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The start of a new year is always a great time to reflect on life and make plans for the new year.

Every year, people all over the world make New Year Resolutions: lose weight, exercise more, give up chocolate. When you are a student, these resolutions might seem even easier: study more, stop skipping class, get up earlier. But why is it that most New Year’s Resolutions fail? Why is that people say that they want to do something and then fail to make it happen?

There is a psychological theory known as cognitive dissonance which might explain why people are so keen to make resolutions. The idea is that people feel stress when they have two conflicting or opposite ideas in their mind. For instance, they might believe that eating a cake is bad for them but they also have a strong desire to eat the cake. There is stress because the two thoughts are fighting each other – eat the cake/don’t eat the cake. To escape this stress the person has a few choices:

  1. Eat the cake and then promise they will go to the gym later
  2. Convince themselves the cake is actually healthy (e.g. it’s a carrot cake – carrots have lots of vitamins, so it must be healthy)
  3. Decide not to eat the cake

Number 3 is the resolution. Numbers 1 and 2 are the reasons that the resolutions often fail.

I know that when I was a student, I found it very easy to find excuses not to study (“I’m tired now, I’ll remember more if I study tomorrow”; “Star Trek is about science – if I watch Star Trek, then I’m basically studying science!”). Although I knew I should study, these excuses reduced the cognitive dissonance. But the excuses don’t really solve the problem. The only real solution is to do the study.

But this is easier said than done. If you are making resolutions for the New Year, you might consider some of the reasons resolutions don’t work.

  • Too unrealistic: “I will study for 8 hours every day”. This is too much and you will very quickly give up. Better to start with something smaller so that you can develop the habit.
  • Too vague: “I will improve my vocabulary”. It will be very hard for you to know if you are succeeding or not with this resolution. It would be better to say something simple and achieveable. For instance, you might say that you will learn 5 new words/phrases every day.
  • Too boring: “I will never watch any movies until I have finished my studies in DIFC”. If your resolution is too severe, you will quickly give up. It is important to have a balance. When we are enthusiastic and full of good intentions, it is very easy to say things like this. But when it is raining and cold and you are homesick, watching a movie might be the best thing you can do. So again, maybe it is better to be kind to yourself – to have resolutions that make you feel good. For example, make a resolution to go for a coffee with a friend once a week. Or a resolution to listen to an album once a week. These “nice” resolutions will help make the “tough” resolutions (e.g. study from 5 to 7pm in the library) a bit easier to swallow.

I hope there is something of interest in this week’s post. We are looking forward to welcoming you all back after the break and introducing you to our new students joining in January.

Best wishes for 2016!


PS – a special thanks to those students who shared aeroplane photos on Instagram at #difcireland. The aviation enthusiasts at DIFC really appreciated them! 🙂


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