Keep it up: How to maintain momentum in the new year

We tend to hit the ground running with all our goals, only to stagger—how can we actually stick to them?

This year, my roommate and I decided to get a headstart on goal-setting. In November, we pulled out the whiteboard and boldly filled it with countless goals, all with the intention of “getting our life together.” In retrospect, many (if not all) were pretty unachievable. My personal favourite: our promise to climb Mount Royal five times per week. Yeah, right. 

I think we’re all familiar with this cycle. The new year is synonymous with a fresh start, a fact that’s almost too cliché to write about: gym memberships, new diets and promises to break bad habits transform into February failures. The shooting stars turn out to be meteors and burn up quicker than they appeared. This phenomenon isn’t just true with the new year; it also applies to new beginnings at school (hello, winter semester). So where does all our initial enthusiasm go, and can we reclaim this energy to actually accomplish our goals? 

First off, it’s important to understand why we lose momentum. When it comes to resolutions, the most obvious reason is that we simply expect too much of ourselves. This can be explained by a phenomenon called the “empathy gap.” The Decision Lab explains that this is the “tendency to underestimate the influence of varying mental states on our own behavior and make decisions that only satisfy our current emotion, feeling, or state of being.” So when we made our Mount Royal resolution, we were crazed by enthusiastic energy and forgot how it actually feels to be tired. 

To carry through on your promises, you need to be realistic with yourself. It’s always tempting to imagine ourselves as super disciplined, high-achieving people, but that’s often a bit of a stretch. As busy students with countless external stress factors, we have to be honest with ourselves and realize that time and motivation are difficult to come by. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set goals, rather that we should consider how our goals actually fit into real life. Start small and make an attainable plan. Keep yourself accountable by setting small milestones and keeping track of achievements. Gradually (and with great patience), these will build and snowball. 

When it comes to the new semester, the same principle applies. I start every semester with the idea that I’ll be an absolute academic weapon, doing all my required readings and completing every project in advance. Instead of setting such vague, unrealistic goals, I’ll aim to stretch this enthusiasm out and actually make a plan for myself. Maybe I’ll aim to complete “most” of my readings, schedule my time day by day, and see where I can go from there. 

In case you were wondering: since November, we have climbed Mount Royal a grand total of zero times. Maybe we could choose a hill instead, or reduce our goal down to one time per week. Or maybe choose a new goal entirely. Here’s the funny thing, though—with all this time I’ve spent thinking about how I haven’t climbed the mountain, I could have just gone and climbed it by now.


Hate resolutions? Resolve to be nicer

Support those who are trying to do better: don’t minimize them

I absolutely love New Year’s.

Though, to be honest, I couldn’t care less about a ball dropping or people swarming Times Square. I’m not a party person—I’ll take tea and slippers over a club any day of the week. Changing a number on the date holds, frankly, very little sentimental value to me. On top of all those, it’s cold—especially so without the sentimentality of the holidays.

Know what makes New Years so amazing? People.

It seems that, in early January, everyone comes alive. They glow with something you don’t see any other time of the year. Suddenly, they’re talking about going to the gym. Getting healthy. Saving the environment. Finishing that big project—or maybe getting their big break.

Look around: quiet people are coming out of their shells. People are looking for love. Some are cutting and dying their hair, or completely changing their look. I’m talking about learning languages, learning to draw, learning to (finally) ride a bike. Getting ready to travel the world.

In early January, people make resolutions. And I think that’s amazing.

Everyone is letting their dreams out of the little closets in their mind. People are trying to become better. People are rolling up their sleeves for their own sake, and the sake of those around them.

So, when did resolutions become passé?

Making resolutions is a staple of New Years, though there seems to be a growing trend of resolution-bashers. (Alan Cleaver/Flickr)

I’ve been hearing it more and more: “most people don’t go through with them anyway,” “they’re clogging up my gym,” or some-such things. Besides the idea that it is “your gym” (get off your fitness high-horse), I have to ask—who the hell do you think you are?

You don’t want to make a resolution? That’s perfectly fine. And if people are pressuring you to come up with one, that’s horrible. A resolution has to be something you want to do, otherwise it loses all meaning. These next paragraphs aren’t aimed at you.

