I love the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. At the stroke of midnight, you take a moment to reflect on the past year and think about all the things you would like to do better in the next… call my parents more often, express more gratitude to those around me, eat out less, save more, read and write more, go to bed earlier, drink more water… my list of planned improvements goes on and on. With a new year dawning, everything seems possible on January 1st. However, like so many others, I tend to make lots of New Year’s resolutions in January, stick with them for a few weeks, and then gradually abandon them by February as deadlines build and the reality of life sets in. Determined to defy the odds and convert my resolutions into routines this year, I sought strategies online. No surprise, there are many articles out there, but here are three pieces of advice that I found helpful and will use to better design my resolutions this year.
- Be honest with yourself and choose a well-defined resolution that is achievable. “False hope syndrome” is a term used by psychologists to describe the cycle of making overambitious goals, experiencing discouragement when these goals are not achieved, and then returning to the same overambitious goals in the future with the false hope that the results will be different (J. Polivy 2001; Janet Polivy and Herman 2002). This cycle of continued failure can overtime lower an individual’s self-esteem. Thus, to avoid this outcome, be reasonable about your goals. In addition, as the year progresses and the goal feels increasingly out of reach, feel free to refine your goals to ensure that slow (but steady) progress is still made.
- Set yourself up for success with a plan. Design a plan that includes tasks that will make it easier to adhere to your goals. In addition, in your plan provide opportunities for immediate rewards that will help you keep going. Studies have shown that immediate rewards help individuals stay motivated and ultimately promote the success of long-term goals (Woolley and Fishbach 2017).
- Establish accountability by working with like minded people. In a recent study of over 1000 resolution makers (Oscarsson et al. 2020), it was found that individuals in social support groups were more likely to stick with their resolutions than individuals tackling their resolutions alone. Thus, when you make a resolution, share it with others and find support groups where you can encourage one another to keep going.
My resolution for 2021: Establish a writing routine
As an academic, a recurring personal resolution has been to establish a writing routine to stay on top of my many writing tasks. In adhering to the three pieces of advice above, my achievable resolution will be to write for 1 hour a day (5 days a week) in the morning before I get started with my lab work. To ensure I write daily, I will plan to write as I drink my coffee, which I have every morning. With regards to immediate rewards, my immediate reward will be a functional first draft of a paper. Lastly, to ensure I keep with this routine, I will form a writing group with my fellow postdocs.
- Oscarsson, Martin, Per Carlbring, Gerhard Andersson, and Alexander Rozental. 2020. “A Large-Scale Experiment on New Year’s Resolutions: Approach-Oriented Goals Are More Successful than Avoidance-Oriented Goals.” PloS One 15 (12): e0234097.
- Polivy, J. 2001. “The False Hope Syndrome: Unrealistic Expectations of Self-Change.” International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity 25 Suppl 1 (May): S80–84.
- Polivy, Janet, and C. Peter Herman. 2002. “If at First You Don’t Succeed. False Hopes of Self-Change.” The American Psychologist 57 (9): 677–89.
- Woolley, Kaitlin, and Ayelet Fishbach. 2017. “Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long-Term Goals.” Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 43 (2): 151–62.
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Jennifer Kong, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in the Biochemistry Department at Stanford University. Her research interests include developmental signaling pathways and the genetics of congenital heart disease. Outside of the lab, she is a grant writing coach. Her blogs are available at betteratthebench.com and you can follow her tweets @JennKong07.