Why do we make resolutions? I have thought about this for a while, so I decided to look into it, and here is what I found (with a few of my anecdotal thoughts sprinkled in).
It’s the language of the brain.
One of the most important functions of the brain is the executive function, a cluster of cognitive abilities that have evolved to enable us to set and achieve goals. This brain function is what sets us apart from all other living things. Most other creatures react based on instinct; we take action based on planning.
Goals give us meaning.
Goals give life meaning through purpose. For Elm Street, behind the stated goal (“I want to put on a great show …”) is our desire to do something to improve our lives and the lives of others (“… so that I can contribute to the community”). Purpose is what motivates us and moves us to take action.
Resolutions make us feel good.
They literally do. As neuroscientists learn more about the emotional circuits of the brain, they are discovering that one of our most basic emotional reactions is happiness through pursuit. Being actively engaged in the pursuit of a goal activates the brain’s pleasure centers, independent of the outcome. It seems we derive more pleasure from chasing our dreams than from achieving them. This seemed appropriate to add as we are in the middle of our Season of Journey.
The alternative is the default.
Without suggesting that we should plan out every minute of our lives, think about what your default is: What do you do when you are not working toward something? Is it a productive or enjoyable default? Or is it something that you later regret, such as binge-watching a TV show and reading Facebook posts?
Goals keep us connected.
Maybe most important, goals keep people connected. Common goals are the foundational blocks upon which we build communities. From families to art shows, from small start-ups to large corporations, the success of a group depends on how much its members believe in a common goal.
Maybe I need to set goals for myself throughout the year. Maybe you do, too. I know we constantly do at Elm Street for our shows, our visionaries (volunteers), ourselves, and for our community. If you set a goal, you may find yourself getting more involved with the community. I’m confident you won’t regret it!
By Christopher Brazelton, contributing writer and executive director of Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.