Psychology professors say desire to improve is a trait in everybody

Robin Murphy of Jamestown said she believes in making New Year's resolutions. Quitting smoking and losing weight were challenging, she said, but striving to be a nicer person was not as hard."Just be kind to people and have respect like you would...

New Year's Resolutions
Lois Schwarz, Jamestown, said she would like to spend more time with her twin grandchildren born in November, and to travel more with her husband now that she is retired. Tom Laventure | THE SUN

Robin Murphy of Jamestown said she believes in making New Year’s resolutions. Quitting smoking and losing weight were challenging, she said, but striving to be a nicer person was not as hard.
“Just be kind to people and have respect like you would want them to respect you,” Murphy said.
Jessica Falk of Jamestown said she doesn’t often make a resolution to give up a bad habit. She likes the idea of the new year being a time for a fresh beginning.
“I always try to be kinder to my friends and family,” Falk said.
Psychology of bettering yourself
New Year’s resolutions are chided as the annual, inevitable failure, but experts say the desire to improve is a primordial trait in all of us.
Ben Kirkeby, an assistant professor at the University of Jamestown, teaches the psychology of religion. He said people have an innate desire to change something about themselves, or to try and be a better person, or to devote more time to praying and tending to their spirituality.
“When you really want to get down to it, God probably put that (innate drive) in everyone,” Kirkeby said. “It is part of our human nature, and that innate desire is at the heart of wanting to be a better self and becoming more like God.”
Everyone has a natural inclination and that is natural law, he said. The want to be and do better comes from God, he said.
Dana Wallace, a UJ associate professor of psychology, teaches health and social psychology, which includes a course on motivation and emotion. While one area of psychology deals with treating illness and disorders, there is another area called positive psychology that focuses on the “normal” as a starting point to better ourselves as individuals to improve health, families and communities, she said.
“It is about what the average person can do to make life better and achieve optimum health,” Wallace said. “This is all about the idea of resolutions, but we call it: ‘What habits can I put into my life?’”
With positive psychology, the emotion of gratitude and the awareness to be grateful are important, she said. Research shows that people who find time each day to be grateful tend to be healthier and more productive at work.
Discussing what happened that was good during the day at the supper table, keeping a journal or making time for family talk are just some ways to incorporate the good, even during a bad day, into the routine, she said. Thank-you notes, telling people you appreciate them and showing gratitude does as much good for that person as the person receiving the praise, she said.
“That in turn makes us healthier, more optimistic and more productive at work,” Wallace said. “The little things can do a lot for mental health as well and if you can lower your stress level that is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself.”
Lois Schwarz of Jamestown said her resolutions sometimes work and other times don’t. This year her goal of dieting is back, but she also wants to slow down and spend more time with her family.
“This year my New Year’s resolution is to spend more time with my twin grandbabies that were born in November,” Schwarz said. “Now that I am retired I also want to travel more with my husband.”
New Year, New You
A home or workplace team-oriented health improvement program is designed as a New Year’s resolution at Jamestown Regional Medical Center.
“New Year, New You” is an eight-week challenge from Jan. 11 to March 6 that includes participants from homes, businesses, committees and coalitions working individually and as part of teams to help people stick to their goals in a fun competition.
“Enhancing the health of our community is our main goal,” said Samantha Beckman, JRMC marketing manager. “We hope that the tips shared will continue to be a focus area so we can work together to better the overall health of our community.”
Emily Hoffman, a JRMC cardiopulmonary rehab manager who runs the New Year, New You program, said that taking small steps to start helps participants learn the importance of getting enough water, sleep, exercise and the right foods every day.
But the program also looks at emotional and interpersonal wellness components, she said, which together with the physical wellness component, offers a more holistic way to take each day in stride and live a more healthier life.
“These include attention to gratitude, personal relationships, generosity and kindness, positivity and stress reduction,” Hoffman said.
For more information about New Year, New You, visit . | (701) 952-8455

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