scrabble resolutions

What is your New Year’s Resolution? Let’s talk about how to make a great English learning goal for 2023 and how to keep your resolution all year!

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What is a New Year’s Resolution?

It’s the beginning of a new year and that means people are talking about New Year’s resolutions again!

Making a New Year’s resolution is a common tradition in Western countries (and my country the UK) at the beginning of every January. A resolution is a promise, a commitment, to make a difference in our life over the next year.

A New Year’s resolution can be a promise to start doing something. Common examples include to start exercising, start learning a language, start reading more books, or start to eat healthier food. It is also common to have the opposite type of New Year’s resolution and promise to stop something or give up something. People will often promise to stop drinking alcohol, give up smoking, stop using social media, or spend less money.

However, the reality is that most New Year’s resolutions fail. We break them, forget about them, can’t actually achieve them, or change our minds. A 2007 study by the psychologist Richard Wiseman traced 3000 people’s New Year’s resolutions. He found that only 12 percent of people kept their promises and made a real change. This means that 88% of people failed at their self-imposed goals.

I constantly fail in my New Year’s resolutions (actually, I don’t really even make these kinds of commitments anymore). Last year, on the podcast, I think I said I wanted to read a lot more books in 2022 – I even made myself review books on the Thinking in English blog and promised I would read every night before I slept.

I started well – reading a few books from the Dune series and a book called Open about global society. But that was it… I think in total I read only 6 or 7 books for the first time in 2022 – way below my goal of 20 or more!

Today, I want to look at why people fail their New Year’s resolutions (using research and science) and discuss how we can make the best resolutions! Then I’ll give a few example resolutions that would suit a Thinking in English learner!

Why People Fail Their New Year’s Resolution?

New Year’s resolutions have been around for a long time – with ancient people in Rome and China having similar practices at the beginning of the year. By the 19th century it had become very common for people in western countries to make resolutions, and by the beginning of the 20th century close to 50% of people in the USA were estimated to make a resolution.

Despite this… we are not very good at making them!

I mentioned earlier that a study in 2007 found that 88% of people failed their New Year’s resolution. Other research varies (a YouGov poll a few years ago put the figure at 65% failing) but it seems as though at least half of the people who make a resolution will not keep it!

Why? One survey reports that 35% of people failed because they had an unrealistic goal, 33% didn’t track their progress, 23% forgot about their goals, and 10% said they had too many resolutions!

One important factor in determining the success is the way you think about or frame a resolution. Per Carlbring from the Stockholm University realised there is a difference between “avoidance goals” and “approach goals.” An avoidance goal involves stopping to do something or giving something up, while an approach goal is starting something new. People with approach goals were apparently 25% more likely to succeed in keeping a resolution! So, we need to do things rather than stop things!

In Richard Wiseman’s 2007 study, he found people were 22% more successful if they thought of their resolution in terms of small and measurable goal setting!

Overall, people tend to fail resolutions if they are unrealistic, involving avoiding a certain behaviour, and they don’t think about them in a measurable way.

How to keep your New Year’s Resolution?

How can you make a good New Year’s resolution and keep it all year? In fact, this doesn’t have to apply just to New Year’s resolutions but any goal or aim you have in your studying life.

I thought long and hard about the different recommendations I could give all of you listening. But the truth is… I’m not an expert and I’m quite bad at keeping my own resolutions! Instead, I’m going to give you 10 recommendations from professor of psychology and expert on New Year’s resolution Richard Wiseman (I’ll reword his recommendations slightly to make them easier to understand)!

Tips to Make a Great New Year’s Resolution

  1. Make ONE resolution! Dedicate all your effort and energy on one goal or aim
  2. Take time to think about your resolution carefully. Sit down, drink a cup of tea, think about things, and plan out a resolution
  3. Make a NEW resolution! Don’t choose an old goal or target that you have failed before… think of something new and fresh
  4. Don’t copy someone else’s resolution or a popular resolution – make your own that is relevant to what you want!
  5. Turn your goal into smaller steps that you can achieve and measure (and are time-based)! For example, if you want to write more in English… you could set a goal to write a page in a journal every week. This is something you can measure (a page) and is time-based (every week)
  6. Tell everyone about your New Year’s resolution – you’ll get more support and fear failing
  7. Remember the benefits of keeping your New Year’s resolution! How will your life be better?
  8. Reward yourself when you achieve a small step on the way to your goal!
  9. Track your progress by writing it down! Keep a journal or spreadsheet
  10. If you fail, think about it as a temporary set-back – don’t give up!

