Ah, New Year’s Resolutions. We’re so brimming with confidence when we make them. We promise ourselves not to break them this year. But somehow, all that fortitude and gumption we were oozing on New Year’s Day is gone by early February. If you’re hoping this year will be different (and after 2020, aren’t we all?), here’s one way to make New Year’s Resolutions that will stick—try creating a healthy habit.
Two common mistakes that make our resolutions more breakable: make them too general, or root them in an outcome. Here are a few examples.
“Improve my grades,” “Eat healthier,” and “Get more exercise,” sound great on paper but are too general in practice. What exactly are you going to do, today and tomorrow and the next day, to chase those goals? If you can’t answer that question, you can’t hold yourself accountable. When you don’t do well on an exam, or indulge in a delectable chocolate cupcake, or skip your workout because you’re too busy, you can write it off as an exception because you haven’t technically broken any promises. And that wiggle room will inevitably lead to more exceptions until your once-clear resolution becomes a distant memory.
And while you may decide that getting a 4.0 or losing five pounds or running a marathon are goals worth committing to, they’re based on outcomes in the future rather than on tangible actions you can repeat. And even worse, the first time you fall below the curve, or say yes to that dessert, or stop midway through your run because you’re certain your aorta is about to rupture, you’ll feel the goal slipping away and be tempted to throw in the towel.
But when you create healthy habits, you overcome both those problems.
“Visit my favorite online sites only after I’ve finished my homework.”
“Add fruits or vegetables to at least two meals a day.”
“On Saturdays and Sundays, do 50 pushups before I leave my room in the morning.”
Each of those is specific enough to easily gauge whether or not you did it that day. They don’t depend on future outcomes to be valuable. And most importantly, if you stick with them even for just a few weeks, you’ll start doing them automatically. You won’t even need to engage in the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” mental wrestling match with yourself.
Once that happens, you’ll have created a healthy habit you won’t soon break.
The college admissions process has a way of seeping into everything that high school students do. When you’re constantly graded, measured, and compared, all the while engaged in a confusing process you can influence but never actually control, it’s important to do good things for just yourself that don’t rely on one grade, test score, or admissions decision to validate them.
I’m not suggesting you should abandon your big goals, especially if you find motivation in the chase to achieve them. But the way to reach a big goal is through small, productive steps repeated over and over again. A healthy habit focuses on those steps and ensures continuous forward progress towards your destination.
So if you’re looking to make some positive changes in your life this year, find a healthy habit worth creating, and make a resolution to create it.
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