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Why New Year’s Resolutions Make You Unhappy

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Why New Year’s Resolutions Make You Unhappy

The Brain Science Behind Why Long Lists Don’t Work

So, you have 10 New Year’s resolutions? This year for sure you will: lose weight, quit smoking, jog daily, or meditate.  According to British psychologist Richard Wiseman, 88% of all resolutions end in failure, no matter how many years they are repeatedly tried.  Now, neuroscience is telling us why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. It turns out the longer the list, the more likely you are to fail.

But just why are our old habits so hard to break?

The Science of Resolutions

The brain area largely responsible for willpower is the prefrontal cortex (located just behind the forehead). This area of the brain is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems.

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An experiment at Stanford by Dr. Baba Shiv revealed that if you load down this decision making part of the brain with extra tasks, it becomes fatigued. When it is tired or overloaded, is more likely to give in to temptation. Like any muscle, you can only ask it to do so much. So, the take home message is: Keep it short, and don’t overpromise.

Rewards or Punishment?

The brain contains an area referred to as the reward system.  This area is the brain’s most primitive motivational system, one that evolved to propel us toward action and consumption.

How does the reward system compel us to act?  When the brain recognizes an opportunity for reward, it releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine.  Dopamine tells the rest of the brain what to pay attention to.  A dopamine rush doesn’t create happiness itself, but rather the feeling of arousal.  For more on this topic read Josh Freedman’s blog at Six Seconds, the Emotional Intelligence Network.

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Does all this mean we can’t break ANY bad habits? No. We just can’t break them all at once. The idea of willpower is that we can force ourselves to change. This is forgetting one key ingredient to changing our behavior: self-awareness. Until we recognize our patterns and what role our habits play in our lives, we can’t change them. Emotional intelligence, or being smart with emotions, begins with self-knowledge. Here are some EQ (emotional quotient) ways to learn more about what drives you to engage in activities that may not be good for you.

Here are two ways to succeed in changing to more positive behaviors:

Pare your list down…

…to one or two things that really make you happy: for example, rather than “I will jog 10 miles a day” (and you hate jogging 1 mile), list, “I will walk with a friend tomorrow evening and talk about our plans for our trip to Hawaii.”

Focus on one area of your life you could improve:

How do I feel about the various domains of my life (e.g., work, family, community, spirit)?

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Feelings, of course, provide outstanding data for this reflection.

Where I feel anxious, stressed, worried… perhaps I’m missing some crucial link.

Where I feel sad, lonely, or disconnected, perhaps I can re-invest.

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Where I feel excited, hopeful, energized, perhaps I can find a clear next step.

Focus is about choosing where to commit that most precious resource: time.  To focus is to let go of lesser priorities.  To say “no” so you can more fully say “yes.”

Instead of a specific “resolution,” what’s one area of your life or work you’d like to put in focus.  One value you’d like to strengthen?

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If the goal is to lead a life well lived, perhaps being happy all the time is not the goal, but to live an examined, conscious life that would make our families proud of us. Here’s to a happy, stress-free new year!

Featured photo credit: Running, outdoor, fit/BillionPhotos.com via media.lifehack.org

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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