I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions—they seem too diffuse, especially since starting college. When you’re a student, with things changing from semester to semester, a year is an awfully long time to think about improving yourself in one specific way. In terms of the amount of change that happens in a normal college year, it’s really more like we’re living two or three calendar years. So in place of New Year’s resolutions, I make new semester’s resolutions: what do I want to improve upon this time around? I’m not the only one—many of my friends do the same. In the context of college, it seems to make a lot more sense.
New semesters have the same bright and hopeful quality that new years do, so it’s easy to get carried away and think that we’ll suddenly gain the ability to fix everything that’s ever gone wrong with our semesters in the past. This time around we’ll be super-students, completing our assignments with plenty of time to spare and finally getting the grades we’ve always wanted. We’ll have the kinds of New York City adventures that would make our past selves foam at the mouth with envy. We’ll finally shrug off those bad habits we’ve been holding onto since freshman year and emerge as the shiny new people we always thought college would turn us into. It could happen—after all, it’s a brand new semester.
This is, of course, exceedingly unrealistic. We can easily fall prey to the same type of vagueness and overzealousness that doom New Year’s resolutions. It’s been said many a time that resolutions can be impractical, too nebulous, or just plain impossible to achieve. The Internet has been littered with articles lately about how most New Year’s resolutions fail, and why. It almost makes you wonder if it’s worth making resolutions at all. Why bother planning to be more diligent in your studies, if it’s likely that procrastination will rear its ugly head within the first few weeks of the semester? There may be things you want to improve on, but is it really worth it to plan on improving? Aren’t we just setting ourselves up for disappointment and failure?
While it’s true that we can be too ambitious in our resolve to plan changes that are unattainable, there is an opposite and equally unpleasant trap that we could fall into. The flip side of living a life of constant change is an increase in entropy: things fall apart and deteriorate at a faster rate than they do for most people. There’s a point in time in the semester—usually around midterms—when the hopeful brightness of the beginning of the semester gives way to a sort of dim survival instinct. Any thoughts of making changes are pushed to the side, and most of our focus is given over to getting through the semester. Our vague wishes to become better human beings tend to dissolve in the face of stress, deadlines, and increasing workloads. We’d be happy if we just made it through without doing something stupid.
One consequence of this type of entropy is that it makes it ridiculously easy never to change our habits or patterns, whether they’re good or bad. We can simply succumb to doing things in exactly the same way that we always have, without stopping to consider whether or not we should make changes to our lives. It may be unfortunate to make overambitious new semester’s resolutions only to fail at them weeks or days later, but it’s equally unfortunate never to contemplate what changes might make our lives at school happier or more fulfilling. It would be sad if our efforts to avoid burnout led us to get swept away by the tide of the new semester and not make any positive changes. Without self-examination and reflection, which are inherent in the making of resolutions, we might easily spend our entire college careers making the same mistakes over and over again, or living our lives the same way we did as freshmen simply because we’ve always done it that way.
As corny as it sounds, every semester is an opportunity—not just to change, but to change for the better. Change can lead to entropy but it can also lead to growth. We may not become super-students or shiny new people, but that shouldn’t stop us from completing a few more assignments on time, venturing out of Morningside Heights at least once a month, or actually hanging out with someone when we say, “We should hang out.” Let’s take advantage of this new semester to make some resolutions worth keeping.
Kathryn Brill is a Barnard College junior majoring in English. She is a member of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We Should Talk runs alternate Tuesdays.