What You Should Know About New Year Resolutions

At this time of year, when some of us are already thinking about our new year’s resolutions, I’m encouraging you to invest a little time trying to understand a few things we could resolve that would help make us happier. We want to be happier, living a life of flourish, but we often chase both the wrong things and the wrong paths to get to them. It perhaps sounds strange but, people are awful at predicting what will make them happy. Even more disturbing is the fact that we are often disappointed when we get the very things we think we want. There are a few things that you should know before making your New Year Resolutions.

2021 Goal List?… Photo by @freepik via freepik.com

In one of the strongest statements against the possibility for change, Lykken and Tellegen, a pair of researchers from the Minnesota Twin Family Study suggested that “trying to be happier may be as futile as trying to be taller.” This study, which also coined the phrase, the hedonic treadmill, implies that our efforts to get somewhere, to be happier, don’t get us anywhere. I don’t believe this to be true, and below are three things that you may want to take into account when setting your goals for 2021.

New Year Resolutions the choice between possessions vs. experiences

What you should know about new year resolutions is that often it is a matter of choosing between possessions or experiences. There’s a logical assumption many people make when spending their money, that because a physical object lasts a long time, it will make us happier than an a one-off experience, like a vacation or a night out. But, a 20-year study by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, found the opposite to be true. “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Gilovich. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while, resulting in no permanent gain in happiness. Worse, according to this theory, as we make more money or buy more things, our expectations and desires for them rise in tandem.

Possessions v Experiences – Photo by @freepik via freepik.com

Experiences on the other hand tend to provoke more satisfaction than time using material possessions. A possible explanation is the endurance of experiences in people’s memories, while the perceived value of material goods weakens over time. Moreover, our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods.

“You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Dr Thomas Gilovich

Another reason that experiences win over possessions, is that they connect us more tightly to other people. You’re much likelier to feel connected to someone you went to school with, went on holiday together, than say someone who just happens to buy the same type of car or smart phone.

Add to your new year resolution list: conquering negativity

Negativity is, in general, thinking that whatever happens is most likely going to turn out bad. It doesn’t help that we are hardwired such that negative events have a much greater impact on our brains than positive ones, psychologists refer to this as the negativity bias, but there is a subtle difference between negativity and negative thinking.

New Year Resolutions – Conquer NegativityPhoto by @freepik via freepik.com

The good type of negative thinking is why your mum checked if you packed a spare pair of pants on school trips. When your daughter is borrowing your car, when someone is asking you to take a risky investment decision, there’s good reason to think about worst case scenarios, it allows you to look at things more realistically, slows down decision making, and might save you money, or your life. Negative thinking often involves contemplating future events or outcomes where it is still possible to change the outcome; negativity, on the other hand, typically involves a habitual attitude of anger, cynicism, helplessness or sadness about things we cannot change. If you find yourself dwelling on an insult or fixating on your mistakes, and you keep playing it over and over in your mind, this is negativity, and it’s probably not doing you any good.

If you are someone who after an event takes place, finds yourself thinking “I shouldn’t have done that,” or focuses on things in a negative way, try to look for ways to reframe the situation in a more positive light. What did you learn? What would you do different next time?

Salvaging a funny story from your misfortunes can be a great way to turn the tide of negative thoughts. That old adage, “misery loves company,” is only partly true, “misery loves miserable company,” is more accurate. Humor is good medicine, the search for a funny aspect in a difficult moment can help us endure it, and when used to help others to copy, can be altruistic.

The Paradox of Choice

Psychologist Barry Schwartz took aim at a central tenet of western societies in his book The Paradox of Choice. Freedom of choice, in Schwartz’s estimation, has not made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied. Choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress.

In his book, Barry Schwartz explains that choice, the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish—becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being, impacts the challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs, and paradoxically becomes a problem instead of a solution.

Having too much choice, or choice overload, is a cognitive impairment in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. Another factor which makes us less happy is FOMO, or the fear of missing out. To illustrate how FOMO works, imagine that you were shown 5 juicy oranges and told that one of them was the world’s tastiest, but you could only pick and eat one. Maybe you enjoyed your orange, but simply not knowing what the four other oranges taste likes lead to dissatisfaction. And, the more choices you have the worst it gets; if you have ten available choices, and you make a wrong decision, it’ll hurt more than if you only had 5 choices and made the same decision.

New Year’s Resolutions

So, when it comes to making your new year’s resolutions this year, try not to set yourself up for failure by setting goals that are vague, unrealistic, or influenced by what others expect of us. Because, if we ‘fail,’ we’re left feeling guilty, disappointed, and self-loathing—a far cry from the sense of confidence and empowerment we were after. Limit your choices, keep it simple, and try looking for something experiential. Happy new year, and here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2021!

