A new year and a tradition of resolutions. But today, I feel life unfolds out of control. Natural disasters strike almost weekly, like wildfires and hurricanes. Political behavior pollutes daily life without civil discourse. And a media cycle of constant negative and sensational news of the worst things seems to bombard every waking moment.
Can a personal resolution I make at the end of one year make any difference? Yes, because the choice is either to hide or do something. I choose to try and take some control of at least a small part of my life.
I realize most resolutions fail and never get past “Ditch Resolution Day,” which has been deemed to be on Jan. 17. Studies have shown that the majority of Americans break their resolutions by Feb. 4. We stop going to the gym. We go back to eating junk food. We give in to temptations of smoking.
Yet, surprisingly, the majority of us will still make some resolutions. We challenge ourselves to be good. We promise to lose weight, get organized, reduce our consumption of alcohol.
If we are to make any headway, we should recognize resolutions are about individuals and not institutions. We strive for personal responsibility and to reset our lives.
Through resolutions we can begin to create our own life stories, self-stories of who we are and what we can be. We begin with small steps to match actions with our beliefs and in the process, define the lives we want and hope for. We promise to stop wasting so much time on Facebook, toss out old clothes, walk a little more and save a little money. We are constantly editing and rewriting our life stories – sometimes beginning with a New Year’s resolution – which may bring dramatic changes to create a new self-story.
Certainly some are in a position of privilege and this makes resolutions much more doable. Yet many of us have some power over a simple part of our lives (and the best resolutions that are kept are often simple and small).
Combined with forces of nature – like the power of compounding in personal finance – a simple act will reap rewards. For example, if you were a 20-year-old and quit smoking a pack a week, by retirement at 65 you’d have accumulated an additional $100,000. In addition, you’ll also be healthier, live longer and be more active.
Self-stories help place ourselves in context – we are not isolated and alone. We live in networks with many variables impacting our daily lives. All of which influence our habits – and, in turn, dictate whether or not we keep our resolutions intact. It’s not easy to change or create a new habit, but not doing anything is to continue a life story we may not be satisfied with. That’s why we continue to make resolutions every year.
But individual actions can also affect the greater good. Precisely because we do not live alone, our habits do touch a much broader circle than we once believed.
A puff of cigarette smoke can have direct consequences on a family member or neighbor. Losing weight by eating a daily salad can save a local farmer and may positively influence our environment. When we try to save more money for the future, we lay the groundwork for a brighter retirement (and perhaps even philanthropy) decades from now. Our life stories should be thought of in plurals: The majority of us live communally with others, and we are all part of the interconnectedness of things.
Your resolutions can impact me and the life story of our valley. They have greater potential significance than ever before.
So let’s aim beyond Jan. 17 or early February. I hope we can stay connected a little longer this year.
David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and author of several books including “Epitaph for a Peach,” firstname.lastname@example.org.