New Year, New Me? Not so Fast.

Setting Meaningful Goals in 2022

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Sophia Bills

Many of the most common New Year’s resolutions are related to health, whether it’s losing weight, exercising more, or eating better. Saving money and traveling are also among the top goals for many in the new year.

Sophia Bills, News Editorial Assistant

As much as we wish we could start 2022 with a clean slate, leaving behind the problems of the last 365 days when the clock strikes 12:00 on New Year’s Day, we know this is not realistic. However, we often instill this same type of mindset in ourselves, which has unhealthy, damaging effects. We say things like, “new year, new me” and set unrealistically high expectations for ourselves with our New Year’s resolutions. We pledge that this will be the year we start off on the right foot and make healthy new habits. But if we understand that we can’t expect society around us to change in the blink of an eye as the ball drops in Times Square, why do we expect ourselves to? Let’s make 2022 the year we let go of unrealistic expectations that only leave us feeling disappointed in ourselves and instead focus on setting meaningful, attainable goals throughout the year.

[I]f we understand that we can’t expect society around us to change in the blink of an eye as the ball drops in Times Square, why do we expect ourselves to?”

The purpose of New Year’s resolutions is to make positive changes in our lives. This sounds great in theory, but our resolutions usually don’t have their intended impact in real life. It is estimated that less than 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions end up keeping them. Since resolutions have such a low success rate, the question arises of whether or not we should continue to make them—and how. The answer to these varies from person to person. New Year’s resolutions have the potential to help us make healthy habits if we go about them in the right way, the key words here being “potential” and “if.”

To make successful resolutions, we have to understand the good and bad aspects of this New Year’s tradition. In short, the benefits of New Year’s resolutions are that they can help us make improvements in our lives and inspire us to try new things. The drawbacks are that we usually do not make our goals specific or feasible, because we make general statements without a way to follow through and measure our progress.

“We often try to come up with these big challenges or goals for ourselves that are most likely not going to stick, and they might not even be realistic or achievable in that manner,” State High health and PE teacher Andrew Walls said.

Walls teaches about goal setting in the classroom and has seen how high hopes get in the way of making quality goals.

“The problem is a lot of people will make goals or set goals, but then they don’t really have a plan of how to actually execute [them],” State High science teacher Doug Schunk said.

Schunk is a marathon runner and no stranger to goal setting. He does not, however, get too hung up on making New Year’s resolutions. Neither does Walls, who makes them occasionally but not every year.

One additional downside to New Year’s resolutions is that they reinforce the idealistic notion of “new year, new me.” January first is just an arbitrary date; it might not be the right time in your life to make a change. We don’t have a reset button that we can push on New Year’s Day that erases our bad habits. On the other hand, our lives are structured by the calendar, so starting something new in the new year could be helpful if you think it will work for you. Deciding the time frame for your goals is a personal decision, though, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Essentially, it all comes down to fresh starts. The new year is viewed as a great chance for a fresh start, but we have the opportunity to create fresh starts for ourselves at any point in time. Adopting a positive, forward-thinking mindset on starting fresh can have beneficial impacts in our lives in goal setting and beyond.

“I think a lot of people think that fresh starts are at a set time, like the new year or the end of the school year, but I really think that you can wake up the next day and have a fresh start and think, ‘okay, today I’m going to be different, today I’m going to do differently.’ I think it’s all about knowing when you have to make a fresh start. I think fresh starts are awesome and I think they’re also more common than people think, or more common than people make them to be,” State High junior Isabella Caceres said.

Schunk agrees with the notion of being flexible with when we set our goals rather than pinning our hopes on New Year’s Day.

“Just because it’s January first doesn’t mean you can’t start something on February first or August first. You know, just pick a day and start,” Schunk said.

State High counselor Katelynn Parkes feels the same way.

“I think it is important to recognize that every day is a new day to make a change or set a goal,” Parkes said.

[E]very day is a new day to make a change or set a goal.”

— Katelynn Parkes

For Caceres, setting goals throughout the year whenever the timing is right for her works better than making New Year’s resolutions.