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Positivity vs. Negativity – Battle of the Fittest

Martial Arts

Art takes many forms; as an author, I consider myself an artist. In my free time, I am also a ‘martial artist’. The term ‘martial arts’ is closely associated with the fighting arts of East Asia; the term is however derived from Latin and means ‘arts of Mars,’ the Roman god of war. I practice Muay Thai (also known as Kick Boxing); the word ‘muay’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘wavya’ which means ‘bind together’ and the word ‘thai’ refers to the country Thailand. Its generic name means ‘unarmed combat,’ a true test in any battle of the fittest.

Muay Thai in Namsan Park, Seoul

Martial arts have health and spiritual benefits; the spiritual benefits include teaching self-respect, respect for others, patience, humility, self-control and modesty, the health benefits derived from the conditioning that helps keep the body fit, strong and properly toned. To be effective, a good Muay Thai fighter must keep his physical and mental condition in balance, he must move with speed, but also show common sense and intelligence, he must train both his mind and his body with dedication, concentration, and discipline. Muay Thai also develops a sense of brotherhood, a fighter will help others when the opportunity arises, and will never resort to fighting unless there is no other option available.

The history of Muay Thai can be traced to the middle of the 18th century. During battles between the Burmese of the Konbaung Dynasty and Siam, the famous fighter Nai Khanomtom was captured. The Burmese knew of his expertise in hand-to-hand combat and gave him an opportunity to fight for his freedom. Nai Khanomtom managed to knock out ten consecutive Burmese contenders. Impressed by his skill, he was freed and returned to Siam where his fighting style became known as Muay Thai and later recognized as a national sport.

Getting Balanced

If you ever feel a bit off-balance or stressed-out I recommend you find a Muay Thai class and develop your fighting spirit because, perhaps without realizing it, we are all engaged in fierce battles every day. These battles occur within us between positivity and negativity. For the sake of this article, I will call positivity ‘Yang’ (positive, bright, masculine) and negativity ‘Yin’ (negative, dark, feminine). Picture those two in a ring; if your first impulse is to cheer and expect ‘Yang’ to win, I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken, in a battle of the fittest, ‘Yin‘ would triumph.

Yin and Yang in the Battle of the Fittest

Battle of the Fittest – Negativity

Our brain has a negative bias, it loves negativity! Our brain is wired with a much greater sensitivity to unpleasant rather than pleasant news. Dr John Cacioppo, the ‘Scientist of Loneliness’ from  Ohio State University, conducted a study to demonstrate this effect by contrasting the effect on the brain of pictures arousing positive feelings (such as sport cars, holiday shots, ice creams, etc.), negative feelings (such as mutilated faces or dead cats), and, for good measure pictures to arouse neutral feelings (of everyday objects, such as dinners plate and hair dryers).

The subjects had their brain activity recorded during the experiment providing data to Dr. Cacioppo to analyze. The results showed very clearly that our brain reacts more strongly to negative rather than positive stimuli. Our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat rather than good news and that information is stored in our short to long term memory. This is why ‘Yin’ has a better chance of winning against ‘Yang.’

Our weighting of negative input is an evolutionary development to keep us out of harm’s way. Back in prehistory, when humans faced life or death situations every day, it was far more important for the brain to respond to negative rather than positive stimuli. If a wild animal charged towards you, you needed to fight or run away and to take that decision in a split-second. But, in non-threatening situations, like being offered food, or a gift, there is no such requirement for speed – your brain can react very slowly. To make matters worse, not only do we react more quickly to negative experiences, we are looking for them all the time. This makes it extremely easy for our minds to get into a negative feedback loop; you are hyper-aware of negativity and when it happens, you react quicker, it impacts you more and you remember it for longer. One scientist described the brain like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. 

Positive Outlook

When faced with decisions or uncertainties, it is natural to have a fear of the unknown, I confess – this happens to me a lot, which creates a lot of anxiety and negative emotions.  Unfortunately, the nature of the world is uncertain; nobody knows what will happen tomorrow, and it is important to maintain a positive outlook.

According to Sadhguru, Indian yogi, mystic, and author:

you cannot overcome something which does not exist. Your fear is always about something that does not exist. Fear is happening because of excessive imagination. It is about things that haven’t happened yet, but you are creating those things in your mind. Fear means that you are producing horror movies in your mind. Produce something else, produce a comedy, a love story, an action movie.”

In the battle of the fittest, it is important to have a positive outlook and understand that we all have a natural tendency to be negative; you must train yourself to be a ‘Yang.’ Being positive, overcoming negative emotions requires dedication, discipline, and patience – just like with Muay Thai – and just like being a successful Muay Thai fighter it is necessary to train your body and spirit to work together, so that when the time comes to do battle against ‘Yin,’ the negative spirit, the odds will be in your favor.

And this, my Dear Friend is your Quest.

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For more on this subject you can purchase my book This is Your Quest online at BookLocker, from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble.  The Ebook version is available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple (iBooks) & Kobo. Check out my Amazon Author Page here or my listing on Booksradar.com.