The period between Christmas and New Year is often one of reflection for many people. As the calendar (January – December) year comes to an end and we have some time off from our daily routine, we inevitably think of our achievements, successes and failures of the past year. Whilst looking back we also look forward to the new year and ponder (think) on what positive changes we can make. And this is when we make New Year’s resolutions.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Who hasn’t, come New Year’s Eve, declared to anyone listening that they intend to do one or a few of these:
- stop smoking
- get fit
- lose weight
- drink less alcohol or stop altogether
- work less
- spend more time with family and friends
- learn a new language
- travel more
- spend more time working on improving their English (many of my clients!)
- spend less and save more
In fact, the motivation to make a fresh start is very strong but it soon fizzles out come mid-January. Why does it so often, if not always, happen?
According to Art Markman in his article for Time Magazine, the reason we don’t keep our New Year’s resolutions is because we “don’t put in enough effort to allow them (the resolutions) to succeed.” He says that the things we want to change are generally ” the systematic (related to our routine) failures in our lives”, for example, stop smoking, finding more time to learn a language or to exercise more “and making these systematic changes in our behaviour” is not at all easy.
Breaking a routine or habit is one of the hardest things to do. It takes a lot of discipline, motivation and courage. We also tend to construct/build our environment to support our habit and surround ourselves with people who encourage it. For example, being with people who don’t believe in exercise is not going to encourage you to take up a sport or get fit.
Mr Markman offers 5 tips on what we can do to keep or stick to our New Year’s resolutions. I have given some examples on how you could apply these tips to your English Language learning.
Give ourselves preparation time – in other words, plan ahead. It’s no good deciding on a New Year’s Resolution on 31 December and hoping to carry it out from New Year’s Day onwards.
Focus on our positive goals rather than the negative ones – Art Markman says that a positive goal is “an action you want to perform” while a negative goal is “an action you want to stop doing”. It’s easier to focus on doing something new than learning not to do something. For example, if you want to stop feeling inhibited when speaking English to English-speaking colleagues or clients, you need to focus on finding situations where you can practise speaking English in a relaxed environment (for example, a Meet Up Club). Over time, this will give you the practice and confidence to use your English at work.
Make a realistic and specific plan – For instance, if you want to improve your English, making that resolution is not enough. You need to create a realistic plan on how you are going to achieve it. How can you fit it in your weekly schedule? How much time can you dedicate to it? Then take a look at your calendar, decide when in the day or week is convenient and mark it in your diary. Once it’s in the diary, it’s going to be much more difficult to ignore it.
Make changes to your environment – According to Art Markman, we tend to do things that are easy. So if we want to make important changes, we need to make the desirable behaviour easy and the undesirable behaviour hard. Let’s take improving your English, for example. What could undesirable behaviour be? Not regularly practising because you don’t have the necessary tools like a dictionary, you’re not allowed to use the internet for personal purpose during working hours? If instead, you have an online dictionary on your smartphone;download some podcasts or EFL apps onto your phone or tablet; listen to English on the way to work every morning, the habit becomes easier to maintain.
Be kind to yourself – real change is hard and there are going to be days when you won’t succeed. Don’t be hard on yourself. Instead of using those days as a reason to give up, use them as an opportunity to learn what you could do differently for the future.
You can keep and fulfill your New Year’s Resolution to improve your English. All you need to do is plan ahead. Have you made other New Year’s Resolutions?
I hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you liked this post and think that others would, too, please share it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss out on my posts.
All it remains for me to do is to thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my blog, subscribing to it and commenting on my posts. You give me the motivation and joy to continue writing.
I wish you all a joyous, healthy and peaceful 2016 and look forward to your company next year.
See you next year.
Key to colours: The phrases in pink are collocations, this expression is an idiom and the others are phrasal verbs.