Positive thoughts for a New Year

Happy New Year, Clutter readers!

So somehow, another 365 days have passed since 2017. Well technically the start of 2017 – just one day has actually passed since 2017 – but there’s something about New Year that gets us all in a tizz.

A time for reflection

A new year naturally brings about a reflective mood about the previous year. Let’s be honest, 2017 wasn’t our finest as humans, excepting of course the discovery over 50 new species of spiders (!!), but I digress.

We think about things that we achieved, but as academics it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the things we didn’t get done. It’s like 2017 was one massive to-do list and all you can see are the big bold unticked items laughing at you. But really, is it such a big deal? Setting “the end of the year” as an arbitrary goal can be useful even if it does lead to a bit of a December scrabble. But let’s be honest, bugger all work gets done in December, so quickly scrambling to finish up those projects by 31st Dec is always going to be a tall order.

Anyway, it is much more healthy to focus on the things you did achieve. Did you get that paper submitted? Nice one! Collect a shed load of data? Awesome. How about that thesis? Okaydonthurtme! But, even if you can’t satisfactorily put a nice big tick next to those things, I’ll bet you made some decent progress towards them.

It’s all about breaking down big scary projects into tiny pieces anyway, so congratulate yourself on those achievements and it’ll be easier to get back into the swing of things for 2018 without the unnecessary pressure of feeling like a failure. You’re not.

A time for resolutions

The start of a new year is naturally a time to think about how you’d like things to be different this year, both in your personal life and work, despite the fact that literally only a day has passed since last year.

Now I for one am not a massive fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t like the notion that they’re a thing that you either achieve or fail at e.g. ‘This year I’m going to submit 15 papers’, ‘This year I’m going to run 46 marathons’ or the ever unachievable ‘This year I’m going to get fit’ (as fit as what? Fitter than you were after all the chocolates at Christmas? Or become an Olympic athlete?).

I prefer to think of more subtle changes that you can incorporate which might contribute to these larger goals. For example, if you’re doing a PhD and struggling a bit, you could say you will make an effort to ask for help when you need it. Or that you will spend X amount of hours working on preparing papers every week. Or that you’ll join a running club. Like the mammoth tasks on the to-do list, breaking your goals or ‘resolutions’ down into less scary pieces can help in making genuine progress towards them, so at the end of this year you can say “Yes, I did those things!”

I’m a huge hypocrite

So I’ve written this post about all the things that surround a new year, but I struggle massively with all this stuff. I look back at 2017 and just see the year I didn’t finish my PhD, and I find it hard to get past that.

The academic world can be very unforgiving when assessing one’s achievements. In this publish-or-perish climate it’s difficult to ever think you’ve done ‘enough’. All we can do is make our lives a little bit easier by creating manageable resolutions for this new year, and actively recognising our achievements for last year.

Have a great 2018! And if you see me or anyone starting to struggle remind them to focus on the little things and big things will happen.

Michelle Reeve

Michelle is the host of Clutter, and a recovering spider scientist. She now does a whole bunch of science communication things, and still regularly wrangles arachnids.

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