Academic Success in the New Year: Making and Keeping Resolutions

A new year is perfect time to make changes to negative behaviors that lower your grades. Find tips for making positive academic success resolutions. 

Are you planning to improve your grades for the new year? Tackle time management issues? Make better choices about studying and extracurricular activities? Quit procrastinating? Learn how to really study? Or perhaps some other academic success goal? 

It is very easy to make New Year's resolutions -- or resolutions at any time of year -- but most of us find it much harder to keep them beyond a few weeks or months. It's possible that it's not so much your willpower or desire to change as it is the resolutions themselves. Many people make overly ambitious resolutions that are almost doomed to failure from the start. 

So, what are the keys to making and keeping resolutions? Follow these eleven tips to help draft and keep your resolutions. 

1. Agree to develop a plan. The resolutions that have the best chance of success are those that are carefully developed through a series of steps, much like the ones outlined in this article. While spontaneity is a wonderful attribute in certain situations, studies show that impulsive resolutions are the least likely to be kept/achieved.

2. Make a list of all your goals. This next step is the easiest one. Brainstorm all the changes you want to make -- all that you want to accomplish. You may only end up with a few goals, but if you are facing a key crossroads in your life, you may have a handful of goals about your future. Be specific here. Don't say your goal is to get better grades; say your goal is raise your grade point average from a 2.5 to at least a 3.0. 

3. Prioritize your goals. You may feel you need to make a lot of changes to your life, but if you have too many goals, it is easy to lose focus and motivation when the hurdles simply seem insurmountable. Instead, once you make a list of some of the key changes you want to make, rank them both in sequential and priority order. (For example, if you want to attend graduate school, but need better grades to do so, your first goal should be raising your grades, with your grad school goal lower on your list.) Remember to keep your goals realistic, grounded in the reality of your situation -- and focus on one goal at a time. 

4. Break larger goals into manageable tasks. A large goal can seem overwhelming and impossible to ever achieve, but the secret is to attack that goal and break it into smaller tasks that eventually add up to achieving your goal. For example, if your goal is to raise your GPA from the C range to the B range, you could instead make a plan to focus on improving your grades each week of the term -- thus keeping a running total of your progress. 

5. Think of multiple ways to achieve your tasks (and ultimately your goal). One of the most important things you can do to achieve your goal is to think of new or different ways of accomplishing it -- especially if it is a goal that you have tried and failed to accomplish in the past. For example, if you have tried cramming or other weak study methods without success, then perhaps it's time to look beyond these to proven study strategies. As Apple Computer used to say, think different. 

6. Make changes in your lifestyle. Once you've determined your goal and how you are going to achieve it, make deliberate changes in your surroundings to support your efforts. If you are trying to study in your dorm room or apartment, develop a study process that works for you -- and remove distractions and limit the number of people dropping by each day. Your efforts here are not to simply get rid of bad habits that have put you in this situation, but actually to reprogram yourself -- replacing old (and bad) behaviors with new behaviors. 

7. Request and accept support. When possible, enlist the emotional support of your family and friends to give you the additional willpower and determination to stick to your plan and achieve your goal. If necessary, seek out a support group (local or online) to help shore up your resolve and determination for success. 

8. Document -- and celebrate -- your successes. With each small step you take to achieving your goal, reward yourself with some small emotional reward. By recording your progress, you are creating tangible proof that you can succeed and that you are making concrete progress toward your goal. Use that document as motivation whenever you are struggling with keeping your plans or doubting your progress. 

9. Prepare yourself for setbacks. Whether you're trying to manage your time better, obtain better grades, or make better choices, you will periods in which circumstances arise that cause you to lose a little ground toward achieving your goal. If you're mentally prepared for such a scenario to happen, you're more easily able to accept the setback and move forward -- rather than the more typical response of using the setback as an excuse to give up on your goal. 

10. Forgive yourself if you lapse. Mistakes and slip-ups are going to occasionally happen. Rather than beating yourself up for taking a step backward, take a moment to analyze why the slip-up happened and what you can do in the future to prevent it from happening again, and then move on with your life. Don't punish yourself for being human. Forgive and forget -- and keep your focus on achieving your goal. 

11. Don't give up. You may hit one or more points when your short-term plans are not working and your goal still seems so far away. Fight the urge to give up -- and instead persist. If the one technique you have been using is no longer working for you, go back and develop a new strategy -- with new techniques. The harder you work at it, the more likely you'll achieve it. 

Final Thoughts on Deciding to Improve Academic Performance

Only you can make the changes you want to make. Don't create resolutions to please others -- because you won't keep them in the end, and you'll be miserable and resentful until you do break them. On the other hand, once you make a resolution to change something about yourself for yourself, accept the responsibility and demands that such a change will take -- if you truly want to succeed -- and use the eleven tips in this article to help you achieve your goals. 

Finally, remember that you can make changes to your life at any point in time. While the new year -- or a new term or semester -- is certainly a traditional starting point, don't wait for an arbitrary date to make the changes you need to improve your life. 

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary

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