Goals from Gratitude

The original Auld Lang Syne, source: scotland.org

For Auld Lang Syne, My Dear!

You may be like me and barely know the words, let alone the full meaning, of Auld Lang Syne. The term “auld lang syne” loosely translates to “for old time’s sake”. Originating in Scotland centuries back, taking “a cup of kindness” and “a deep draught of good-will” assumes a simple drinking song. However, the far lesser known verses expose a deeper ravine. They describe our thirst to be in community despite a separated reality. Why does isolation coldly greet us all these centuries later? We end up making immediate decisions based more on ourselves as individuals, despite our longing to invest in relationships with others.

It is no coincidence that one big decision we typically fail at this time of year is New Years Resolutions. Personally and professionally, we seek out ambitious goals to set for ourselves. I’m really good at forgetting my resolution only a few months into it, especially when I’m too cold, sick, or tired to get out of bed. In fact, studies show that 25% fail within the first eight days of January. We are noticeably terrible at making informed goals and keeping them.

Goal Setting with a Cup of Kindness.

This is partly why as a teacher I knew I had to better understand my students ability–or more often inability–to make informed decisions. Research has shown that when students are provided clear opportunities to create goals, monitor, and evaluate their learning, they develop tools to better regulate their thinking–referred to as metacognition–that boosts achievement in many areas. However, if you have ever remotely interacted with children, you know that nothing can be accomplished without proper motivation.

David DeSteno writes a fascinating article titled, “The Only Way To Keep Your Resolution“. Popular research has shown that self-control or “grit” is the key to fight against temporary indulgences for future success. However, merely using willpower to regulate your thinking and actions provides a robotic existence that fails to see us as social beings. Through a variation on the the famous marshmallow experiment, DeSteno’s research found that people with higher social emotions such as gratitude and compassion were more self-controlled. Why? We are quicker to make sacrifices for ourselves in the present, when we are focused on others. This leads to saving more for the future.

When we feel grateful, we tend to want the best for our future selves. 

Seas Between us.

In Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns penned the lyrics in 1788, from an oral folk song. 

Here’s the translation:

We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since long, long ago.

This, of the many lesser known verses, captures the separation that exists, our longing for relationship. Although as a society, we are more lonely now than ever before, this ancient poem points to an age-old separation we feel when “seas between us broad have roared”. We all ache for it, but finding sustained community is not an easy task. 

Too often, we are so focused on our own needs that we fail to understand that ironically, our needs are best met when we think of others.

Bridging Our Shores.

DeSteno points out that our ancestors would have had more success in tribes where people cared for the common good of one another. He argues that we grow these traits in community, having others see our accomplishments, while rooting others on. Moving toward gratitude and other social emotions is still no easy task. My experiences with community—especially in the classroom—are not always so sparkly. 

Motivation comes from positive interactions with others. In the classroom, when I allow students to teach concepts to one another, they are more likely to remember it themselves. I found that one of my simplest tools that students of all levels seem to enjoy is the group test, where points don’t matter. They take on the needs of those around them and in turn do better themselves. The following individual test reveals the personal benefits of their peer learning.

DeSteno asserts that when individuals create goals, they are more likely to achieve them when they are held accountable by a peer. I didn’t do a great job of that. Looking back, I only had students create a personal goal each unit and keep it to themselves which didn’t seem to matter a whole lot to them.

Sometimes we forget that learning and growth is a social endeavor for all, not just students. The literature in my research pointed to the idea that teachers themselves grow best together in communities of practice, when they can offer a hand to one another along the journey and laugh a little in the process. Hopefully, I can unpack that a bit more in a future post.

Making Sense of it all.

We are designed for more than ourselves.

There are many age-old sayings that remind us to focus less on oneself. Jesus, commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He mentions that if we want to save our life we will lose it. In making resolutions focused squarely upon ourselves and without a communal mindset, we are doomed. It is interesting when science points us to what our ancient texts already tell us. We can only love ourselves when we find that love for others. I hope you find a chance to simply be thankful this year. I know I don’t do it enough. Let’s sow into others in this season and, who knows, we might just be surprised at where we arrive.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught,
For auld lang syne.

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