Last week, I was speaking with a first-year college student who had just arrived home from school.
She finished final exams, and is taking new classes next semester. For the first time in years, she felt like she was getting a true break – one with unstructured time to rest, recharge and reset..
For years, I’ve written about my aim to take the final two weeks of the year completely off. I’ve found the unstructured time to be a valuable time to reflect and set intentions for the upcoming year.
Usually, an idea comes to me during time spent reading, working out, walking or spending time outdoors with friends that helps to shape the following year.
The often overlooked key to this process is how to make the idea, goal, or approach sustainable.
Many of us know the familiar feeling of idealistic narratives around New Year’s resolutions (“new year, new me!”) and how they lead to unrealistic short-term approaches, which can be discouraging when we inevitably fall short.
According to researchers, only 9% of Americans who make resolutions complete them; 23% of people quit by the end of the first week, and 43% quit by the end of January.
As an academic advisor supporting students and adults with executive function development for over two decades, I’ve built my work around finding strategies that lead to lasting behavior change and lifelong well-being.
Below are some key strategies to intentionally reset as we head into 2024 – these can be adapted to work for both kids and adults:
- Do something different to reflect. Make the opportunity to reflect unique – maybe it means blocking off designated time and going to a concentrated space, or maybe it means taking shorter blocks every day to pause and revisit.
Oftentimes, we may not realize how much we are on autopilot; whether we’re fighting through burnout or just in survival mode, we may feel like it’s taking all of our energy to go through the motions.
Here are three questions to get you started: What’s went well for me this year? What was surprising or unexpected, and how did I handle it? What is *one* thing I would like to focus on this upcoming year?
- Set specific, measurable, chunkable goals. Research shows that setting goals can help instill purpose, challenge, and meaning even when faced with mundane tasks. Ideally, goals can be quantified and split up so that we can measure progress along the way.
When we work with students, we focus on underlying habits rather than grade goals – so thinking about doing homework on the night it’s assigned, writing in a planner everyday, or managing distractions are all more powerful than setting a grade goal of a 4.0 GPA (as I like to say, if you focus on the habits, the grades will come…). The same rings true for a focus on writing, wellness, finances, etc.
- Focus on the environment rather than willpower. One of the core principles of learning science is “do not rely on willpower if you can change the environment instead.”
When we look at attaining goals as simply a matter of willpower, we can quickly resort to shame and self-blame when challenges arise. Instead, it’s crucial to focus on the environment– what are some external tools to put in place that will encourage accountability even– and especially– when we don’t feel like it?
This may look like getting an accountability buddy or setting up a better environment (set time, study space free of distractions) to work on the goal. Simple changes like leaving running clothes by the bed or placing a journal on your nightstand can be great ways to add structure and set yourself up for success.
Wishing you all the best with restorative reflection!
Links of interest:
A Neglected Aspect of Good Teaching (Inside Higher Ed)
Chatbot Hype or Harm? Teens Push to Broaden A.I. Literacy (The New York Times)
Swimming Pools and Granite Countertops: How College Dorms Got So Expensive (Wall Street Journal)
How will this year’s big admissions changes shape 2024? (Inside Higher Ed)