week, work up to running a marathon, or lose ten pounds.
A– attainable.  Be realistic!  Of course you want to actually aim high and not make it too easy, but don’t set yourself up for failure.  Don’t make a goal to lose 20 pounds in a week. That’s just silly.  Instead, aim for something like ‘1lb/week until April’ or something like that.  You also need to take into account your current situation.  For example, I originally had a goal to run a marathon by April.  However, given my situation with work, school, and other commitments, it’s not realistic so I have adjusted my goal to be more attainable.
R– relevant.  Do something that matters to you.  If it’s important to you and is going to be significant to you in the long run, you’ll be way more likely to care.  If you don’t really care and it doesn’t matter if you get a 4.0 or not, don’t make that goal.  If you hate running, don’t make a goal to run a marathon.  Make it meaningful!
T– time sensitive.  Set a deadline!  Have a specific time frame in which to complete your goal.  I don’t know about you guys, but when I have a big ol’ paper due at a very vague time way later in the semester I’m not going to worry about it too much. But if I know exactly when it’s due I’m going to want to get it done.  Have a specific running event in mind, save up money for a trip that is happening a set date, finish your paper by 8pm on Thursday, etc.
A few other tips:
  • tell somebody- especially somebody that is very motivating or you are around a lot.  I give the people I tell about my goals permission to nag me so that I keep on track :)
  • set a reward-  if you finish that race you get to buy new running shorts.  If you get a 3.6 and thus get to go on that study abroad, get a new raincoat.  Don’t be counter-productive though- don’t pledge to eat 2 pies and a tub of cool whip once you lose 10lbs.
  • write it down- post it in a place you see all of the time! 
  • set sub-goals if you need to. For example, losing weight isn’t just going to magically happen. Make goals about what you eat or how you’ll exercise.  (ps: for a good way to track your caloric intake/expenditure, use Livestrong MyPlate)
  • make goals often- don’t just wait for New Year’s to come along!
Hopefully that will help.  It might seem like a lot of work, but trust me- it will definitely help you succeed if you make a SMART goal from the beginning!
PS: Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions?
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