It’s a new year and a new me. I’m going to lose weight, get fit, and finally get around to reading the collected works of Tolstoy. This is going to be the year that I finally show the world the real me, no more putting on heirs. Last but not least I’m going to right all the wrongs I’ve done in the past year. I’m going to quit smoking, drinking, and definitely stop using meth.
Ok seriously, I’m more than likely not going to do any of that and no I don’t actually use meth. These are just some of the resolutions that people make at the beginning of the year and which they will more than likely fail at. Resolutions are choices that you make in regards to other choices that you will have to make in the future, the idea is to set goals and carry them out throughout the year. However, there are some simple problems to this idea.
Number 1: Changes Take Huge Amounts of Willpower.
Let’s say you decide to give up chocolate. This means that from that point forward you are going to say no to the sweet and delicious brown stuff. Now you might be able to say no today, tomorrow, and for the next six weeks you don’t touch an ounce of chocolate. However, at the beginning of week 7 you get some bad news, you get a pay cut at work just days after learning that your rent is being raised by one hundred dollars. Stress sets in and your mind goes on autopilot attempting to alleviate your stress. The next thing you know your gut is filled with chocolate and you have the horrible guilt of failing your resolution.
Number 2: Willpower does not actually exist
How many of us have had this conversation with ourselves. “I’m going to the party and I’m only having two drinks at most.” Then you get to the party and the first drink goes down smooth. You opt for a second and you think to yourself, one more won’t hurt. Three drinks feels roughly the same as two and so obviously a fourth isn’t going to bother you. Ten drinks later and you’re singing the lyrics to the Golden Girls in front of your co-workers and finish the night off by telling Dave from marketing where he can go stick it.
The problem is that our subconscious minds do much more of the work than we believe our conscious minds do. Anyone who has had a problem with addiction can tell you that they have absolutely no problem saying no, it’s just that over time the brain begins working out reasons for why one more drink or one more time is no big deal. Our conscious minds end up going with what the subconscious if feeding us and we find ourselves in all sorts of situations that we never planned on being in.
Number 3: We don’t quit what we still enjoy
For humans to stop any habit, the negatives have to far outweigh the positives. This is why a single person might not give up their addiction while a married person with children might. It’s the same reason why a person might restart an addiction they had given up years earlier, if life changes, so too does the way our brain interprets our actions and deeds.
Think of it like this, Serial Killers often go dormant for years, yet one day their brain kicks on the need to kill and they resume their past behaviors. Obviously I’m not talking about things as serious as serial killing but the things we enjoy can come into and out of favor with our subconscious minds. People quit smoking, they quit drinking, they quit drugs but they don’t do so because of some arbitrary decision made on New Years Eve.
As long as our minds continue to associate a behavior with the positive aspects of that behavior we will continue to indulge in that behavior. A drug user will continue to abuse drugs until it reaches a point that they view the negatives far outweigh the positives. Interventions can at times work because they are a mega dose of negative aspects.
As another example, I have a weight problem. I’ve always had a weight problem for nearly as long as I can remember. As soon as I went through puberty I began to pack on the pounds and while I have reached a state of equilibrium on my weight it is definitely not a healthy weight. However, I still eat loads of foods that are completely unhealthy, I drink soda by the gallon and I don’t exercise like I should. Why? Because the negatives haven’t outweighed the positives yet. Food brings me pleasure and has had a calming affect on my mental processes for nearly twenty years now.
Basically put the only thing that has really got me thinking about changing my eating habits is that the negatives are starting to build up. I’m on the brink of high blood pressure, and my family has a history of heart disease on both sides. I’m not as young as I used to be and I know that if I don’t make changes soon I will have even more health issues in the near future. I’ve begun eliminating some of the salt from my diet but it hasn’t been easy, in fact it’s really hard. Eliminating salt makes food not taste as good, which in turn tones down the pleasure that I draw from it, which then leads me to grab the salt shaker. One day I believe I will get this under control but it will not be due to some decision I make at the strike of midnight on New Years eve.
This is why I don’t make resolutions. The failure tends to lead to more indulgence in whatever behavior I had planned on eliminating. Instead I attempt to make small changes throughout the year to test the waters. I won’t get overnight results but I will see results as time goes by. I eat far more fruit now than I ever have, it’s been a challenge but over time I’ve begun to enjoy it and so the fun my brain receives from fruit has increased and the likelihood of choosing fruit in the future has increased. I’ve eliminated a good amount of sugar from my diet in exchange for 0 calorie natural sweeteners. At first these foods didn’t taste as appealing to be but after a while, and I do mean awhile, I have become accustomed to them and my brain now receives nearly the same amount of enjoyment from them as it did or does from sugar.
As I said, life changes happen because we no longer get enjoyment from those things we need to change. It doesn’t generally happen overnight but takes time and effort to retrain the brain. Setting unrealistic goals will only stifle the progress that you may have experienced naturally throughout the coming year. Learn as much as you can, do as much as you can, help others as much as you can and just try your best to enjoy life.