The Power of One: Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions

Posted: December 29, 2015 in Family, New Year's Resolutions
Tags: , ,

It’s that time of year again, the time when we take a moment to reflect on the past year and look forward to self-improvement in the next year. The usual suspects are trotted out: nutrition, exercise, spirituality, finances and family with ambitious goals articulated for each. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the success rate for this bold list is less than ideal. But the alternative, an unexamined stroll into the next year is just as unpalatable. So, perhaps a shift in approach is needed . . .

What if we pick ONE substantial target? Sounds reasonable. But how do we make that choice when there are many things we would like to change? I’d like to share a process I went through recently and propose that it may provide a model for you to frame that choice.

My family and I had an extraordinary experience during a family visit this Christmas. One of my favorite cousins visited us for Christmas with her husband and three children and the usual pleasant visit became much more. Toward the end of the visit, we gathered together and asked the kids to share school tips with each other (my two boys, aged 7 and 13 and her 3 kids, two boys aged 12,15, and a 19 year old woman). So the college student (my niece) shared her insights with the  high schooler who then shared his tips with the middle schooler (my older son) who then shared with the elementary children (my nephew and other son). These tips provoked some questions from us, the adults, which led to much more personal revelations about their individual challenges with school. I was blown away by how much more complicated their school lives are because of social media, cyberbullying, fitting in, skewed perceptions of female beauty and more. I learned more about my nieces and nephews in that one session than in all previous visits combined. No therapy could have yielded the rich insights and sharing facilitated by having cousins who looked and sounded like each other share their struggles and victories. It was the kind of moment that was both frustrating and beautiful. Frustrating because these moments are so hard to consciously reproduce but beautiful because you KNOW they are transformative when they happen. I saw the power of relationships firsthand and knew what my focus would be in 2016: building richer relationships.

A few days later, I watched a TED talk focusing on the most comprehensive study on happiness in history. Several men were followed for as long as 75 years and the data revealed that the single strongest predictor of health and longevity was satisfaction with personal relationships. And so building stronger relationships has become the entirety of my “list.” Perhaps, resolutions should not be a list of “ought to’s” but a single “have to”. There should be both an urgency and timeliness to what we pick . . . I think that leads both to a greater chance of success and meaningfulness to the accomplishment. And so, as we all enter 2016, I will leave you with that question, what is your “thing”? May you reach it.

Happy New Year!


  1. Malaika says:

    Love this post JB! Lovely to hear about the cousins interacting in such a deep and meaningful way. What a memorable moment that must have been! I completely agree with you about focusing on one “thing” to change or improve. I also like that you picked human relationships as it is one of the most important things in life and I think this is the great example Jesus set in the Bible. Thank you for sharing this inspiring post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Kalu! I think the moments we tend to remember most are relational . . . and your Biblical example is so true. That’s one of the reasons I loved the book, “The Shack”; it’s all about divine and human relationship . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kenel says:

    Dear Jonathan,

    What a wonderful Christmas break you had with family reminiscing, divulging and enjoying a hearty laugh! Your latest blog was well received. I really enjoyed reading it because it broached several issues (as usual) that warrant some thoughts—there are no easy solutions. For example, you highlighted a few of them that families grapple with every day, but finding solutions to these pressing conundrums will require a conscientious effort from political leaders, school administrators and parents to open channels of communication and encourage dialogues.

    It’s great that you have zeroed in on a goal for the New Year. I think focusing on an overarching goal has the potential to keep one honest about the work necessary to reach said goal. Intuitively we know what meaningful relationships are and often, much work is required to cultivate them. Like in physics (if I may), if our genuine actions move one to react in kind, then we’ve done our part… we’ve done work! Admittedly, this is a stretch but we’d have helped raise the bar of positive human interaction to greater heights.

    Now, perhaps there exists a statistical model replete with regression analysis, so as to ascertain (in less than 75 years) the model’s effectiveness, I’d say we found ourselves a Utopian world. It goes without saying you’ve hit an important topic here: meaningful relationships can do wonders to one’s personal wellbeing.

    About 2330 here; I’m marching onward (with humility and emotional overdrive) toward another year, another goal. Going into 2016, I wouldn’t envision it any other way!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Kenel, Your responses to my posts never cease to delight and intrigue!:) Completely agree with you that change is multi-layered, both individual and systemic. You are also one of the few people I would expect to find a way to throw “regression analysis” into your response! Having just taken a Biostatistics course, this tickled me. If happiness is measured in categories perhaps we should also consider a chi-square analysis?! Please keep these wonderful responses coming. Meanwhile, I wish you a Happy New Year and wonderful 2016!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kenel says:

    Thank you for your very kind comments Jonathan. I must say that statistics was very much a course I enjoyed albeit one, which required a different approach to solving real world problems. Your mentioning chi-square evoked a smile and is enticing me to revisit many chapters in my statistics textbook. Knowledge is so beautiful and when surrounded with like-minded individuals who appreciate its nuance, one can’t help but welcome it.

    Indeed, this “degree of freedom” to seek knowledge imbues us with powerful emotions—the like that could add longevity (qualitative) to our lives.

    As you said “may we reach it”… by following quality blogs, I’m on to something!



  4. Anne Frantz says:

    In Maslow’s heirarchy of needs social engagement is critical. It seems as though many of the ailments of current society derive from isolation and seeking false connectedness by social media and electronic gadgetry. While not denying our hand held devices and computers are immensely helpful they don’t supplant the fundamental human need for face to face dialogue, empathy and support. As medicine has pulled away from the latter and more towards the former, patient/physician relationships have paid a heavy price as well. It is time for the pendulum to swing back toward a more balanced approach to caring for our fellow human beings. I retired early after 32 years in medicine due to overwhelming despair at how “off from true north” our current model of patient care and resident education has gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more on the singular value of inter-personal connectedness. There are some unique possibilities for connection with technology, but I agree that it cannot be a substitute. I am sorry to hear about the deviation from “true north” that you observed before retiring. But I am honored to have trained with you before that time! You exemplify the very authenticity and openness (and humor and energy and . . .) that is sorely needed in medicine and beyond . . . so glad you visited and are following my blog. I look forward to more of your insights!


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