“Honestly, I don’t find a big value in my New Year’s resolutions ‘cause you can set goals at any time,” Caceres said. “Everyone’s like, ‘oh, the new year is here,’ but sometimes it’s just in the middle of my life [when I set a goal]—like it’s not a new moment for me. So it’s just like, ‘okay, whatever’s relevant right now I have to do.’”

Caceres’ point of view illustrates that setting New Year’s resolutions is not for everyone, as there are many other ways to go about and be successful in goal setting.

“Each person is different from one another and their responses to not achieving a goal can be different. I feel that for some individuals, not being able to achieve a goal can or will harm their emotional wellbeing and mental health, while others will be able to move forward easier,” Parkes said, further emphasizing the fact that goal setting varies for individuals.

So, should we stick to our New Year’s resolutions or go a different goal setting route? Again, the answer to this differs for everyone, because we are the only ones who know what’s best for ourselves. We have to remember that building good habits takes time, and we won’t immediately be a changed person just because it’s a new year. Bettering ourselves is a marathon, not a sprint. No matter how we choose to make positive changes in our lives, there are many goal setting techniques that can help us be successful.

First of all, use SMART. You may have heard of or used this goal setting acronym before, and Walls, Schunk, Caceres, and Parkes all agree that its principles are a great guide to use in the goal setting process. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound—all characteristics of a good goal. 

“It is important to make each goal have a specific objective, an easy way to measure if you are on track to obtain a goal or have achieved a goal, reflect on if this goal is challenging but still achievable, be honest with yourself and reflect to see if this goal is something you are capable of, and have clear timelines,” Parkes said, elaborating on the acronym.

Schunk emphasized the importance of following the “S” and “M” in SMART.

“I’ve found the biggest thing [that helps me be successful with my goals] is, don’t just make a general statement of, ‘oh, I wanna lose weight,’ or […] ‘I wanna get good grades,’” Schunk said. “Have an objective that is actually something [where] you can say, ‘yes, I did it,’ or ‘no, I didn’t.’ […] Don’t just set a goal, but think about how you’re actually going to achieve that goal.”

Walls said that if people do not set goals that follow SMART, “they probably won’t stick to whatever their goal is, and they would kind of revert back to some of their older habits and go straight back to how they were, and not really making progress towards the change that they wanted.”

When making a SMART goal, you can start with a broad statement such as “I want to read more” and turn it into a SMART goal: “I will make time to read for at least 15 minutes each night after I finish my homework.” You could even add, for example, “I will ask my friends for book recommendations and then I will go to the library every two weeks and check out a book from those suggestions” to give you a specific pathway for achieving your goal.

In addition to SMART, another great tip for setting successful goals is to write them down. It is such a simple thing to do but goes a long way.

“If [you write your goal down] somewhere where you’ll see it at least once a day—or once a week even, it will help to keep you motivated and keep you on track hopefully to be able to continue working towards whatever that goal or resolution you have set for yourself is,” Walls said.

The practice of writing down your goals has proven benefits. One study by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University of California, concluded that when your goals are written down, you are 42% more likely to achieve them.

[W]hen your goals are written down, you are 42% more likely to achieve them.”

It is recommended that you write your goals in a place where you would frequently see them, such as in your planner. You could also take a page out of a bullet journaler’s book and try having a visual way to track your progress. For example, if your goal is to drink eight cups of water each day, you could draw eight simple, empty glasses daily and color them blue as you drink your cups of water throughout the day.

Another tip for success with your goals or resolutions is to work with others, whether they are working toward the same goal as you or are just there for encouragement and advice.

“Talk to others that have been there and maybe are looking at those types of goals as well. I know for running goals, I’ll talk to some of my other friends who are runners, like I’ll talk to Coach Swauger in the fitness center,” Schunk said. “Develop a support system either with your family, friends, or other people that maybe are trying to achieve that goal as well and see what works for them.”

Walls agreed and added that working to achieve goals with a friend helps us hold ourselves accountable. 

“Reach out to your friends and family. Let them know, tell them what your goals or resolutions are that you are hoping to achieve for yourself this year, and maybe try and get one or a few people to join in on your goal or resolution,” Walls said. “The more people you have working toward something, the more enjoyable, more accountable, you will be to achieve that goal or resolution.”

