Monday, January 7, 2019
The ball dropped, fireworks exploded, and 2019 began! In the following days, did you make a resolution to drastically change this year? Many people decide, usually haphazardly, that (insert year) will be the turning point. For law students, grades will improve at least 1 full letter grade, studying will begin at 8am with perfect briefs, and completing practice questions are all on the list. While admirable, are those resolutions achievable?
New Year’s resolutions are generally ineffective. Numerous studies over the years looked at how many people actually complete his/her resolution. One recent study found 35% of people fail by the end of January. Another study found even more dire results with 92% of people failing by Valentine's Day. In a short amount of time, a large number of people fail. Should we ignore resolutions as a result? Absolutely not. The better alternative is to make well informed and focused resolutions that are attainable.
One of the initial problems with resolutions is the focus on the outcome. Similar to previous posts, this is essentially results based goal making. How many people resolved to lose X number of pounds, quit smoking, exercise more, get healthy, or any number of other generic result based ideas? Results don’t provide a map for completion or a tool to evaluate progress. How would someone know if they were “getting healthy.” The same is true for law students trying to achieve “an A.” How does a student know in March whether what he/she is doing is “A” material? The lack of a road map and easy evaluation makes the better grades resolution impossible to achieve.
More concrete resolutions can lead to success. Process based thinking and planning is better. Breaking down each day resolving to complete a brief for every major case or resolving to start outlining after the 3rd week of class provides concrete systems that are easy to follow and evaluate. The process of achieving short term goals and checking off items from the list can build momentum for improvement. Paraphrasing a quote from my pastor last weekend talking about habits, he said individuals don't rise to the goals, they fall to the level of their systems. Basically, our daily processes and decisions will determine whether we fulfill our resolutions.
Many people, especially high performers like law students, also set unrealistic goals. We want to conquer the world, end all suffering, spend time with all our friends, and relax, which are all great aspirations, except probably not possible. Make resolutions that are challenging but attainable. Try to focus on a small number of resolutions. Anything more than a couple will probably be overwhelming. I am not a morning person, and I could not possibly start studying in law school by 8am. Any resolution to start earlier would have failed in week 1. Know yourself and create resolutions that will encourage improvement while also being realistic about what to change.
Deadlines also help encourage meeting resolutions. Deadlines shouldn’t be too distant because the deadline won't create an urgency to start working. Set a timetable to get tasks done. Catching up on outlines by the end of week 4 is good or submitting a practice question to a professor each week create short term deadlines to encourage completing the resolution. The idea is to create both a timeline and another tool to evaluate progress.
New Year’s resolutions and new goals for the semester are great. However, most people fail to meet the goals because they are generic and unrealistic. Spend extra time developing a good process with specific tasks and deadlines to set up your semester for success.