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Good Resolutions for English Learners?

What are some good resolutions for English learners? Let me give you some suggestions! However, remember these are just suggestions – you need to think carefully about your own goals and ambitions to make sure the resolution is right for you. Use my suggestions as inspiration!

Read More English Books

One of the best ways to add more English to your life, learn more vocabulary, and immerse yourself in the language is to start reading more books! Books are great for English learners.

A vague goal like read more books is likely to lead to failure – I failed in this exact resolution last year. The research suggests that we need to make the goal realistic, measurable, and time-based… how can we do this?

We can make it measurable and time-based by setting a target number of books to read in a time period. Last year, I encouraged one of my students to start this same resolution – we agreed that she would try to read 6 English books in a year. That is 1 book every 2 months. She was someone who rarely read books, and had never really read in English before, so this seemed like a realistic goal.

Think about your situation – could you try reading a book every month? Think about your own level, goals, and lifestyle!

And remember to make the goal realistic. We all want to jump in a read some famous novels in a foreign language – but if you have never read a book in English before it might be too difficult. Don’t worry though… on the Thinking in English website I have a lot of book recommendations and every book is available as a graded readerdesigned to help English learners start reading!

Be realistic about your choice of book – don’t be embarrassed to read a book designed for English learners!

Start an English Journal

Another great idea is to start an English or learning journal. The only way to write in English is to practice writing in English – and starting a journal is a good start.

You could write about your ideas, your day, your English study progress, or anything really. I’m actually about to start designing my own Thinking in English journal for English learners – would you be interested in this?

How can we make this goal measurable, time-based, and realistic?

Set a schedule and an amount to write. For example, write one page in English once a week. A good suggestion is to choose a day and time to write – like every Sunday at 10 am. Or if you love journalling, you could commit to writing something every day.

By having an amount, you are going to write (like a page or a paragraph) and a time to write (every day or every week) you can measure!

How about being realistic? Choose the topic of your writing, the content, based on your goals and English level. A good start would be to review a TV show you watched or a book you read that week or record what you learned that day!

You don’t have to write a journal in a book. One of my Patreon subscribers tries to write LinkedIn posts in English as often as possible! Or you could join the Thinking in English Discord community and promise to write something in the group every day.

Use New Words

This is a very common resolution for English learners – learn new words and use them. Expanding your vocabulary is vital… but how can we make this measurable and realistic.

Choose a number and type of words to use, and a time limit to do so. Learn five new words a week? One word a day? Its up to you! Learn words that are useful to you or relevant to something you want to do.

How are you going to use them? Use them in your English journal? Write something on social media using these words? Have a conversation including the words with a language exchange partner? Think of a way you can use your new vocabulary!

Join the Thinking in English Conversation Club

People often want to practice speaking in English as part of a New Year’s resolution. A great way to do this is to join a language exchange group, an English study group, or a conversation class. Find other English learners, or language learners, and practice speaking together!

There are lots of options online to find people – one student of mine has an Economist magazine study group with people he met on Twitter and another uses HelloTalk (a language exchange app) every week!

Another option is for you to join the Thinking in English conversation groups and discord server! We now have over 200 English learners from around the world who all listen to Thinking in English and want to work together to practice and improve their English. We are currently running conversations every Tuesday and Thursday, and there are lots of opportunities for you to make your own study groups and connections with people on our Discord server (we currently have a group of IT & Software engineers making their own community.

You could set a goal to join our conversation club every week! The details are in the description of the podcast or on the Thinking in English blog.

Do Something in English Every Day for 10 Minutes

Finally, you could commit to spending some of your time in English. One of the best ways to do this is commit to spending 10 minutes doing something in English every day!

Having this time commitment is key – make it realistic to you! 10 minutes, 15 minutes, an entire hour? Do what is possible in your situation?

What could you do in English? Read a newspaper? Have a conversation? Use an English recipe to cook dinner? Play a game or puzzle in English? Write in English? Do something, anything, that you enjoy in English!

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Final Thought

Today I’ve talked about New Year’s resolutions, the research behind why people fail to keep them, and how to make a resolution that will stick!

The key is to make realistic commitments, that can be measured, and are based in time! Take your time, plan, and think about the perfect resolution for you.

What is your New Year’s Resolution? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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