New (Academic) Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year's!I’ve never been a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, but up until a few years ago, I still made them every January, and still felt awful by about the beginning of February when it became clear that they’d all fallen by the wayside.

Part of the problem, of course, was that January 1 falls at a terrible point for me, as a scholar with one foot in literary studies: inevitably, I’d just gotten through the insane rush of the end of the fall semester, the Christmas holidays with my family, and the MLA convention, and found myself feeling bloated and exhausted and looking at a mere two weeks until the next semester began, in which I had not only to get done all the research I’d been unable to finish in the fall but also get the spring semester’s classes on track and ready to go.

And so I’d find myself making the same resolutions year after year, overly general and yet impossible to fulfill promises that I would exercise more, lose weight, write more consistently, and finish that book by May! And, by two weeks into the semester, I’d find myself over-caffeinated, over-carbed, and overwhelmed—more or less right where I’d been at the end of the fall semester, certain that I was stuck feeling unproductive and unhealthy until the summer.

As it turns out, though, January 1 is the wrong date entirely for me to mark as the start of a new year. Today’s actually a much better date: August 23 is usually a week or so before the fall semester begins at my institution. It also has the great virtue of being my birthday, which means that I’m entitled to take the day off and reflect on the year just past and the year ahead.

So today is New Year’s for me, and for the first time I’m going to mark the date with some resolutions for the year ahead. I’m hoping to make them specific enough to be manageable, without being so fiddly that I’ll give up on them. And I also want them to be few and small enough that, if in three months I discover that they’ve held, I can add something else on without feeling overwhelmed.

It’s also a slightly unusual year, as I’m at the start of a sabbatical, so many of my standard productivity resolutions, like employing Erin’s Rule of 200 or my own determination to protect the first half-hour of the morning have been put aside. I’ve got lots of time to get work done; what I need to focus on is making sure I return from this sabbatical healthier and with a better sense of work/life balance than I’ve had of late. Next year’s resolutions will probably look quite different, focusing on maintaining that balance and on ensuring that my research projects continue once I’ve started teaching again.

But this year’s resolutions?

  • Eat like a vegan, most of the time. I personally feel better when I focus my diet around vegetables and whole grains and plant-based proteins, and so where I can choose to eat that way, I’m going to. And where I can’t—or where my macaroni and cheese cravings just get the better of me—I’m going to forgive myself, and then keep making the best choices I can.
  • Run three days a week. I used to run quite regularly, and it’s honestly the best exercise for me, giving me the best results with the smallest time commitment. Unfortunately, it’s too easy for me to put exercise aside when I get busy. So this year, while I have the luxury of doing so, I’m putting running first, and making everything else fit in around it. And if I get in more than three days a week of exercise, so much the better.
  • Trade the coffee for green tea. This one has been more or less mandated by some recent stomach-related unpleasantness, but it’s a good chance for me to cut back on my caffeine intake anyhow. I’m not making any promises to give up my diet Coke habit, but I’m working on it.

And that’s it. Three specific and not overly huge resolutions, things that I hope will have a significant impact on my general wellbeing. They’re about specific moments of choice rather than general behaviors or long-range goals. And they’ll let me be more productive not by creating rules around how I work but instead by helping me feel better in general.

But I’m curious: Are you a resolution maker? Do you mark the new academic year in the same way you mark the new calendar year? What promises might you make yourself as this new year begins? And how do you find ways to keep those promises? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Horia Varlan.]

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