With 2020 in the rearview and the hopes of a better year in sight, resolutions have no doubt been on many minds. New Year’s resolutions can be a great way to reset at the start of the calendar. They allow one to check in with themselves and to assess what deserves greater personal focus into the future. 

Whether making a resolution (or two, or three) is new to you or a common practice, here is a list of resolutions specific to high school students that you might consider undertaking in 2021.

1. Improve your grades 

Whether it’s resolving to score higher on your weekly reading quizzes or to go from a B to an A in math, try taking actionable steps to reach your goal. What is necessary to better succeed on those reading quizzes? Taking better notes? Going over assigned chapters twice? And what do you need to achieve that A? Staying after class to ask your teacher about the problems you missed? Visiting your school’s tutoring center? Improved grades don’t magically happen to us. Instead, we need to take the initiative to make them happen. So, go the extra step, and see how your grades improve.

2. Become a better student 

The best students aren’t simply those with the best GPA. Beyond improving your grades, you can also resolve to become a better overall student this year. Participating more in class, asking teachers about extra credit opportunities, assisting classmates who could use extra help in a strong subject of yours. These are just a few ways that you can become a better student. What other ways come to mind?

Becoming a better student has many benefits. For example, voicing your thoughts by participating more in class can aid in developing your critical thinking skills. It also displays to teachers your interest in their course and your ability to lead. This likely won’t be forgotten when teachers calculate your final course grades, and it will also come in handy when you hope to receive a favorable letter of recommendation from them for college. 

3. Focus on actual learning 

Grades are important. Even more important, though, is actual learning. This means not just memorizing a vocabulary list for a quiz only to instantly forget it. It means internalizing lessons for greater purpose. 

How do you go about this? Build a course schedule that will assist in a career you could imagine yourself pursuing. This might mean taking classes at your local trade school or taking AP classes so that you can test out of required courses in college to focus more on your major. Regardless, in all of your classes, always consider how the material can help you in practical, real-world applications. 

4. Expand your mind

Don’t forget that there is also so much to learn beyond the subjects offered in high school. What new things would you like to try to learn or do this year? Learn how to code? How to tap dance? Or throw a pot on a ceramics wheel? The possibilities are literally endless, and so are the resources available to you. Research what kinds of classes are offered to high schoolers at your local community college. Perhaps your own school even offers enriching clubs you don’t yet know about. And, of course, there is no shortage of books, documentaries, and podcasts out there (many of them often free) to assist you in expanding your knowledge, too.


5. Expand your sphere 

In addition to expanding your mind, you may also wish to expand your sphere in the new year. “Networking” can be very important for success—in school and beyond. So, whenever you can, reach out to teachers, counselors, tutors, and even friends to build up your network. You never know when you might need to call upon those you know for help.

6. Focus on your school-life balance

Education is extremely important, especially as a young person hoping to succeed in high school, college, and into the working world. But it is also extremely important to experience fulfillment outside of school. For more on improving your school-life balance, see our previous articles “4 Tips For Finding Balance: How to Study and Still Have a Life” and “A Guide to Achieving a Healthier School-Life Balance”.

7. Focus on self-care

After 2020, we could all stand to focus more on our personal self-care. Self-care involves nourishing all facets of one’s mental and physical health. What requires tending to in your self-care routine? Getting more fresh air or exercise throughout the day? Drinking more water or sticking to a regular sleep schedule? Stretching, meditating, or even just committing to flossing every day are all good goals that will add to your mental and physical wellbeing.

8. “Unplug”

While social media keeps us connected, helps us learn, and supports our creativity, it also has damaging effects. Studies have shown that too much scrolling on our phones increases feelings of isolation, inadequacy, depression, and anxiety. This likely isn’t news to you. But how do you break the cycle? If you think that you may spend too much time on social media, resolve to limit your use in the new year. A few tips include disabling notifications, leaving your phone behind when you go to bed for the night, and even removing one or more social media apps from your phone altogether. You can also redirect your attentions from social media to your offline friends and interests.


