January 7, 2011
New Year's Resolutions
Do you make resolutions each year for changed behaviors that you wish to implement during the coming year? Most of us do. And statistically, most of us are not successful at those resolutions. Why is that?
Well, we may set too many goals. We include a long list of behaviors that we want to change that would overwhelm any one human being. Suddenly we expect ourselves to improve in ten or twelve areas at once - usually areas that we have always struggled with during our lives. We resolve to lose 75 pounds, get rid of all debt, stop smoking, never procrastinate, eat more fruits and vegetables, do a major cleaning every week, be nice to everyone in the world who isn't nice to us, go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, save the whales, and .... You get the picture.
Our students often set too many goals at once as well. They tell themselves that they will get all A's, turn in every paper 3 weeks early, be President of six clubs, volunteer ten hours per week, work at the most prestigious law firm twenty hours a week, and do it all with full scholarships.
When we set too many goals that are all major changes or accomplishments at once, we become overwhelmed quickly. First, we feel pulled in a thousand directions and do not know where to focus. Second, we quickly realize our progress is minuscule or at least slow. Third, the moment we fail at one of the goals we are tempted to give up on that goal. Fourth, when we fail on one goal, we may assume we will inevitably fail at them all and become discouraged.
We also often set unrealistic goals. We want to make huge leaps in our lives instead of taking manageable steps that eventually will lead to that huge leap. We want to lose that 75 pounds NOW, instead of losing 1-2 pounds per week for however long it will take. We want to get rid of all debt NOW, instead of paying off one credit card balance at a time after we have cut up the cards.
Again our students set unrealistic goals. It is inevitable that my students on probation will announce that they will get only A's the next semester. Instead, they should focus on doing the best they can each day because it is consistent, hard work that produces good grades. Instead of declaring that every paper will be turned in three weeks early, they should focus on meeting each deadline for each stage of the paper on time or perhaps several days early. They should resolve to be a committee member or officer in one club and do an excellent job for that club.
We often fail to ask for help with our goals. We are more likely to succeed if we have help. Think about going to the gym - if you have to meet a friend there for a spinning class, you are more likely to attend. If a friend helps us stay accountable by pulling us out of the store when we get tempted by the $300 pair of shoes, we are more likely to avoid extra debt.
Some students feel ashamed of their weaknesses and avoid asking for help. But going it alone can be - well, lonely. If students align themselves with friends and family who will help them meet their goals, they will be more likely to succeed. A friend who encourages the student to read for class is far better than the friend who encourages one not to read or to go out for a drink. A sister who calls and asks for a list of what the student got done that day is trying to help the student stay accountable. Academic success professionals often help students with accountability by setting up regular appointments and asking the hard questions about the student's progress on academic tasks. Professors are happy to work individually with students who are sincerely working to improve.
Here are some tips for those New Year's resolutions that law students are contemplating:
- Limit the list to no more than 3-5 items that are truly achievable. Pick goals that one has a good probability of meeting rather than "pie in the sky" goals. For example, outlining every week in a course is achievable while making the world's best Commercial Law outline is not.
- For each goal, break it down into the small steps or tasks within the larger goal. As each small step gets crossed off, progress is made which serves as encouragement for more progress. For example, a paper can be broken down into all of the research, writing, and editing tasks.
- When back-sliding occurs, do not give up. Accept that everyone is human and get up and start again. For example, when one oversleeps and misses class, get the notes from a friend and move on - go to bed earlier, set two alarms, and get up when the first alarm goes off.
- Set up a support system that will help you achieve your goals. Ask family and friends to telephone regularly to discuss your progress, encourage you when you are having trouble, and praise you when you make progress. Find a mentor (professor, administrator, staff member, local attorney, or upper-division law student) who will actively support you in your goals. Ask fellow law students who are equally serious about changes in their grades/lives to team up as accountability and study partners.
Change can be daunting. Behaviors are learned. As a result, they can be unlearned. The longer a bad habit has existed, the longer it will take to replace it with a good habit. But, it can be conquered. (Amy Jarmon)
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