New Year Resolutions tend to fail and fail hard by the end of January… if not the end of the first week! But why do we fail every year at making, typically the same, New Year Resolution? According to a Popular Science article, apparently it’s our brain’s fault.
First, no one makes a New Year Resolution on something already achieved. The entire reason we make a resolution is to attempt to conquer something that historically we have failed at. No one makes a resolution on things they already like to do.
The New Year provides the once in a year line in the sand division to say for that one moment in time the “old me” is out and the new me has a bright future. Which leads to….
We make New Year Resolutions to immediately feel good about a positive change we could make. There is no immediate change necessary as all we are doing is thinking about things that would make us feel good. We do not actually have to do anything about that resolution just yet…”Hey, it’s not even midnight!”
In the Psychology world, this is called effective forecasting. This means by using our emotion in the present moment to project how we will feel in the future. Which leads to….
That spike of positive emotion we got from the instant gratification of making a bold proclamation has to be followed up. Unfortunately, when we attempt to make those huge lifestyle changes to achieve our stated goals we realize, this is a lot of work. A lot more work, pain and inconvenience than what we were experiencing over the past year.
So us humans, we tend to put it off. Heck, even Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying “Don’t put off to tomorrow what can be done the day after”. Over time we take these negative emotions, increased work load, pain, and inconvenience, and empower our…..
They can take a long time to develop and when they do we tend to incorporate an emotion to them. Grabbing that morning latte became a habit awfully quick because we grabbed a positive enjoyment from doing it which strengthened the habit. The flip side to that is at times we associate negative emotions to activities which decreases the likelihood of developing that habit.
In fact, that emotion can be so strong that we actually can reinforce the opposite of happening. For example, associating waking up early to work out as a negative thought or with anger will strengthen your desire to not wake up early and actually create the routine habit of sleeping through your alarm 17 times.
One last thing ,our brain does to sabotage us is only now coming to light. When we make these resolutions we have a vague image of our future selves accomplishing our goals. But that’s just it, our goal attaining future self is just some misty apparition floating in the space of our mind.
Researchers from UCLA have done some studies were they have taken fMRI (functional MRI is an MRI that detects brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow of the brain) scans and asked people to think of different things. When they were shown a picture of themselves now an area of the brain lit up.When they were shown pictures of a stranger a different area of the brain lit up. When they were asked to think about themselves in the future the area of the brain that lit up was… the same one associated with strangers.
Yup, our brain thinks about our future self just like it does with a stranger walking down the street. And you remember what your Mother told you about strangers, right?