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It’s 2015. People everywhere are making resolutions…lose weight, read more, quit smoking, etc. To resolve is the act of finding an answer or solution to a problem. Yet most of our resolutions are never achieved. According to Marti Hope Gonzales, Associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, just six weeks after making a resolution, 80 percent of people either have broken them or cannot even recall what they resolved. And of course, we feel like losers when we don’t achieve these goals.
According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor, the process of making resolutions then failing to achieve them could actually be doing more harm than good: We set ourselves up to fail, and when we do, our self-esteem tanks, making us even less motivated than we were before making the resolution. Among the many reasons why so many of us fail is the fact that our focus tends to be largely if not entirely on personal improvement. In a highly individualistic culture, it is not surprising that people tend to think largely about personal, not societal, changes.
To that end, I suggest that instead of making resolutions, we should make commitments for the new year. The word commitment means “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” Some would say this is simple semantics, that commitment means almost the same thing as resolution. But I argue that making a commitment connotes a much more sustained emphasis on something, hence the word “dedicated” in the definition. Further, when most of us think of commitment, we think of relationships, which by definition involves someone other than ourselves. My idea, then, is that we should pledge to be committed to a cause or activity that betters others or our communities. Clearly, there is no shortage of community needs for which our assistance would be tremendously beneficial.
I recommend the making of commitments instead of resolutions because not only would more people will get involved in community-level instead of merely personal change, but more involvement in the community inevitably results in new friendships and interests. It also feels good, and, according to the National Corporation for National and Community Service, results in a number of positive health benefits for older adults, including lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression later in life, and increased functional ability. Youth who are involved in their schools or communities tend to earn better grades and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.
For all of us, volunteering or serving our communities results in reduced stress and helps build emotional resilience. According to Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, authors of the new book A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, who both underwent brain scans to see which parts of the brain were activated by engaging in charitable acts, “the parts of the brain that light up when you give are the same areas that light up when you indulge in pleasures like when you’re eating ice cream or falling in love.”
New year, new commitments. Let’s go.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.