Winter Break, New Year’s Resolutions, and Discipline

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Winter break is coming up. It’s possible to have fun, be productive, and be happy with how you spent your break. However, it’s also crucial that you spend your time wisely to not have your break go to waste.  

Relaxing vs. Opportunities

First, let me make one thing abundantly clear: break time should primarily be used for just that purpose. Break. Your main goal coming out of winter break is to be fresh for the next quarter or semester when classes pick up again in January. Make sure you’re enjoying your break. Break should be fun above all else. Going overboard and studying over the entire break will increase your risk of burn-out and in the end will not be productive or helpful for long term academic or professional success. So, this part is obvious and most of you already have travel plans, family plans, or other fun activities planned. And I’m not here to convince you against these plans. BUT – that being said, you should still take advantage of the opportunity of having a few weeks of unstructured time. You’ll have a sense of accomplishment and be happy you did as it carries momentum into the next quarter. One thing I found after long breaks where I had no structure or goals other than relaxing and having fun, is that building momentum in January becomes that much more difficult and I felt like I could have done more during break to stay in somewhat of a rhythm.  

Quick Word on Exams

Disclaimer: if you have your MCAT or other standardized exam coming up soon and you planned to study during winter break, obviously this is your priority. NOT relaxing. For second year medical students, you have likely already started studying for Step 1. Keep doing so during the break but don’t go all out. You have several months ahead of you and you do not want to burn out.  

Winter Break Goals

For most of you, you don’t have an exam to study for or a looming deadline. So, what should your goals be?

ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS

One goal should center on your academic and professional success. However, this does not necessarily translate into studying. Find something that allows you to continue learning and keeps your brain sharp. Again, we want to maintain momentum for January without making it a painful or regrettable experience. Reading was always a favorite, and is still an easy go-to for me. Reading is one of the most underrated hobbies and has a wide variety of benefits. I bought an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, which is the best value in terms of e-readers, and tried to read at least one or two books over the course of break. Make sure you choose books that you enjoy. You’ll learn valuable information and feel productive at the same time. When January rolls around, your brain will feel warmed up and ready to go.

HEALTH

Were you able to satisfactorily exercise and eat healthily last semester or quarter? If so, more power to you!  Keep up with your healthy habits throughout the holidays and hone your discipline. If not, now is a great time to build good habits. Start a realistic exercise regimen now – not when the new year begins – and get in the groove so that when classes pick up it’s easier to maintain.  

Habits, Passion, and Discipline

People who know me well know that I’m a huge proponent of discipline. Discipline is like a muscle requiring regular exercise. Don’t let your discipline get out of shape during break. The small successes I’ve experienced thus far in life, whether academic or professional or athletic, always boiled down to my habits and discipline. A book I recently read and recommend is The Power of Habit (Amazon).  The way I see it, passion – much like talk – is cheap and plentiful. Passion masquerades as achievement, but rarely is one indicative of the other. Anyone can be passionate about any number of things during moments of inspiration. But what really determines whether you succeed or not is grit, tenacity, and discipline. When the going gets tough or when you fail to deliver on a goal, do you throw in the towel or keep at it? Those who rely on passion to drive them forward will find themselves falling behind when they are challenged. When they are sick, tired, and just don’t want to do it, the project or goal they have takes a back seat. But those with discipline get up day after day regardless of what challenge comes their way. With tenacity, you can acknowledge failure, learn from it, and keep moving forward. That little voice in your head will complain and try to make excuses to get out of whatever it is you have set as your goal. You have to work to acknowledge that voice but then say “I’m going to do it anyway. This is what I set out to do.”
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.” – Jim Rohn
 

New Year’s Resolutions

I personally do not partake in creating New Year’s resolutions. Based on my assessments above, I believe they rely on brief moments of inspiration and most goals created in these moments are doomed to fail. Think back to your own new year resolutions over the years. How many have you truly followed through with? I set goals at any time of the year, when I decide it’s a worthy goal to pursue. Several years ago, I got a lot of negative feedback for starting a difficult diet the Monday before Thanksgiving. I had been doing the research and decided this diet was something I wanted to pursue. Why should I wait until after the holidays to pursue it? If I decide something is important now, then I’m going to work at it immediately. And if I can survive on a diet through Thanksgiving, then it just further proves that you too can carry through on your goals moving forward. A goal that I set recently was to be more productive on plane trips. With research, interviews, and family in different parts of the country, distractions and sleep were important, but getting work done is always a priority. My personal rule is that I should either sleep, research, read, or work on MedSchoolInsiders. That means no games, no TV, and no movies. I wrote down my thoughts for this blog on a flight and ran with it. And I thoroughly enjoy that, as you can too! It’s great to reflect positively at the end of the day and know that you’ve accomplished something. I’m not telling you all to not have New Year’s resolutions. But I do urge you to be cognizant of the reason you are setting these goals. Are these born out of brief moments of inspiration, doomed to be forgotten, neglected, or fail – or are they stout goals that will last?  

One Size Does Not Fit All

This is one of the most important things to remember about your time spent during winter break. Winter break is about doing what you want to do and being happy with how you spent your time. If you’re highly driven and motivated to work on your discipline, make a schedule and stick to it. I would go to the gym every morning and build consistency that way. But again, that was me, and you might choose to read a book a day, or volunteer multiple times per week. Whatever it is, create goals, build healthy habits, and follow through!
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