...the problem of New Year’s resolutions is, in a way, the problem of life itself. Our tendency to be shortsighted — to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future — comes at a considerable cost...”

                                                                        -   The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions, The New York Times


I devoured this article. Author David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, succinctly explains our inability to keep resolutions: We’re using the wrong tools.

DeSteno asserts that grit and nose-to-the-grindstone thinking only take us so far before our minds rebel. DeSteno’s research reveals an alternative tool:

That tool is our social emotions. These are the emotions — things like gratitude and compassion — that support the positive aspects of social life...unlike reason and willpower, they naturally incline us to be patient and persevere. When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.”       

This rings true. I’ve experienced it myself and seen it in others. We are our best selves when driven by the desire to build strong relationships and be there for people in need. We are willing to sacrifice immediate pleasure when the stakes are higher than our own interests and gains.

Destano concludes that morality, character and grace fuel resolve.

Armed with new knowledge of resolutions, I’d like to make one:

Let’s make 2018 the year of the real apology.

2017 was the year of the non-apology. People in power—politicians and entertainers—made mistakes. Illegal, disrespectful and dishonest mistakes.

Once exposed and given a chance to make things right, many of them “couldn’t recall” what happened. They were sorry “if” someone felt hurt or offended, and often further deflected personal responsibility by saying “that’s not who I am.” Some blamed those they had hurt. Some ran away, issuing statements through their publicists.

These non-apologies amount to colossal failures of character and leadership. They elevate selfish interests and gains over compassion for others, over genuine desire for personal growth, over the opportunity to influence others with an example of kindness, humility, generosity. If our character is the one thing in life over which we have real control, then we should cultivate it by exercising our gratitude and compassion muscles, which make us more optimistic about the future and strengthens our self-control.

Below is my 2015 Honor Code talk—Honor & Apologies— to students and faculty. In it, I detail the elements of a proper apology. Feels like a good time to resurrect it…

 



 

 

 

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