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Realistic New Year’s resolutions
The first week of the new year is over, and those of us who set realistic New Year’s resolutions (and even more so those who just said “I guess I’ll try learning Icelandic again this year) are in different places; some of us are still holding on to the motivation of the holiday season, some of us are still barely pushing through, and some are just…done.
Here’s a secret: wherever you are, it’s okay! There’s no rules for these things. Skipped a day? No biggie, you’ve still got the rest of the year to figure yourself out. In fact, those of you who have already failed are ahead of the game. I say that because we have to fail and make mistakes before we can be successful in literally anything.
That being said, there is kind of a loose “science” to New Year’s resolutions, and goal setting in general, that I suggest you use toward bettering your year and achieving your more realistic New Year’s resolutions, whether they involve learning a language or not. Because, honestly, learning to set goals for realistic New Year’s resolutions is the same skill as making realistic goals for learning your language of choice.
Why your resolution is failing
There’s a few very common mistakes people make that means their resolutions are never successful, so they never achieve their dreams, and so it just turns into a long, slippery slope of “I can’t achieve anything I want to, guess I’ll just give up now.” But the truth is, everyone is capable of achieving anything they set their mind to, they just have to learn the skill of goal setting.
Therefore, when you’re setting goals for yourself, it needs to be more than just “I’m definitely going to learn Russian this year.
Realistic New Year’s resolutions are attainable
I know this one seems obvious, but unless you think about attainability, you won’t think about applying that to your resolutions. For example, everybody wants to learn Chinese, right (I mean, even if it isn’t the top of your list, nobody would be upset about being fluent)? So it feels GREAT to make that your New Year’s resolution! You’ll spend your Christmas money on Rosetta Stone, promise yourself that you’ll work on it every day after work and during the weekends, and you just know that by the end of the year you’ll be fluent.
Except. Except when you have a busy day at work and don’t want to do anything when you get home. Except when someone invites you out to drinks, or you spend a weekend out of town, or you get the flu, or you get so frustrated by how difficult this actually is that you just…stop. You think you’ll never achieve anything because life is too hard and you should just give up on getting better at anything.
The lesson to learn here is just because your resolution is good doesn’t mean it’s attainable. The mistake that many people make is the moment they realize their New Year’s resolution isn’t attainable, they think it means that they need to give up; there’s no way to accomplish becoming fluent in Chinese if it can’t be done within the parameters I set for myself (which is none in this case), so I just won’t try.
Therefore, we need to be aware that life happens, and adjust ourselves accordingly. More on this later.
Realistic New Year’s resolutions are specific
The number one mistake people tend to make in setting goals is lack of specificity. Losing weight is nice, but how do you know when you’ve achieved it? One pound? Fifty pounds?
Becoming fluent in Italian is also great, but what’s your definition of fluent? Maintaining a basic conversation? Going to Italy and hanging out with the locals? While there is technically an official definition of the word fluency, you might not agree with it, and that’s okay. Some language learners define fluency as more of a spectrum, so do whatever works for you.
Realistic New Year’s resolutions are resolutions that you know exactly when you’ve achieved them. It’s a black and white, no beating around the bush conclusion to your goal. That being said, consider resolving to pass a test for a specific language level or being able to read and easily understand a certain book in your target language. Both are excellent examples of black and white, tangible goals.
Otherwise, there’s no real mark in progress, and when we can’t see progress, we assume we’re not making any and, you guessed it, give up. Until you set a real expectation for yourself, you have nothing real to accomplish.
Realistic New Year’s resolutions are forgiving
I have the lovely habit of setting goals for myself that include a significant level of work every day. While this seems great for consistency sake, it’s not very forgiving. I’m only human, and so are you, which means that you can’t necessarily promise that you’ll be able to make significant progress towards your goal every single day. Stuff happens – we get busy, sick, burned out, stressed out, etc. When this inevitably happens, our resolutions shouldn’t make us feel bad about
That being said, we can promise ourselves consistency without putting so much pressure on ourselves to actively engage in something no matter the state of our mental or physical health. There are a couple secrets to avoiding this kind of resolution burnout.
1. Setting small goals for yourself that you can choose to push on days when it’s healthy.
For example, setting the goal to work on your language of choice for 30 minutes every day. This goal is specific enough that it’s easily attainable (point A), you know for a fact when you achieve it (point B), and because it doesn’t specify what exactly you’re doing, it’s forgiving (point C); those days where you just can’t push yourself to do anything, all you have to do is put on a 30 minute TV episode of a show in your target language, and you can work on some passive listening.
