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Why New Year’s Resolutions Make You Unhappy

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?

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 January 18, 2019

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

Some people will have a rain cloud hanging over them, no matter what the weather is outside. Their negative attitude is toxic to your own moods, and you probably feel like there is little you can do about it.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you want to effectively deal with negative people and be a champion of positivity, then your best route is to take definite action through some of the steps below.

1. Limit the time you spend with them.

First, let’s get this out of the way. You can be more positive than a cartoon sponge, but even your enthusiasm has a chance of being afflicted by the constant negativity of a friend.

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In fact, negativity has been proven to damage your health physically, making you vulnerable to high levels of stress and even cardiac disease. There’s no reason to get hurt because of someone else’s bad mood.

Though this may be a little tricky depending on your situation, working to spend slightly less time around negative people will keep your own spirits from slipping as well.

2. Speak up for yourself.

Don’t just absorb the comments that you are being bombarded with, especially if they are about you. It’s wise to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but being too quiet can give the person the impression that you are accepting what’s being said.

3. Don’t pretend that their behavior is “OK.”

This is an easy trap to fall into. Point out to the person that their constant negativity isn’t a good thing. We don’t want to do this because it’s far easier to let someone sit in their woes, and we’d rather just stay out of it.

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But if you want the best for this person, avoid giving the false impression that their negativity is normal.

4. Don’t make their problems your problems.

Though I consider empathy a gift, it can be a dangerous thing. When we hear the complaints of a friend or family member, we typically start to take on their burdens with them.

This is a bad habit to get into, especially if this is a person who is almost exclusively negative. These types of people are prone to embellishing and altering a story in order to gain sympathy.

Why else would they be sharing this with you?

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5. Change the subject.

When you suspect that a conversation is starting to take a turn for the negative, be a champion of positivity by changing the subject. Of course, you have to do this without ignoring what the other person said.

Acknowledge their comment, but move the conversation forward before the euphoric pleasure gained from complaining takes hold of either of you.

6. Talk about solutions, not problems.

Sometimes, changing the subject isn’t an option if you want to deal with negative people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be positive.

I know that when someone begins dumping complaints on me, I have a hard time knowing exactly what to say. The key is to measure your responses as solution-based.

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You can do this by asking questions like, “Well, how could this be resolved?” or, “How do you think they feel about it?”

Use discernment to find an appropriate response that will help your friend manage their perspectives.

7. Leave them behind.

Sadly, there are times when we have to move on without these friends, especially if you have exhausted your best efforts toward building a positive relationship.

If this person is a family member, you can still have a functioning relationship with them, of course, but you may still have to limit the influence they have over your wellbeing.

That being said, what are some steps you’ve taken to deal with negative people? Let us know in the comments.

You may also want to read: How to Stop the Negative Spin of Thoughts, Emotions and Actions.

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