Tips to Keeping Those New Semester Resolutions

With the start of a new term, many students (and some faculty) are making resolutions. Likely areas for resolving to change include better grades, attendance, and project work. These resolutions appear similar to those made by people on or around Dec. 31 each year. Most people including students will not achieve their resolutions. Cass Sunstein provides the money explanation:

...people suffer from both unrealistic optimism and inertia, which make it hard for them to carry out their plans.

Sunstein's summary, based on a paper available here, is bleak but essentially correct. However, not every resolution is doomed. Successful resolutions do exist. Indeed, by following these guidelines, then you are more likely to achieve your new semester resolution.

One, keep it realistic. Losing 10 pounds during the term should be fairly easy. Losing 50 pounds is not. Start with a 10-pound goal and work toward that goal by exercising and eating better.

Two, past performance does bear on future performance. If you have never achieved a 4.0 GPA, then you are unlikely to achieve that point now. If you have achieved a 3.2 GPA at some point, then you are likely to achieve 3.5 GPA. The difference between a 3.2 and a 3.5 is typically one letter grade. Focus on doing better in one course. You can build toward a 4.0 GPA.

Three, move the end closer to the beginning. Distance in time remains the central problem with 4.0 GPA. Fifteen weeks will elapse before the goal can be achieved. That is too long between beginning and end. Instead, incorporate resolutions with shorter time distance. In three weeks, a major project is due. It is more likely that an A can be achieved for the project because the time from beginning to end is only three weeks.

Four, create small rewards to lead to large changes. The path to an A in a particular course is littered with small, and big assignments. Celebrate an A on the big assignments by treating yourself to an activity that you might not otherwise allow. Mark an A on a small assignment with a smiley face or a gold star. These little rewards, though, accumulate into big changes.