It’s for the people who openly mock and criticize people who decide to make a resolution. How dare—and yes, dare you—mock someone for trying to make themselves better? For trying to make someone else’s life better?  I don’t care if they took your favourite treadmill at the gym, or if you blame them for buying up all the supplies for your favourite hobby. I don’t care if you’re the kind of person who hates when people don’t finish what they start.

Because they are trying. They are trying really fucking hard. Do you know how intimidating it is to be out of shape and walk into the gym for the first time? How scary it is to pick up a huge, complex and daunting hobby? How absolutely terrifying it could be, looking at a map of the big wide world and deciding to go at it alone? It takes a metric ton of courage.

In my eyes, deciding to do better is something we should all hold on the highest pedestal. Even if they only go to the gym once. Even if they never touch a paintbrush. Even if they never purchase a plane ticket. I’m willing to stand on the sidelines cheering on the people I care about, for however long they’re willing to go. Maybe they’ll make it, maybe they won’t. But I refuse to be the gatekeeper standing between them and their dreams—and you should too.

In 2015, resolve to be a supportive human being. Clearly, you need it.


Taking on 2013 with a vengeance

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

The clock struck midnight, the confetti polluted the streets, the fireworks popped and crackled, and now that the holidays are over you’re ready to turn your life around. It’s a new year, a fresh start, and you’re going into it bright-eyed. The year 2012 was supposed to be better than 2011, and obviously 2013 will be better than 2012, right?

It’s almost as if the whole world just decides to do a major clean up at the start of each year and everything is reset. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that people want to set goals, but there are a lot of common resolutions that set the bar a little too high and are just begging for failure.

“I believe that the resolutions we make are only there to comfort us for the time being,” said Concordia Student Jessica Palmieri. She doesn’t make resolutions because she feels like “slapping a label” on something makes it more difficult to do.

The all too common weight loss and gym resolution is probably one of the most popular. Dieting programs step up their advertising and gyms are filled to the brink in the days following Jan. 1. They’ve been dubbed the “resolutioners,” with gyms seeing an increase of almost 100 per cent, according to CBC and the Wall Street Journal. This only lasts a few weeks though. Time magazine states that things usually go back to normal in February, with 60 per cent of the memberships bought gone down the drain.

Other popular resolutions are to quit smoking, drastically change a diet and to become more knowledgeable about something. Realistically, though, you cannot just say that you’re going to learn Italian if you’ve never spoken a word or that you’re going to quit smoking just like that if you smoke a pack a day.

The way we formulate our resolutions simply sets us up for failure. As a recent study done at the University of Scranton and published in the Journal of Psychology shows, only eight per cent of Americans who make resolutions are actually successful in achieving them. Clearly not the percentage most want to see.

Resolutions are based on the willpower of the individual and some experts say your brain just cannot handle the stress of such sudden changes. As a Stanford University experiment explains, your prefrontal cortex is what handles your willpower. Willpower needs to be built up and trained. The best way to train for things is to take baby steps. This can also be applied to setting goals.

The worst thing that you can do is decide out of the blue that you’re giving up chocolate. An hour later, you’ll find yourself surrounded by gold and brown Ferrero Rocher wrappers with your cats pawing at them and judging you. Then you’ll hate yourself.

The issue is that we set high goals for ourselves that aren’t alway manageable and once we fail we find ourselves terribly discouraged. That’s why I think you need to set small goals at first and then continue to work up to more drastic changes. The light at the end of the tunnel needs to be visible, and you need to make sure it isn’t a train coming to hit you head on.

There are also resolutions that just don’t make much sense to me, specifically when it comes to habits we’ve had for a very long time. Charles Duhigg, New York Times writer and author of “The Power of Habit,” explains in his book that habits are compulsions, things that we’ve been doing for so long that we don’t even realize it anymore. A lot of work goes into breaking a habit, and it goes much deeper than we think.

I’m not trying to put anyone down for trying to improve his or her life, however, I think we should be setting goals for ourselves all year long and constantly taking little steps to improving ourselves. Now, if you’d excuse me, I have some chocolate to give away.

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