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My simple – but challenging – New Year’s Resolution

By Gong Ke Gouldstone, EC

EC Gong Ke Gouldstone reflects on her past New Years Resolutions and decides that this year there will be just one – but a very difficult one…

Now that we’ve made it through a mountain of collective holiday feasts, it’s time to turn our thoughts to another landmark on the calendar, the New Year.  And with it, our New Year Resolution(s).

Is that still a thing?  I started writing them when I first arrived in the U.S. in 1991.  Each year, I wrote my top ten New Year’s resolutions, which were an odd collection of wishes (losing those blasted 10 lbs), hopes (better grades next year?) and call to actions (be more present for my friends!).  The timing of when I put the list together varied from a month before the actual holiday to just a few minutes before the final countdown.  Interestingly enough (but perhaps not surprisingly), the content of the list didn’t changed much from year to year.  I think it’s indication of a flawed strategy or flawed execution, or perhaps it’s both.  So, sometime in college, I stopped writing them.

There is nothing inherently wrong with making resolutions.  The problem with making your own resolutions is the temptation to either make them too easy or too hard.  We want to succeed, so we make a goal that’s achievable.  But we’re also ambitious, so we make them too hard.  Somewhere along the way, we either achieve it (yay!) or we don’t (give up or put it on next year’s list)?  Is it something even measurable?

I was pondering this at the Thanksgiving dinner table amidst the familial chatter when I realized two things:

  1. You don’t need to raise your hand to speak.
  2. Relationships are not built on killer one-off comments.

They are built on a string of related communications between the same individuals, over time.  This type of communication ebbs and flows with the events of life, with seemingly no direction,  conclusion or learnings.  The only requirement here is that you embark on it together. The holidays, with all its hustle and bustle, cast an especially bright light on loneliness, aka a lack of relationships.

And oh, how important relationships are!  There’s a reason why our biggest fear involves ending up alone in some form.   If you’re still not  convinced by the importance of relationships, just take a look at the results from the Grant Study directed by George Vaillant, tracking hundreds of Harvard undergraduate men from graduation to death and measuring everything the researcher’s mind can think of, in an effort to uncover the secrets to a fulfilling life.

It is true that the study had a relatively small study sample (268) and the researchers had followed only men, but it was the longest running longitudinal study (75yrs) of human development to date.  What Vaillant found is that the people who scored the highest in “warm relationships” earned an average of $140K / yr more than those who scored the lowest.  The former were also three times more likely to achieve the level of stardom reserved for the “Who’s Who” lists.  The conclusion was simple.  As Vaillant phrased it, “Happiness is Love.  Full Stop”.

So, this year, I’m bringing resolutions back with a different approach.  This year, it will not be 10, but 1, and it is simply this:  “to reply to every email, call or other forms of communication when I receive it.”  This means setting aside time to answer email when I read it vs. flagging it and forgetting about it later, even if the response needed is hard  Just to keep my own sanity, I will keep the scope of this resolution to communication that’s directed specifically to me.  So general Facebook updates don’t count and do not require a response.

This will be my resolution to invest in relationships, and to nurture the thread of conversation that is sometimes so ethereal in a world full of  constant but disparate chatter  This will be my attemp to follow the thread down the road and see where it goes.

December 8, 2014
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