Just a number on a calendar

MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE
MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE

Students reflect on New Year’s resolutions, self-improvement

Maddie Elliott and her date moved down the assembly line at Blaze, interacting with multiple employees to craft perfect, individualized pizzas. With each question asked of him, Elliott’s date never failed to use a “yes, please” and “thank you.” Elliott had already ordered her pizza, and, with a twinge of regret, remembered the New Year’s resolution she had made just a week earlier.

“This year I actually did make a New Year’s resolution — I decided I wanted to work on saying ‘please’ more often,” said Elliot, a third-year managerial economics major. “But I have gotten out of the habit of saying ‘please’ when I am requesting something of someone else. Manners are something that is important to me and something I value [in] other people.”

New Year’s resolutions are a tradition in which many Americans take part. According to the Statistics Brain Research Institute, about 41 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. However, the study reports that only 9.2 percent of those people feel successful in achieving their resolutions.

Elliott, determined to be more kind in the new year, has not only been more conscious of her manners, but also wants to approach the world with a warmer persona.

“Another thing I’ve started to do is smile at a new person each day,” Elliott said. “There’s so many times I’ll be walking around campus and lock eyes with someone, and then we both just look away. Instead, I’m trying to start giving them a soft smile, even if I’ve never seen them before. You never know what someone is going through, and if I can be the one small act of kindness out of their day, I would be very happy knowing that.”  

Along with committing to do more good deeds, many people focus on overall self-improvement, with goals of losing weight and eating healthier. Health-related resolutions make up more than 30 percent of the resolutions made by Americans each year, according to a Nielson survey from 2015.

“This year’s resolution was pretty cliche, but I think it’s pretty important,” said Kawayan De Guzman, a third-year wildlife, fish and conservation biology major. “It’s to go to the gym no less than four times a week consistently and, during the process, learn how to exercise more efficiently, as well as expand knowledge on how to exercise.”

Although people in their 20s report higher rates of resolution success than those in their 50s, success rates are still low, and resolution maintenance tends to decline just two weeks into the new year. For students, this decline in dedication can be attributed to a number of factors including time management and unrealistic expectations.

“I feel like setting New Year’s resolutions, although they can be really great, puts a lot of pressure on yourself,” said Mazie Lewis, a first-year human development major. “Once you don’t accomplish that resolution, you feel like you’ve messed up for the whole year. At least that’s the feeling I sometimes have.”

The environment of an unrelenting quarter system can make students feel as though there is simply not enough time in the week for schoolwork, jobs and extracurricular activities, let alone a New Year’s resolution. When unrealistic goals are adopted overnight, it can be challenging to work them into a busy schedule.

“It may be hard to keep a New Year’s resolution because things like diet, personal progress etc are goals that you don’t achieve at a specific time,” said Brian Trainor, a professor of psychology, in an email interview. “We’ve learned from neuroscience that the brain circuits we use for working towards a goal are not exactly the same as the brain circuits we use when we are enjoying that accomplishment. The brain circuits function best when we get the reward in close proximity to when we worked for the goal.”

Trainor further explained that immediate feelings of reward come from activities like shopping, when there is a relatively short delay between the parts of the brain used when shopping and feeling good about what was bought. Exercise, on the other hand, has a longer time between the activity and the payoff. Seeing results such as weight loss lasts longer than the time it takes to go on a shopping spree, therefore the brain has a harder time making the connection between the choice to achieve a goal and the good feeling of achieving it. This can help explain why New Year’s resolutions, which often take longer than a day to achieve a goal, could be short-lived and eventually fail.

“I think New Year’s resolutions are good if you can stick with them and are dedicated to them,” said Macyn Kopecky, a third-year English and history double major. “But in general, creating goals for yourself is a good thing to do no matter what time of year it is because it gives you something to strive for. Life is sometimes really boring if you just let it pass you by without trying to make it the best [it can be].”

A common theme among these students is that they agree resolutions don’t have to be one-time deals that happens on Jan. 1 every year. The tradition of a New Year’s resolution is simply a building block in the act of recognizing faults in and improving our lives whenever it is most appropriate.

“Most people do not keep their resolution [because] they see it as ‘new year, new me,’ but in reality nothing has really changed except a number on the calendar,” said Matthew Iwahiro, a third-year cinema and digital media and communication double major. “I know I personally made a New Year’s resolution, but I would call it more of a lifestyle change and I just decided to make a resolution on New Years, because it was most convenient.”

Iwahiro’s resolution was to better involve his friends into aspects of his life. Whether it’s inviting them to go for a run or cook a meal, Iwahiro wants to take advantage of his time with his friends before college ends. His approach to this resolution was to make minor achievements to reach his greater goal.

Kopecky made a resolution back in 2012 to lose 70 pounds. She achieved her goal despite knowing that others thought such large, specific goals would be “inaccessible.” Just like Iwahiro, Kopecky took to her resolution one step at a time, planning out her transition to a healthier and happier lifestyle.

“I think you need to set a goal that you’re actually capable of, [and if] you can’t and get down on yourself about that, it kind of spirals,” Lewis said. “I feel like we’re constantly resolving ourselves. Now I do small daily goals [like] ‘do these homework assignments’ and ‘talk to five new people,’ and I feel like that’s a lot more successful.”

It seems that choosing a realistic and achievable goal that can be reached with minor increments is the most reliable path to making successful resolutions. A resolution doesn’t have to be made on New Year’s Day, but rather anytime in life — whenever it is relevant.

This is the first year I’ve been honest with myself and made a realistic resolution, which I think is good,” Elliott said. “But what I think it comes down to is making a goal, a plan and a timeline. Making resolutions and goals and improving yourself is a great thing, and I think it is something that can be done all the time — not just once a year in January. My advice to others that maybe are struggling with their resolutions or goals is that it is never too late to get back up and start over.”
Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org