When are we finally going to face the truth that we’ve all known since we were kids: no one cares about January 1. Really. It’s just an excuse to extend the holiday parties for another week, eat too much, stay up late, and wake up the next morning wondering why you did that yet again.
We all know the truth: the real New Year begins with the new school year. That’s a date that matters. Moving from December 31 to January 1 affects nothing other than remembering to change the last couple of numbers whenever you write the date. Starting a new school year, though, that’s big.
(This is obviously true for students, teachers, and parents. But I’ve noticed that it’s even true for many people who don’t fall into any of those categories. I think it has to do with the formative impact of living with the school calendar through all your growing up years. Even after school, you still think Fall marks something truly new in a way that January never could.)
So I think it’s time that we just recognized the reality. It’s unlikely that we’ll get the government to change the calendars any time soon, though that would solve the problem of those awful hyphenated school years (the 2013-2014 school year…ugh). But we can still celebrate in our own way by realizing that now is the perfect time to make New Year’s resolutions that matter.
I think one of the reasons that January resolutions fail is because nothing about your life really changes. It’s incredibly difficult to start new patterns of living when everything around you stays the same. So you start out doomed to fail:
- Exercise more: right, like that’s going to happen in January.
- Finish projects around the house: it’s still January.
- Save money: you just feel guilty because of how much you spent on yourself at Christmas.
- Lose weight: that’s going to last about as long as it takes you to realize that you still have some yummy appetizers left over from New Year’s Eve.
- Read more: a goal I always applaud, but one that tends to run counter to the first and fourth goals.
But the new school year brings lots of change with it, making it the perfect time to decide how you (and your family if you have one) will conduct itself over the next nine months. Every Fall brings the possibility of a “new start,” so why not make it a good one?
6 Academic Resolutions for the New Year
I can’t make your New Year’s resolutions for you. But here are some I would suggest for students about to enter a new school year. The rest of you will have to come up with your own.
1. Get Better Grades than Last Year.
Probably the most common goal for students to make at the beginning of the year, this has the advantage of being tangible and specific. Far superior to the nebulous “do better,” focusing on grades give you an attainable target. That’s always a good thing.
But I also recommend caution with this one. A grade-focused approach to education can easily put performance ahead of true learning. I’ve seen students more concerned about whether a paper should be single- or double-spaced than they were about whether their writing made any sense, and students who meticulously counted every page they read, but left me wondering if they’d processed any of it.
Let’s be clear: grades and learning are not the same thing. But, handled appropriately, grades can be a measure of learning.
So, if you want to use grades as one of your goals headed into the new year, feel free to do so. Just don’t let them interfere with your real purpose: learning.
2. Put Yourself Out There
Learning is relational. You may consume books like a champion hot dog eater, and you may even understand what you’re reading, but true comprehension and the ability to connect information across various spheres of knowledge, usually requires you to interact with other people: students and faculty alike.
So, at the beginning of this next school year, commit to relationships.
And this goes for extroverts as well as introverts. For introverts, the goal is easy: get out there! Don’t be like me: the student who cruised onto campus five minutes before class started, slipped into class at the very back, and left as soon as the lecture was done. I scored the grades, but I missed the opportunity to learn from those alongside me. I suggest a specific goal. Try to meet with one faculty person and one fellow student (outside of class) every month. Or, if you’re already doing that, try to do it twice. Whatever it takes to move you out of your comfort zone and engage the learners around you.
Extroverts may not think this relates to them. But it does. Your task is to make sure that you use your relational time profitably. Talk, don’t chat. What is one thing you learned from the last lecture/book? Share that with them and see what they think. Disagree with your prof on something? Talk about it. Relational learning isn’t just having coffee and talking about your favorite TV show. Slow down and dig deeply. You’ll learn more.
3. Be Healthy
Okay, I know this sounds like one of those January resolutions. But your health matters. Study after study has demonstrated that proper sleep, adequate exercise, good nutrition, and some good, clean fun all contribute to quality learning. Body and brain are connected. Short-sheet one and you’ll undercut the other.
What does this look like practically? I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but here’s what I strive for.
- No all-nighters: I used to do these all the time, but then I realized that all-nighters are about playing the academic game rather than about learning. You’re just trying to get enough points to win the game. Forget the game, get some sleep. And plan better next time. You’ll learn more, experience less stress, and set patterns that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
- Move your body every day: It’s amazing how little bodily activity is required for most learning experiences. I could easily spend 12 hours studying and never move much more than my hands (except for the occasional bathroom trip to expel the accumulated coffee). That’s bad. Most people suggest getting up and moving around regularly (as often as every 20 min). Use whatever schedule works for you, but get up and move around. Remember that your brain is part of your body. If your body is stagnating, so is your brain. There’s no difference.
- Fuel the engine: This isn’t a post on nutrition, so I won’t say much here. But again, remember that your brain is part of your body. So what you eat makes a difference for how you learn.
- Don’t Neglect Your Spiritual Life: Please don’t forget that being healthy the way God intended includes your spiritual life. I know that when school gets busy it’s easy to start missing church on occasion, replace Bible reading with some lost-minute studying, and memorize facts for the test instead of praying. But, if you’re learning what you need to without being who you need to, is it really worth it?