We’ve all heard of people making New Year Resolutions and not keeping them, but I realised this week that I don’t know anyone who makes resolutions, let alone keeps them.
Making promises you cannot keep is a depressing way to start a new year, I would think, which makes my friends and acquaintances appear practical, grounded, if somewhat lazy. But studies show setting goals works. People who set clear targets and share them with others consistently outperform those who claim to know what they need to do and shun goal-setting.
You, of course, have to be realistic and set achievable targets. The ‘high but achievable’ mantra works if you are racing against yourself with minimal inputs from others, but if your target involves others or is part of a process, be prepared for failure despite best efforts. For example, you can work at improving your tennis, but if you’re part of a football team full of slackers, your elastic footwork may not win you the match.
When these setbacks start accumulating and you begin doubting whether you can meet your goal, the slide begins towards a state that psychologists call an “action crisis.” This is the crucial point at which you experience an internal conflict about whether you should keep going or give up. This crisis, like all others, takes a mental and physical toll. An “action crisis” triggers an increased production of the stress hormone cortisol, which makes blood pressure shoot up, leaving you stressed, sleepless and physically exhausted.
Whining or worrying about things or people that don’t work does nothing to sustain performance. In a bad situation, the one thing you can always control is your own response and attitude, and that’s really what will decide whether you swim or sink. Wasting energy on situations beyond your control can distract you from what you want and can achieve on your own.
When it comes to resolutions, I tend to keep the bar low and very achievable. This year, I’ve decided to spend more time with people I like and less with people who are incidental to my happiness. It’s a selfish resolution but then so are all resolutions, losing weight, giving up drinking or smoking, eating healthy or exercising more do little for others except perhaps make them suffer if you decide to flaunt your new-found piety.
I’m not on Facebook or other social media for the simple reason that I’d rather meet and connect with people real-time, but increasingly, I find I’m doing it far less than I did a decade ago. Of course, technology is partly to blame, with virtual conversations increasingly becoming more common than real. Many of us would rather text, whatsapp, bbm or tweet than talk, it’s less intrusive, for one, which makes it possible for housebound people to not speak at all for days on end.
And with each passing day, the lines between real and virtual socialising are blurring. Earlier this week, an undergrad threw scalding water on a 15-year-old’s face in Bihar’s Muzzafarpur district because she “unfriended” him on Facebook. She landed up in hospital with 20% burns and a scarred face, he ended up in jail with a police record.
Calling or meeting people allows for a more meaningful and personal interaction, no doubt, but with smartphones enabling us to connect with many more people within seconds, we need to worry about smart disconnection from people and technology to give our brains a break. It also helps separate the virtual and real , which is essential for empathy and social bonding.
We cannot shut out technology but we need to limit it’s use to reconnect with people strategically. For example, putting your phone away one hour before bedtime helps prep the brain for more restful and more renewing sleep. When you are with family or friends, take time out for them that excludes checking your phone for tweets and text updates.
Those who absolutely cannot live without their phone should perhaps set specific goals like I did, such as meeting people a little more.
And if you survive the meeting without glancing at the phone, you’re pretty much in control of not just the situation, but yourself.