2. Setting goals that don’t necessarily make any reference to time.
This strategy is a tad more dangerous, but is much more flexible for those who need it – language learners with mental/physical health issues or any other type of life inconsistencies. So, while those who need a constant push to accomplish the thing would obviously not function well under these circumstances, the more flexible route does have its place in the world.
For example, the goal of learning 1,000 words in your target language (or whatever number, probably linked to the level of fluency you want to achieve).
How to keep realistic New Year’s resolutions
Once you check this list off the resolution you’ve set,
Go easy on yourself
Many of us get over excited and over motivated when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, and set their expectations based solely on the motivation of the holidays. By the time January’s over, so is this motivation that you had when you first decided you were going to accomplish this thing for the new year.
Keep in mind that motivation and passion shift and change like most things. Don’t base your ability to achieve your resolution on these emotions, but do so on commitment! Commitment is what happens when you continue to work towards a goal even when you don’t really want to anymore, and this is the only way to achieve anything.
Therefore, not really feeling it today? No worries, it’ll come back. Take it easy on yourself, and maintain the progress you’ve made thus far. Don’t hate yourself for losing motivation (which was inevitable anyways); be proud of yourself for staying consistent!
This is why we hold ourselves to small, manageable goals; the days that you really just don’t have the motivation, do something small and easy that won’t put quite so much pressure on you. The best way to burn yourself out on something you love is to push yourself too hard on the days when you’re just not feeling it.
Don’t be afraid to fail
You will fail. You will make mistakes, do something wrong, and forget. Sorry, but it’s the human condition. Failure exists for a reason, and it’s not to make you feel bad. Failure exists so that we can learn from our mistakes and become more efficient language learners.
If your resolution was to spend 30 minutes a day on your target language and you just couldn’t get to it one day, don’t even worry about it. That day was in the past, and you can make the choice to make tomorrow better.
Keep a goal journal
I know that the concept of a journal seems like more pressure (ANOTHER thing to commit to/remember??), but hear me out. I’m suggesting something that requires little more than a check in a box, and maybe a few words if necessary.
For those of us (yes, including me) who have the consistent habit of failing goals, it can be very helpful to keep track of how consistent you are and what parts of your life are affecting your ability to achieve your goals. For example, I’ve made the mistake in the past of setting goals too daunting, causing me to constantly avoid them for fear of not achieving them, and then guess what? I don’t achieve them.
With a journal, the thought process of “the goal I set is too intense, so I’m afraid to attempt it” comes out from your subconscious and onto a piece of paper. When you do this consistently, you may be able to see patterns of why you’re holding yourself back (we all do it, don’t worry), and take action steps to refine your goals.
If you find it difficult to keep a journal (like me), I highly recommend the Panda Planner. This journal provides a space for you to look back and see how you can improve your goal setting every day, week, and month. It’s a great, easy way to analyze how your goals!
Realistic New Year’s resolutions are not 100%
I might be repeating myself, but it’s for a reason. Don’t expect perfection!! You have never, and will never be, perfect. Nobody is. That means that committing yourself to perfection does not fall under the category of realistic New Year’s resolutions.
One helpful strategy for those who feel disheartened the second they make a mistake is to shift how they see their resolutions. Realistic New Year’s resolutions aren’t one-and-done things (or they’re not supposed to be) – you’re not expected to instantly, perfectly change a part of your life, starting from January 1 and working on it every day of your life until you die, despite the pressures of life. That’s just not it!
The bigger picture of New Year’s resolutions is to have motivation to improve a part of your life. There’s no contracts, no rules, no bosses. Nobody’s going to sit you in time out if you slip up. Instead, forgive yourself, acknowledge what went wrong (if it’s inappropriate goal setting on your part or if life just happened), and move forward.
Sundays, Mondays, and the start of a new month are all great opportunities to recalibrate your expectations for your goal. The past is just a memory – it’s not real, so don’t worry about it! The past you may have made a mistake, but the present you has the wisdom and experience to fix it and make your life better. Take advantage of it!
Now, set your own realistic New Year’s resolutions
With this collection of information, you should be able to change up your resolutions and other goals to be more productive. Just remember that realistic New Year’s resolutions are:
And always remember that realistic New Year’s resolutions are never, ever:
Go forth and take a look at your own resolutions, and see how you can improve them to be more realistic. Let me know about your life goals in the comments, and how you checked off these poitns!