New Year’s Resolutions: The Why, the Way, and the Joy

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

By the time you read these words, it’ll be January. It’s actually still December for me while I write this, but not for much longer. There is less than a week to go, in fact. So, adios, 2022! Hello, 2023! Happy New Year! What’s your new year’s resolution?

I’m a tiny bit of a nerd when it comes to new year’s resolutions. I’ve been making them for a very long time. I recently stumbled upon fifteen-year-old Athena’s resolutions for the new year. Teenage Me was kind of cute. I vowed to wear glasses more instead of contact lenses (I suppose to look out for my eye health?) and also to be more helpful around the house for my mom.

I can’t tell you if I made my resolutions come true that year (my mother might argue that they did not), but of course I like to think that I did.

My goal-setting has evolved a lot over the years, but new year still means taking a moment to look ahead. So given the timing of this post, I thought I could share some thoughts I’ve had on the topic.

Maybe you have a professional interpreting objective to accomplish, or a personal life goal you’d like to make into reality. Whatever your resolution may be, if you actually want it to stick past January, you’ll have to do something more than proclaim it loudly on New Year’s Day.

You’ll have to make room for your resolution.

You’ll also have to make sure your resolution is realistic for the amount of room already available in your life.

I often have students ask me some variation of, “Is three (or two, or four) months of studying reasonable for me to pass X/Y/Z interpreting exam”? My answer is: It depends what you DO with those four months, and on how long it takes your habits to form. The first habit you’ll have to implement is sitting down to do the work!

Sometimes, that will mean waking up earlier in the day. That’s good, but what we often forget is that by saying “yes” to waking up early, we are saying “no” to going to sleep late. Otherwise, it won’t be sustainable; three days will go by, you’ll be completely exhausted, and without even thinking about it, you’ll fall asleep on the couch in the middle of the day. Once that happens, you’ll go back to whatever your old schedule used to be, and the studying will slip quietly out the door.

The thing about resolutions is that they have to go from being a thing you want to being an actual habit. And sometimes, as with the sleep example, by creating one habit, you are necessarily getting rid of another. 

Habits are hard to make and hard to break.

The thing is, we can’t drastically alter everything we do, all at once. But we can pick one thing we really care about, one thing at a time, and implement practical, repetitive, scheduled strategies to cultivate it past the first two weeks of 2023.

What I’m describing is actually hard to do, though, so whatever it is we’re working toward, we’ve got to really want it. Motivation is what fuels our drive, so the motivation has got to be there. We’ve got to be so devoted to our goal that by July, when school vacation is on and snow is just a far, distant memory, our goal is still with us.  That motivation is our Why.

Next, we find our Way. Our way is our plan. We need a plan because, a goal without a plan is just a dream. (Social media quote, author unknown.) Our plan will involve our calendar, into which we carve out reasonable chunks of time to devote to our goal.

This will mean saying “no” to other things. That will be hard. If it’s impossible, then we’ll have to re-think our goal.

Once we have the inspiration, we find Joy in the journey; ways to make the process fun and the work worth it.

One of my more general but important goals for the new year is to cultivate my language proficiencies. I don’t live with anyone who speaks my non-native languages, and sometimes I find that when I open my mouth to express myself, I don’t know what to say. For an interpreter and language nerd like me, that is rather alarming. So, I’ve decided to do something about it, cultivating language exposure into my life in a habit-forming sort of a way. While having fun.

I have conceived of an array of little ways to add more language exposure to my life; by listening to Quebec radio while I wash the dishes, for example. By making time for a group lunch that will involve speaking Spanish, for another. By researching and buying novels in those languages that are fun to read; by listening to podcasts I find interesting; and – this is big – by giving myself permission to use the subtitles when I watch TV and movies. Now that I’ve finally given myself this permission, watching the shows is way more fun, and as a result, I watch more of them, hence drastically increasing my language exposure.

Sometimes, depending on what your goal may be, there won’t be as many creative solutions. Sometimes, meeting your goal will involve less fun, more work, more stress, and more scary, life-changing events riding on your energy investments. Well then, you’ll have to want it even harder, and schedule ways to hold yourself accountable and find people to help you on your journey. If it’s the right goal, the journey will be worth it.

Let’s not turn new year’s resolutions into one more item on our to-do list, one more task to cause guilt when left unmet. Let’s set reasonable, fun objectives for ourselves. If we do resolve to accomplish something monumental this year, let’s keep our motivation near and prepare to do a lot of work. Anyway, who said 2023 had to be drastically life-changing? Maybe our goal will be “Sleep in fifteen minutes later every Saturday.” That’s a perfectly reasonable new year’s resolution!

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