It’s that time of year again.  Time to look towards the New Year as a fresh start, a clean slate, and a new beginning.

Tradition tells us we should make a list of everything we want to change about ourselves and our lives and make a resolution to follow through in the New Year, to make this year better than the last.  It’s no surprise that gym memberships and attendance tend to spike right after the holidays every year, with people eager to shed those holiday pounds and get back into shape as their new year’s resolution.  That motivation typically carries through the month of January and into February, but as the weeks and months roll on, gym attendance starts to slip, life gets in the way, and by mid-year the gym membership is almost completely forgotten.  Then comes fall and the holidays once again, and the determination and fire is ignited once more to make this next year even better.

Why is it that people tend to fall into these cycles?  Why do we try to make up for a year’s worth of inaction with a few months of true grit and dedication?  I believe it’s the influence that the New Year has on so many of us, the idea of being able to truly start over and leave the mistakes of the past year behind.  But it’s all too easy to lose sight of your goals once the novelty of the New Year wears off and you’re faced with the day to day obligations and commitments that come with life.  If becoming licensed is your goal for this New Year, what can you do to make sure you stay on track?  I’ll share with you what I did to help me keep my “eyes on the prize” when I made getting my license my goal on New Year’s Day 2011.

Make a visual aid

I found that I needed daily reminders that were in my face, something that wouldn’t let me forget that my license was my number one goal.  This may sound a bit juvenile, but I made a chart to track my progress and posted it right where I would see it every day.  The chart resembled one of those goal trackers charities use to show funds raised so far (it kind of looked like a thermometer with levels for each exam).  After I passed an exam, I would fill in one level on the chart in red and write which exam was passed and on what date.  It seems so silly and like something that a kid would do, but I can’t tell you how helpful that chart was.  Every day I’d see it and think “ok, 2 down, 5 more to go”, “3 done, almost half way there!”, “alright, only 2 more left!”, etc. .  Actually seeing my progress was a great mental and motivational boost for me and a reminder of the progress I had made so far.  It kept me looking at how far I had come rather than focusing on how much was left (which was very helpful in the early days when all 7 levels were blank).  So find something that works for you, something that will be in your face every day to keep those fires stoked and to remind you of your progress and journey so far.

Get family & friends involved

If you really want to be successful with these exams, you’ll need a strong support system.  Get your family and friends involved to be your cheerleaders and accountability partners to make sure you meet your goals.  When I first started studying for my exams, I was a newlywed.  My husband and I were just settling in to our marriage and he was 100% supportive of me getting my license.  In the evenings he would quiz me with flashcards on the material I had been studying that day or week and it helped me gauge how well I was retaining what I was studying.  He would ask me every day how much I had studied, and if I had an off day he’d remind me how important this goal was for both of us and motivate me to keep going the next day.  My friends and family were also supportive in that they knew how much of a commitment and sacrifice this process would be, so they were understanding if I wasn’t always available because I had to take the time to study and pass the exams.  I know some of you may struggle to find this kind of support, so the best advice I can give is to reach out to your loved ones, let them know how important this goal is to you and ask for their support.  Ask them to check in with you to see how your studying is going, when your next exam is scheduled, etc.  If you don’t have family or friends nearby, try reaching out on a forum or joining a study group at your office or through your local AIA chapter.  Having a support network will be critical for you to succeed with getting through this process.

Stay positive

There will be some days that are harder than others, but do everything you can to try to stay positive with yourself.  Post notes on your mirror or recite a mantra to yourself every day that you can do this, you are strong, you are capable.  I found myself writing out inspirational quotes and leaving them in places where I would see them every day.  Positive affirmations can go a long way to actually changing your state of mind.  If you think that you’ll fail, there is a good chance you might simply because you don’t believe that you can succeed.  If you believe you will pass and keep a positive attitude toward your studies, you will be surprised how much more material you will retain.  A negative mindset will tend to push things away and it can consume your thoughts so much, no matter how hard you study you still may not do well because you’re simply not retaining the material.  If this sounds ridiculous to you or you’ve never tried it, start with something small, even something as simple as “I can do this”.  There was an SNL skit several years ago with a character named Stuart Smalley who had the catch phrase “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me!”  Again, it’s silly, but the power behind positive thought is stronger than most people realize.  Harness that power and watch how quickly your confidence will grow.

So in closing, if getting your license is on your list for this New Year, make it a priority and dedicate yourself to getting it done.  There is no time like the present and no better time to start fresh than at the beginning of a new year.  Good luck!!