9. Break a bad habit 

Excessive social media use can be quite a bad habit. What other bad habits might you benefit from axing in the new year? Biting your nails? Eating too many sweets? What about gossiping or even cursing? Write your intention on a piece of paper or share it with a family member or friend who can support you in your quitting efforts. And feel free to reward yourself when you’ve made strides toward achieving your goal.

10. Kick procrastination to the curb

But what if your bad habit is putting things off? Kick procrastination to the curb this year by trying to identify the cause of your procrastination. Are you easily distracted? Do your best to eliminate distractions at the outset of tasks. Are you simply overwhelmed by the task at hand? Break it down into more manageable parts on a to-do list. And again, don’t forget to reward yourself—both as you cross steps off of your to-do list and when you finally complete an entire task. 

11. Get organized

Can you never seem to find your favorite pen? Your comfiest sweater? Does it take you ten minutes just to locate that history report on your laptop because your home screen is loaded with so many files? Perhaps your New Year’s resolution could be to focus on your organizational skills. Work to declutter your desk, your closet, your computer, or any other area in your life that always seems to be in the most disarray. Clear your space, and you will also clear your mind.


12. Become a better citizen

Once you’ve decluttered your closet, why not donate your unwanted clothes to a local shelter or thrift store? This is just one way that you can resolve to be a better citizen, giving back to your community in the new year. Other ways to help make the world a better place include assisting with food drives, collecting blankets and other necessities for animal shelters, and becoming a reading buddy for young learners. There should be no shortage of volunteer opportunities in your area. And with a simple Google search, you can discover them all.

13. Reach out to old friends and/or family

Miss your best pal from seventh grade? Only talk to your favorite cousin on holidays? Give them a call or shoot them an email to initiate a closer relationship this year. Don’t be afraid to take the first step. It’s amazing how quickly and seamlessly true friends and/or family can pick up where they left off when they reconnect.

14. Make a new friend

Alternately, you can always add to your roster of exiting friends. No number of friends is too many—especially when the friends are quality. Is there someone you know as more of an acquaintance who seems like a potential pal? Ask to sit with them in class or at lunch. Invite them to an event. Though it may be awkward at first, you’ll find that most people appreciate being reached out to as a friend. After all, don’t you?

15. Be a better friend

Although it’s true that no number of friends is too many, it’s also true that—as the dictum holds—quality is more important than quantity when it comes to relationships. So, how can you be a better friend? Practicing being a better listener is a great place to start. These articles from The New York Times and Psychology Today provide great tips on how to be a better listener.

16. Practice gratitude 

This can take many forms. For example, you can practice gratitude by more regularly writing “thank you” cards to loved ones. Or you can begin each day by naming out loud three things that make you happy. You could also keep a gratitude journal, board or jar (on/in which you regularly write down things for which you’re thankful). Practicing gratitude can help to make you feel more outwardly compassionate and more inwardly positive and satisfied. According to a Harvard medical study, it can even improve your physical health. So, try one or a few of these practices in the new year, and see how it makes you feel.


A few final thoughts and recommendations

Remember that your resolutions can be as small or as big as you like. Often, setting smaller, more manageable goals is best, since you can more readily and frequently see your progress along the way. But don’t be afraid to set “shoot for the moon” goals, as well. Indeed, the old adage is true that you can accomplish just about anything you set your mind to. But also remember the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said that the greatest accomplishment is “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you into something else.” So, whatever your resolutions for 2021, just be sure that they are right for you.

Serious about keeping your New Year’s resolutions? Check out Day by Day, Habitify, or Habitica—just three of many apps  that allow you to keep visual track of your goals and your progress in achieving them. Such apps can help you to stay better focused and motivated on resolutions, and each is unique—from the more analytics-driven Habitify to the RPG-style Habitica.

And if you would prefer an app that is more tailored to a specific resolution, check out this list from PCMag, which includes apps for working on better eating, exercising, budgeting, and more.

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