New Year’s Resolutions and Writing for Personal Development

Zoë Litzenberg, Writing Consultant

It’s finally December (also how is it already December?), and I’m excited for the year to end. No, it’s not just because I am ready for 2020 to be over (though I am), but also because I am a big fan of the Fresh Start Mindset. The FSM is when, because of a marked change, like the beginning of a new year, everything seems newer, more possible, and thus one finds themself more hopeful and willing to make changes. This feeling is a widespread phenomenon during the New Year’s season: the numbers vary, but a quick Google search and several polls will confirm that roughly 50% of adult Americans set New Year’s Resolutions. After the year we’ve had, I think — more than ever — I am absolutely aching for a Fresh Start. But, in my experience, it’s more often than not that an FSM doesn’t really lead to lasting change.

We all have that friend that refuses to make a New Years’ Resolution because “No one ever follows through on those things anyway”; maybe that friend is you!  I certainly felt that way for a long time, and with good reason. The same statistics that point to half of America setting goals put those goals’ success rate from only 7-10%. Maybe some of us have seen the episode of Friends “The One with All the Resolutions” (S5E11), where Ross gets stuck in leather pants, and the rest of the cast engage in similar, if slightly less embarrassing, hijinks? Or Pam, in an episode of The Office (S7E13), when she makes a poster board with everyone’s New Years’ Resolutions to help motivate them towards their goals? An avid viewer might recall that the episode culminates in Kevin shoving the butt-end of a stock of broccoli in his mouth and later threatening to “never eat a vegetable again.” At this point, broken resolutions might even be called a trope of the modern sitcom — narratives where, in 30 minutes, everyone transforms from hopeful and energized to deflated, having abandoned their goals but slightly more “realistic” as people. Isn’t it interesting that in many of these cases, their goals are set on a whim, written in pen or placed into a bet, and then treated as an all-or-nothing enterprise that, once broken, is lost forever? In short, goals are often shown to be products of a (quick) decision that either will or won’t be good, and, in turn, we goal-setters either will or won’t be a success.

Oof. Who would like that type of pressure??

I offer that hoping for personal development and having New Years’ Resolutions are not necessarily wrong, bad, or unrealistic. What can contribute to their success or failure is precisely what goes into a great piece of writing: research, planning, feedback, and revision. We might easily understand how academic writing and projects benefit from those components, so why is it difficult to treat our personal development this way? Maybe because personal development is, indeed, personal: we are so close to ourselves that we forget to take some time to evaluate who we are and make a reasonable path towards self-development. Personally, what first shifted my mentality towards goal setting was finding the resources of a popular life-coach Michael Hyatt, who taught “SMARTER” goal setting(2013). The SMARTER acronym encourages reflection and writing as a way to set and achieve challenging goals. While this is certainly not the only resource that can help articulate lasting goals, it is one of my favorite reflective matrixes. It’s in retrospect that many of the connections between this framework and healthy writing habits become clear.

What if goal setting, just like how we treat writing here at the Writing Center, is a process (an ongoing and recursive pursuit) and not a product (a one-time decision that either is or isn’t good)? What is accomplished in this reframing? I think that the answer is more than just “goals”. When we view writing as a process rather than a product, we can learn to craft a more fruitful, fulfilling, masterful practice that is kinder to ourselves and others. The same can be said about personal development, even including New Year’s Resolutions. At the writing center, our goal is not just to help you do well on writing in course assignments, though we do enjoy and train for working within and between disciplines! We want to share our knowledge of and passion for writing as an enabling, empowering experience and help you become a better writer and thinker (and now, goal setter!). Are you someone that struggles to keep your New Year’s resolution? Write it down and visit us. 

The following includes questions and prompts I made that you might think over, talk through, write about, and use to inspire goal setting for this well-earned New Year. I hope that you catch this Fresh Start mentality and ride it as far as it’ll take you, and I hope you feel welcome and encouraged to use writing and reflection as a process that will take you further than you ever thought you could go.

Research:

  • How would you describe yourself, and how might your friends and family describe you?
  • Have you taken any personality tests or diagnostics like the Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, or Strengths Finders? What have you learned about the way that you best work?
  • What makes a New Year’s Resolution stick?
  • Reflect on a time that you set a goal that you were able to accomplish. What made it happen? Now think of a time that you didn’t accomplish a goal; what do you think went wrong?

Planning:

  • What are your current priorities? What are your future goals? Are your priorities and goals in alignment?
  • How might you categorize your weekly or reoccurring work in the Eisenhower Matrix? Do you find that you often put off important work for urgent work?
  • What has worked well over the last year for you? What hasn’t? Why?
  • Where would you like to be this time next year — be that physically, mentally, spiritually, relationally, academically, professionally, or even literally?
  • If you had to choose three goals that you’d like to accomplish this next year, what might they be?
    • How might you break down your goals into sub-goals which can be tracked and accomplished quarterly? Monthly and Weekly? Daily?

Feedback:

With a trusted friend, family member, mentor, or even one of us at the Writing Center, you can ask the following:

  • Could this be considered a SMARTER goal (Hyatt, 2013)? If not, how might your goals be revised so that they meet the spirit, if not the exact specifications, of this framework?
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Actionable
    • Risky
    • Time-bound
    • Exciting
    • Relevant

I have one more piece of advice I’d like to offer before this blog ends: write down your plans. Look at them often as a reminder of what you are working towards. And for goodness sake, write them in pencil! If this year has taught me anything, we need flexibility in our plans and grace towards our mistakes.

Happy New Year, and Happy Writing!

References

Hyatt, Michael. (2013, June 14). The beginners guide to goal setting. Michael Hyatt & Co. https://michaelhyatt.com/goal-setting/.

Kwiatkowski, Andreas. (2011). Introducing the Eisenhower Matrix. EISENHOWER. https://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/.

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