New Year’s Resolutions are inherently stupid.

OK, OK, maybe that’s too strong. I know they work for some people out there, and I suppose I am more or less inclined to support all goal-making activity when it has a chance of success. But here’s the thing: lives aren’t based on a clear year-by-year schedule.

Goals in the New Year? How about a shelf of philosophy "to be read" brought to you by Miles Raymer

Especially students’ lives. As college students, our experiences and time are completely informed by the academic calendar, and by the associated experiences, opportunities, and expectations surrounding different parts of the year. Start the New Year with the goal of going to the gym four times a week? No problem until finals come along, or spring break takes you away from the gym. Resolve to study for two hours every afternoon? Great, until you get the opportunity for a great new internship that runs from now until the end of the school year, each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Plans change, schedules come and go, and resolutions so often fall by the wayside.

So I don’t believe in resolutions for a new year. But I do believe in setting goals, particularly goals that are on a specific timeline and that have achievable stages to completion. And, since January marks the start of a new semester for most students, it’s a good time to make some new goals for the upcoming chunk of time.

The end of the year is consistently a time of manic list writing for me. I also tend to get nostalgic and think back about my year: the good and the bad, the things I’ve experienced and changes I’ve made.

This is great fodder for goal-setting.

Goals should be reasonable and measurable. You have to know they’re possible to feel motivated, and you have to know when you’ve gotten there.

Bad goal:

Learn Spanish

Good goal:

By March 15, learn _____ nouns, the ____ verb tenses, and study _____ pages of the Spanish grammar book. Also, watch four movies in Spanish with English subtitles, listen to a Spanish podcast twice a week, and read _____ in Spanish.

Set a deadline. Create a strategy. Write it down. Make some elements of the goal more fun than others, but include both in your list. Look at it again to decide if what you’ve chosen is actually possible.

Based on my experience, goals should be time-limited at a scale much smaller than a year. Focus on the time between now and spring break, and the rest of the year can be your problem when you get there. What are actions you can take in the next three months that will get you closer to where/who you want to be? Do you need to research study abroad locations? Make a certain GPA? Contact a professor about future letters of recommendation? Research scholarships? Do you want to learn a new skill/craft/outdoor activity/sport/recipe or cooking technique?

What do you need to do in the next semester to put you closer to graduation? To an internship? To a job? To some new adventure?

Take those manic lists and dreams of various ideas and dreams and come up with specific and targeted goals. If you want to travel (study abroad or otherwise), then learning a language will be a huge benefit. So would finding an interesting way to learn that country’s history, politics, geography, sports scene, and art. If you’ve been coming back again and again to learning some instrument or skill, is there something you can do in the next three months that will help you get started?

One of the enormous benefits of the academic calendar is that its nature is episodic. You can see a whole semester (or academic quarter) laid out in front of you in the form of syllabi and scheduled classes. You can build other interests and passions into the spaces in the schedule. You get constant feedback in the form of grades and teacher comments, and are brought into contact with lots of interesting and engaged people, who are working toward their own set of goals and interests as you are working toward yours.

So write down some goals. Make a range of goals: academic, social, skills, job-training. Orient yourself toward what makes you happy and what will benefit you down the road. Try out some new habits and focus on new plans.

Here are some simple academic goals that can make a huge difference for your winter semester (and therefore your year):

  • Read the syllabus for each class, write down assignments, and regularly check back.
  • Prioritize the important readings.
  • Prioritize certain classes.
  • Identify one professor who could be a future reference for letters of recommendation.
  • Show up to each participation-based class with a relevant comment or question.
  • Make regular (weekly?) dates with a study buddy.
  • Participate in an internship/volunteer position/organization.
  • Do independent research into one topic that’s a passion for you. Fit it into coursework if possible. If not, know that it’s still useful.

This is the time of year when I always feel like whatever comes next will bring all the more potential and opportunity. I hope you’ve had an excellent 2013, filled with adventures and fabulous experiences. And I hope the first chapter of the coming year brings even more goodness your way.

So best of luck with the non-resolution goal making! Get out there and get it done!


What are you planning for this year? What can you accomplish before spring break that will set you up for success down the road? What’s the most exciting project on your horizon? Let me know in the comments, and best of luck to you!