Columns

Thomas ’15: The benefit of resolutions, for the student

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, February 7, 2012

 

Walking on College Hill at the start of the semester, we can feel a tangible excitement in the air. Students return to campus refreshed, with more than enough break time under their belts to make the discomfort of last December no more than a faint memory. Having just celebrated the New Year, many of us face the spring with at least some thought of resolutions for 2012. 

Unlike others for whom the New Year represents an arbitrary new starting point, college students actually do experience a relatively clean slate at this time. We are fortunate to have some chance at attempting to achieve the goals we were perhaps too lazy or preoccupied to tackle previously.

These promises we make to ourselves exist across a wide spectrum of feasibility from realistic to wishful thinking. 

Frequent among our ideas for self-improvement are attempts to reverse the slovenly conditions we left during finals. Students vow to get more sleep, remembering one too many 5 a.m. breakfasts at Louis. Also common are resolutions about better eating habits. These range from striving to eat regular meals at regular times to trying to lay off the curly fries. 

In terms of social life, I’ve encountered two different approaches. Some vow to get out more and make new friends, or to not spend Saturday nights tucked in with their textbooks quite so often. Still others look forward to cutting down on destructive drinking routines or to finding a calmer party scene.

Class selection and the bustle of shopping period are not immune to our resolutions, either. Once again, students’ goals are divided. Specters of pressures felt in the fall cause some to seek out a more relaxed spring, honing in on later classes and chill professors. On the other hand, restlessness over winter break spurs some students to challenge themselves to pursue more difficult courses.

And while it’s true that we’ll all probably end up hunched in the Rockefeller Library over a pile of empty 5-Hour Energies and highlighted textbooks in May, there are some merits to making even a few corny resolutions. 

To start, New Year’s resolutions help us think about self-improvement in a more productive way. Rather than clinging to a vague mantra of “be better” that normally permeates our desires for academic and personal achievement, we are able to narrow our scope and focus on specific, tangible goals.

For those who spend any amount of energy working towards a New Year’s resolution, regardless of their degree of success, there will be some resultant improvement in lifestyle, even if for a short period of time. As the weather warms and attendance to the gym dwindles along with hours of sleep, at least we will have had a period, however brief, of good habits. And, if it is to be believed that the progression of the semester will cause a decline of such habits, we will find ourselves making that decline from a higher standard than otherwise. Better to reduce sleep from eight hours to four rather than starting out the semester already deprived and exhausted.

If one’s resolutions center on breaking habits that perhaps even approximate addiction, the start of the semester is just the time to do it. According to a report from National Public Radio, repetitive behaviors we engage in are deeply motivated by our environments. Therefore, an effective method for breaking these habits is to “(disrupt) the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.” For students in a new semester, such disruptions are automatic. They include the routes we take to get to class, when we eat and so on. 

It would be a waste not to take advantage of this opportunity for behavior improvement. This is one of the few times in our lives when the New Year actually coincides with such a chance to, say, stop smoking or quit eating regular high-calorie midnight snacks.

If nothing else, New Year’s resolutions promote a general mindfulness that is invaluable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As Brown students, we are a focused and busy bunch. Rarely do we have the time to reflect on our everyday habits to this degree. The New Year gives us a moment to look both behind us to observe our mistakes and forward to make real improvements. Even if our resolutions are broad or overwhelming, like “work out more” or “be nicer,” giving thought to the problems that need fixing is the first step in a progressive direction.

 

 

Leigh Thomas ’15 is from New York. She can be reached at 

leigh_thomas@brown.edu.