Many people use the end of a year as a time for reflection, and the beginning of the year as a time to focus on new goals. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution knows, many of those new goals are abandoned within weeks of that magic midnight moment when we said “goodbye” to the past and “hello” to the opportunity to do better, and be better. This year already I have seen Facebook friends gripe about all of the “New Year’s Resolvers” hogging machines at the gym, and longing for the day, likely only weeks away, when the novelty of these newcomers’ resolutions will wear off, and they (the “gym rats”) can have their pick of machines once again. They are banking on that failure; on another resolution meeting an early death. I am not a fan of resolutions, and the last time I made a resolution was in 1999 going into 2000 when I resolved to never resolve again. That resolution is the only one I have ever kept.
Instead, I have focused on making daily or weekly changes to my life and habits to get me closer to my personal goals, and making those changes all year. As I worked through this process this year, I started thinking about what makes us abandon resolutions so quickly. Here is my list of the top three reasons our resolutions become memories within weeks of us making them. Consider using these as a way to help you and your students set and achieve their goals for 2014.
Reason No. 1: We set goals that are not realistically attainable. Instead of looking at our goals in small, accomplishable steps, we pledge to do things that may not be humanly possible in our timeframe. Once we see that we are not going to make it we are more likely to abandon the goal or resolution altogether. For example, setting a goal to lose twenty pounds in a month, unless you have four to six hours a day to devote to exercise, is probably not a realistic goal. In literacy, we have to work to help our students set realistic, and meaningful literacy goals. Completing a GED program by June is not a realistic goal for students who are currently not operating near an 11th or 12th grade level in both reading and math. The Office of Vocational and Adult Education reported in 2006 that only 40% of learners in ABLE programs achieved one grade level gain in the 2003-2004 program year. We must help our students look at their current abilities and set smaller interim goals that they can celebrate achieving on their way to their ultimate goal.
Reason No. 2: We think about resolutions wrong. We focus on the end result, and not on the process and intermediate steps it will take to get there. We want to be thin, but we don’t make a realistic plan to work out on a regular basis or watch what we eat consistently. We want to finish school, but we don’t address the obstacles that prevent us from attending class regularly, giving 100% in class, or committing to reading and working on learning goals outside of class. We want to spend more time with the people who matter in our lives, but we don’t create a plan to reduce the amount of time that we spend watching TV, playing video games, or losing ourselves in the many other distractions at our fingertips. We can help our students think different about their literacy goals. We can help them create learning plans that will help them see their progression toward their literacy goals, and allow them to have an active role in tracking their progress toward those goals.
Reason No. 3: We think “all or nothing.” I know that I am guilty of this. I want to cut sweets and processed foods. I eat a donut at a meeting, and the rest of the day I abandon healthy eating since I have already had the donut. This pulls me further from my fitness goal. The truth is, no one is 100% good at something 100% of the time, but for some reason we expect ourselves to be perfect, holding ourselves to an unrealistic standard, and virtually guaranteeing failure. What we could do instead is focus on more realistic measures of success. This year, I figured if I could eat 100% clean, 80% of the time, it gives me 5-6 days per month where I can have a meal or snack that departs from my healthy eating plan. That way, the donut at the meeting, and ONLY the donut at the meeting, is a part of my healthy eating plan, and not a reason to derail my plan. For a literacy student, this might mean increasing attendance by 10% over the last month’s attendance, or reading outside of class for ten minutes more per day.
By changing the way we think about our goals we can set ourselves, and our students, up for success. We can think more realistically at our goals. We can focus on the end result, and plan the steps that we need to take to get there. Finally, we can give ourselves more reasonable measures of success, and room to “be human” as we pursue our goals.
Here’s to New Thinking in the New Year, and progress toward our goals!