If you are looking for a different goal setting technique, try a 30-day challenge. In Matt Cutts’ TED Talk Try Something New for 30 Days, he discusses the idea of taking something you’ve always wanted to do and making it a part of your life for a month. The possibilities for a 30-day challenge are endless. You could try anything from learning how to paint to daily meditation. Short-term challenges can be a helpful way to break down bigger goals you may have. You could start a different 30-day challenge at the beginning of each month or at any time you choose.

Walls leads his students in a wellness-related 30-day challenge in his health classes.

“Set something small, where it’s gonna cause you to challenge yourself a little bit but not strain yourself where it gets to the point that you’re dreading trying to accomplish your goal every day,” Walls recommended. “Small changes every day, I think, in the long run, make us much better than trying to do one large thing over an extended period of time.”

No matter what type of goal you set, evaluation is key. Take time to reflect on your goals or New Year’s resolutions once you are a little way into your time frame, determining whether or not you need to modify them moving forward.

“If I recognize that I am struggling to stay motivated to accomplish a goal, I try to reevaluate the goal itself to help determine the challenge of achieving the goal and then redefine the goal,” Parkes said. She advised the State High community: “Recognize that it is completely okay and normal to reevaluate goals and adjust them along the way.”

Walls offered similar advice.

“If you did not quite get to what you were trying to accomplish, redo your goal to where it’s a little bit more realistic and achievable, or if you did conquer it, set another goal. Try and go beyond what you had already wanted to do for yourself,” Walls said.

In the end, what matters most is that you are kind to yourself and realize when it is a good time for you to make a goal and when it might not be. Also, question if you are truly making goals for yourself, not because of something you saw on social media, for example, that made you feel like you needed to change.

Additionally, we need to recognize that our lives have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years now, which warrants a gracious attitude toward ourselves. One way to make your goals reflect this reality is by framing them around self care. For example, focus on getting enough sleep, eating three meals a day, and other things you may have taken for granted pre-pandemic but struggle with now. Maybe try incorporating positive affirmations, yoga, or journaling into your routine. Also, though this is easier said than done, we need to remind ourselves that we will inevitably have off days, as everyone does, but should allow ourselves flexibility when we fall short. 

“Keep track of how you’re doing and [don’t] get too down on yourself if maybe you have a bad day,” Schunk said. “You know, don’t just think like, ‘well, I screwed up my resolution one day, so we’ll just try it again next year.’ [Instead, just] start again the next day, it’s fine.”

After the tumultuous 202 we all experienced, some made the case come New Year’s 2021 that we should abandon resolutions for the year, citing how we were stressed out enough as it was with the challenges the pandemic added to our lives. There is certainly something to be said for this. And as we head into 2022, we might expect similar conversations in news and media, because many of the problems of 2020 and 2021 are still with us, though they may have morphed—literally (COVID variants, for example) or figuratively. 

However, such conversations seem to be missing this year. Instead, the world tells us that we’re moving on. Getting back to normal. (Rather, I’d argue that we manipulated our definition of “normal” to include a reality that is far from normalcy, but that’s a discussion for another day.) But you, my friends, my peers, my teachers, know that the coronavirus still wreaks havoc on our communities. You express in class and in conversation that you’re burnt out, anxious, sleep-deprived, stressed. As Taylor Swift so eloquently put it in her song “All Too Well,” “[We] might be okay, but [we’re] not fine at all.” Although her words are meant for an entirely different context, they ring true as we ring in the new year. We as a society must acknowledge that we are still facing hardships due to the coronavirus and other factors out of our control. We owe it to ourselves, to our sanity, to recognize this and give ourselves grace. 

We all hope that 2022 will be better than 2020 and 2021, but at the same time, the year ahead presents a lot of uncertainty. If there’s one thing we can take away from these past pandemic years, it’s that nothing is certain, so we need to be flexible and take care of ourselves. Our energy is best used controlling what we can control during these “unprecedented times” that just keep on coming. Considering this, let’s make meaningful goals that prioritize our wellbeing and let go of the idea that we need to change just because the calendar did.