Study Skills – Happy New New Year

It’s the end of January. Do you know where your New Year’s Resolutions are?

In fact, do you even know what your New Year’s Resolutions are? We started out with the best of intentions. But unfortunately, for most of us the busyness of our lives means that we haven’t been doing so well at following our wonderful plans to change our lives for the good.

Who loves a New Year’s Resolution by January 31? If we’re keeping up, we’re loud and proud about our success. For those of us whose grand plans have kind of fallen by the wayside, we’re a little reluctant to bring up the subject. The resolutions which excited us just a few weeks ago are now reduced to that nagging feeling that we should be doing something . . . if only we had the time. Or the motivation. Or the courage to make the changes that need to happen.

But there’s hope.

The problem isn’t that we made our resolutions too big. The problem isn’t that we’re lazy or unmotivated or scared. The problem isn’t even that we didn’t make the right resolutions?or the resolutions right.

We just needed to make more.

Today I stumbled across a blog post that I think holds the key. The author, citing psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, suggested that the reason we fail to keep up with our resolutions is that we don’t make any concrete plans to carry them out. It’s not enough, he argues, to make plans for change. Rather, we need to lay out specific details of how, when, and where we’ll carry these plans out.

He calls them ?implementation intentions.?

An implementation intention tells the details of a resolution. It’s like a lesson plan for completing a small skill module. Without that lesson plan, we don’t really know what direction we’re headed. Things go off schedule, and once we’re off track It’s much harder to get back on course.

If your resolutions just aren’t working out this year, consider broadening them to include these implementation intentions. The author recommends ?[reframing] . . . goals as ?if-then? statements.? If this happens, then I will respond this way.

For example, one of my more sadly neglected resolutions was to go to bed on time. Toward the end of 2011, 2 am bedtimes had become a very bad habit. Yet despite my deep desire to make changes, my midnight-bedtime resolution had failed in the first week of 2012. Why? Because I had no strategy to make sure I wasn’t still working into the wee hours.

Revising my resolution might take this form: if It’s a Tuesday or Friday evening, I can stay up working, reading, or relaxing as late as I like. Any other day of the week, the laptop lid will be shut at 10 pm. I will relax until 11 pm, and be in bed by 11:20 pm. Then I can read in bed until I fall asleep.

Regimented? Maybe a little; but sometimes that structure is what’s needed to make a wish reality. I’m hoping that as 2012 progresses I can use implementation intentions to give my resolutions a life outside the list.

It’s not January 1 anymore, but It’s never too late for a fresh start. We still have another 11 months of 2012: another 335 days filled with opportunities to make it our best year yet!