How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution to Learn English This Year

Happy New Year everyone! With the beginning of the new year comes the global tradition of setting New Year’s Resolutions. I recently did a podcast episode on these resolutions and how to actually keep yours this year. I want to further discuss it here, especially for those who have not heard the episode.

If you have failed at a previous resolution before, you are not alone. Although millions of people make New Year’s Resolutions each year, very few of them actually end up keeping them. However, despite the widespread tradition, research indicates that most people struggle to maintain their resolutions. Forbes Health reports that 8% fail within the first month, 22% within two months, and another 22% within three months. On average, resolutions last only 3.7 months.

Why is it so hard to stick with your plan to change or improve yourself this year? What happens to all that motivation that we have at the beginning of the year? It is even worth making a resolution if you are only going to fail all over again?

The reason that so many people fail is because they are lacking in two key areas. The first is that they rely too much on external motivation and wanting to change things they do not like about themselves instead of having internal motivation based on what they want their life to look like. The second, they do not set manageable and measurable goals for themselves, and therefore cannot track their progress throughout the year. Let’s explore what I mean and give you advice so you don’t fall into this trap.

There are two main categories of motivation. The first is external, which comes from society and those around us, and the second is internal, which comes from inside ourselves. To increase the likelihood of success, finding internal motivation is crucial. External motivators may help initially, but sustaining a habit requires a deeper, personal “why.” One of my favorite quotes about finding a personal why comes from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pump Club Newsletter. In it, he emphasizes the importance of creating a profound purpose behind your actions. It is hard to build a unbreakable habit, which is something we aim to do when we make a New Year’s resolution. To help us find the motivation to keep doing something we may not want to do everyday, we need to “create a deeper why”, as Arnold says.

His advice is to “take the time to ask yourself, ‘what do I want my life to look like?'”, and I think this is a powerful way to find motivation. Ask yourself what you want your life to look like at the end of the year. Do you want to move to a different city? Start a different job? Finally be able to have a fluent conversation in another language? Close your eyes and picture what you will be doing at the end of the year if you stick to your resolution. Hold on to that image and revisit it throughout the year when you no longer feel like continuing your resolution so you can have the power to keep going.

The second mistake I see students make is that they do not set measurable goals. Setting measurable goals is equally as important. Avoid vague aspirations like “becoming fluent” and define specific, achievable objectives. This could involve having a 30-minute conversation with a native speaker, understanding jokes in the target language, or watching a movie and understanding it. This gives you something to measure and a end-point you can use to see if you have reached your goal. You know you are successful when you can have that conversation, understand jokes, or watch a movie. Without having something to measure, you can never fully determine if you are getting closer to your goal or reaching it, and that can kill motivation.

Once you have picked your goal, determine your starting point and develop a realistic plan. Ask yourself what your current skills are. If you want to have a 30-minute conversation, then you need to determine how long of a conversation can you currently have? Can you have a 10-minute conversation or can you not speak at all? Those are two very different starting points, and the plan you will take will be different depending on what your current level already is.

Having a starting point also allows you to assess which resources are best for you at this moment, which is part of developing a plan. If you cannot speak the language at all, then you need to start with resources for beginners. If you can have a 10-minute conversation, but struggle with verb conjugations and vocabulary recall, then you need to focus on these areas. If you can speak ok, but are struggling understanding someone when they respond to you, then you know you need to focus on listening comprehension.

Once you have your help and decide what resources to use, set achievable expectations and allocate time accordingly. Avoid the trap of setting overly ambitious goals that lead to burnout. I cannot tell you the number of students I have had who decide to study English for multiple hours a day, and then give up after a few weeks. Either they cannot keep up with their study plan and feel like a failure, or they actually do study for multiple hours and then get burnt out. Either way, they lose interest and stop studying English entirely. You do not want to do this!

Success breeds success. Research has shown that successfully reaching small goals gives us motivation to keep working towards larger ones. If you only have 20 minutes a day to start studying, that’s fine. Use those 20-minutes and stay consistent. By consistently studying everyday, you start to build your new habit and start making it a routine. Remember, you want to build an “unbreakable habit”, which means that you will continue to do it day after day, month after month. Celebrate small victories, build confidence, and stay motivated.

If your resolution involves learning English, prioritize input—reading and listening regularly. Your English learning journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and you want to use resources that you enjoy interacting with. The Learn English Podcast is resource that you can use every week to improve your vocabulary, fluency, and knowledge of American culture. You can always listen or watch our episodes, and be sure to use the vocabulary list for each episode to grow your English vocabulary.

Here’s to a year of linguistic growth and personal achievement! Until next time, keep learning English.

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