Most of us look forward to New Years Day, in part for the fun of the eve or the Mummer’s parade on New Years morning, but in part because if feels like a new start. It’s a chance to think through what you accomplished (or struggled with) in the past year and plan ahead to reach new goals for the upcoming months. We set resolutions, like exercising or eating right, to give ourselves a sense of a new start and a new commitment to such goals. They don’t always work out, but sometimes they do.
Those of us in the academic world, whether as teachers, students, or administrators, get a second “new year” in the late summer. The start of the new academic year, like the start of the calendar year, teems with new possibilities. We think about how we might organize our school work this time around to be more efficient or more enjoyable. We head out to our favorite stores to buy new pens, folders, notebooks, and reams of printer paper (it doesn’t really matter how old you are, there is something nice about a brand new notebook with pristine covers and pages waiting to be filled). We get out the day planner that may have gone unused over the summer months and start to plot out the semester ahead. And, we make resolutions for our new academic year. We promise ourselves that we’ll study harder, or grade those papers in a more timely fashion. We say that we’ll plan ahead to avoid all-nighters, schedule in time to eat right and exercise, and avoid procrastinating the readings we need to do for class (whether as the instructor or the student).
It’s easy to make the promises to yourself and others at the start of the new year, calendar or academic. It’s much harder to keep them. But, scientific studies tend to suggest that behaviors completed on a consistent basis over several weeks become habitual and are more resistant to breakage. So, start now on those new behaviors that you have planned for the semester ahead. Begin reading for an hour or two in the evening instead of surfing the net. Go to bed at a reasonable time and get up around the time you’ll need to be up for your classes. Start that exercise class and eating plan now instead of later. Label and organize all of your materials to set yourself up to succeed in the goals you have for this new year. Make a list of your resolutions and post it somewhere in your room, or on your facebook page, or your blog… feeling responsible to someone besides self is often a good motivator for getting things done.
The new academic year brings opportunities and challenges. Some of the challenges, you just have to wait until the classes start and then attempt to address them (meeting new people, learning new names, working on the required assignments, developing a good relationship with your office/dorm/suite mates). But, if you make some of the others a habit now, you may find that spacing out the challenges ahead makes them somewhat easier to meet and turns them into opportunities for positive change and a true chance to reach your New Year’s resolutions.
Happy New Year!