Resolutions? Goals? Let’s Talk New Year!

Gretchen M. Michelfeld

The author enjoys a River Campus walk with Evan Shoemake of the Kreek Lab. Photo courtesy of Evan Davis.

According to a 2015 study by U.S. News & World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail and most people abandon them by the second week of February. Many of us start off with the best of intentions, inspired to finally lose that weight, take up a new hobby, save more money, or drink less alcohol, only to give up on our aspirations fewer than fifty days later.

Perhaps that’s why so many folks in the Rockefeller University community have resolved to give up resolutions all together. Over half the participants declared themselves “not resolution people” in an informal campus survey. “I gave up making resolutions long ago,” said one anonymous respondent. “Each day is an opportunity to improve,” said another.

But for those of us who do wish to make a fresh start in 2020, the trend these days seems to be toward setting goals. “Instead of resolutions, I have specific things I want to do every year: a list of books I want to read, a trip I want to take, and one personal goal I want to accomplish,” said Adriana Barillas-Batarse, Senior Program Manager of Clinical Programs at the Vaccine Center. In 2019, she read (among others) five books she had set her sights on reading, took a trip to Japan, and accomplished a very special personal objective–after years of concentrating on other priorities, she started writing again.

Jennifer Groves, Program Manager for the Department of Research Support, has a similar preference for goals over resolutions. “I no longer make New Year’s resolutions,” declared Groves. “I’ve found most of my resolutions impossible to commit to. They’ve seemed like penance for the past year instead of actions to gain a positive reward. When I decided to reframe them into written ideas and goals for the coming year, I felt better about the whole ‘resolution’ thing. Now I ask myself, ‘What am I striving for this year?’ Each year I get quiet, and I write it all down.” Sometimes Groves will find that her aspirations change as the year goes on, but it’s often the case that when she checks in with herself during the year about those goals, they have already been attained.

One person on campus who has not given up on the good old-fashioned New Year’s resolution, is R.U. Fitness Manager, Timothy Blanchfield. Blanchfield has robust anecdotal evidence to support the discouraging U.S. News & World Report study. In fact, Blanchfield has observed that most folks who resolve to lose weight in the New Year start working out in January and don’t even make it to February! Tim has some stick-to-it tips for those of us who have decided to get in shape in 2020.

Blanchfield believes it’s crucial to make a resolution, set a firm start date, and hold yourself to it. “The trick is to have a plan not just some vague aspiration,” he said.

And for Blanchfield, the best way to stay with the plan is to commit to an event.

“Commit to running a 5K. Find a race, register for it, and start training,” suggested Blanchfield. “If you’re going to run a 5K race in five months, you need to start working out five days a week right now. This is a great way to keep moving–work towards something tangible and specific.”

Need more or less of a challenge? Blanchfield maintains it’s not important what event you choose as long as you pick one and stay with it. “A charity walk, an Ironman triathlon, a half-marathon… find the right event for you, the right location, and the best timing. Tell yourself that this is what I have to get ready for.”

I asked Blanchfield if he could suggest any other resolutions that might complement a New Year’s fitness resolution.

“Longevity studies consistently indicate that the key to living a long and healthy life is to stay connected to other people,” said Blanchfield. “This year, make a resolution to nurture relationships. Joining a book club or taking a class with a friend might lead to a healthier lifestyle. Maybe you’ll meet a workout buddy or you and your friend walk to class together. Plan a group walk through Central Park—interpersonal relationships create activity.”

Nurturing relationships definitely paid off for Barillas-Batarse when she resolved to start writing again. She and a pal signed up for some free creative writing workshops together. Sharing your goals or resolutions with others helps you stay accountable. And being more in touch with family and friends is also a very popular New Year’s resolution.

So is saving money. According to Inc. Newsletter, resolutions to get out of debt or save more for retirement top the lists of most Americans every year.

Wellness, relationships, personal finance—whatever your goals for 2020, making a date with a friend to do the Rockefeller River Campus walk a few times a week is a resolution that is healthy, nurturing, and free of charge. I’ll see you out there!