I had some major reservations about setting my “New Year’s Resolutions” for the year. The truth is, 2016 was a good year for me, one in which I accomplished a lot of my personal and professional goals. As I opened my journal to begin the process of setting goals for 2017, I reviewed my entries from 2016. I was shocked to see that most of the entries indicated quite a struggle. I turned the pages and it began to sink in that the accomplishments I made were wrought with tears, self-doubting, and times when I wanted to give up. I couldn’t believe that I had so quickly forgotten how much work and effort it took to achieve those 2016 goals. Perhaps, goals are accomplished in the day-to-day efforts, the perseverance when times are tough.
The great thing about starting a new year, regardless of whether or not 2016 was a good year for you, is that we can start over. We can head into the New Year, and literally hit the “reset” button. Have you set some goals for yourself this year? Are you trying to achieve them? Remember that it takes time, perseverance, and mental toughness to reach the goals we have set for ourselves. When you are in those times of struggle, think about the fact that you are creating a resilience in yourself that will help you achieve your goals in the long run. Below are some findings from the latest psychological research on human behavior and the brain. See my tips for how to “reset” your mind for mental toughness this year; so that you can reach your goals.
Retreat from social media for a day (or more)
In 6 experiments conducted at the University of Colgne in Germany, researchers Lange & Crusius (2015) found that envy and pride exist in a social-functional relationship. Meaning that envy and pride often co-occur, and displays of pride increase feeling of envy. The researchers defined two different displays of pride; hubristic and authentic. Hubristic pride can be defined as success attributed to talent while Authentic pride can be defined as success attributed to effort. Think, “I did so great on my test because I’m a gifted student” vs. “I did so great on my test because I studied so hard.” When participants were presented with pictures/videos of people displaying “hubristic pride,” their feelings of malicious envy increased. Participants literally wanted to cause harm to the person displaying hubristic pride. We can all admit that social media is often used for displays of pride from our friends or acquaintances. If this is causing you to have feelings of envy, take a break from social media, or hide those friends that have a pattern of bragging. If you are in a constant state of malicious envy, it will be very hard for you to accomplish your goals. Or even worse, your goals might be clouded by your desire to get what others have and you think you deserve, rather then what is best for yourself and what you were created to do.
Eat like you live in the Mediterranean
Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, developed the MIND diet (Marano, 2016). The MIND diet incorporates foods shown by compelling scientific evidence to be brain protective. In fact, studies revealed that those patients who ate foods rich in Vitamin B, Vitamin E and polyphenols showed significant improvements in brain health. So much so that the brains of the patients who followed the MIND diet had brains that appeared 11 years younger then those who did not follow this diet. Eating right is not just important if you want to lose weight, but it is important for keeping your brain healthy. Foods to incorporate into your diet daily: fish, leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, berries, and lentils.
Did you know that our brains are wired to remember the negative? Due to our ancestral heritage, our brains have a negativity bias. Think about when our ancestors had to hunt for their own food. Because they had to remember the negative experiences for the sake of survival, their brains focused on these experiences so that they could survive their next hunt. This has been passed down to our brains, and as a result we are hardwired to remember our negative experiences. In fact, Dr. Rick Hanson in his TED(2013) Talk indicates that in order for the positive experiences to be remembered and become neural patterns, we must have a ratio of 5 positive experiences about ourselves to 1 negative experience about ourselves. Have you ever had a negative experience at work, school or home, and as hard as you try to forget it, your brain just keeps reminding you of how you messed up? This is because our brains are literally designed to remember it. In order to make lasting positive change in our lives, and hardwire new patterns, we need to compare that 1 negative experience to 5 positive experiences about ourselves to override the brain’s negativity bias.
Brain scans show that when a person feels happy, or satisfied, they are using the left prefrontal cortex of their brain. Scientists are finding ways to stimulate this part of the brain, because when it is activated it contributes to a person’s overall health and well-being. Not only is it good for your health, but when it is activated, the right prefrontal cortex activity is also reduced, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for feelings of sadness. Dunn & Norton (2013), discovered that people who spend their money on experiences (i.e. concert tickets, vacations, music lessons) are happier then those people who spend their money on material possessions. In fact, the researchers indicate that experiences not only contribute to our happiness in the moment, but they also contribute to our happiness before and after they occur. The anticipation as well as the memory of an experience contributes to an increase in satisfaction for a longer period of time. In contrast, material possessions; no matter how amazing or special, will become tiresome to a person if they are used frequently.
Again going back to the days of our ancestors, fasting was a part of life. Humans didn’t know where their next source of food was coming from, so dealing without food or learning to restrict food became a way of life. Studies show that fasting, or cutting back on carbohydrates specifically is good for the brain. Fasting triggers cellular reprogramming, revitalizes glucose pathways and increases cognitive performance. Middle-aged mice were placed on a fasting schedule for four days twice a month over 7 months. The results of this study indicated that those mice on the fasting schedule lived significantly longer and had less body fat, they also outperformed non-fasting mice in motor coordination and short and long term memory tests (Marano, 2016).
I’m hoping that these tips will help you as you embark on 2017. Wishing you health, happiness and mental toughness in the New Year!
Dunn, E. & Norton, M. (2013). Happy money: The science of happier spending. London, England: Oneworld Publishing.
Lange, J. & Crusius, J. (2015). The tango of two deadly sins: The social-functional relationship of envy and pride. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109 (3) 453-472.
Marano, H.E. (2016, December). Human brain: No expiration date. Psychology Today, 60-69.
TED. (2013, November 7). Hardwiring happiness: Dr. Rick Hanson at Ted Marin 2013. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpuDyGgIeh0.