Dr. Laurie Santos, Director of Yale’s Comparative Cognition Laboratory, is of the opinion that believing in positive outcomes is integral to processing negative ones.
Even with all of the macropolitical events and new COVID strains that preluded 2021, the veteran psychologist has observed a wave of optimism among populations around the world.
The secret appears to be appreciating the long-view. As it pertains to resolutions specifically, Santos warns readers not to let perfection become the enemy of the good.
Despite perceived wisdom, the research literature actually shows that being forgiving of our shortcomings is more conducive to meaningful change than being overly self-critical.
“Research shows this collective new year optimism provides a powerful opportunity to change our behavior for the better. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Katy Milkman and others have shown that people are more driven to tackle new goals at shared temporal breaks than at random times of the year; something she calls the “fresh start effect,” Santos wrote in the new paper.
“Whether it’s a birthday, the first day of school or even a Monday morning, fresh start moments give us a boost of motivation by focusing our attention on the big picture and what we really want out of life. They make us feel less weighed down by past mistakes as if we’ve been given a blank slate. But if we don’t approach our goals wisely, resolutions can do more harm than good.”
Establishing resolutions has a way of encouraging self-loathing because it welcomes unreasonable expectations. Santos recommends an incremental approach to self-improvement so that if we fall short of our goals we can remind ourselves that the big picture is still attainable.
Recently, Ladders covered the statistics around New Year’s resolutions in the US.
In a research paper conducted by the University of Scranton, it was revealed that although 73% of people set resolutions each year, 77% only stick to them for a week and only 19% of people who made resolutions achieved them within two years.
This is why psychologists implore us to aspire towards goals as opposed to dramatic desires.
The S.M.A.R.T Forumala (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) provides a roadmap to improvement with tangible posts.
This is important because COVID-19 has enforced a new pace on the world. Objectives that were practical a year ago, are lofty for some.
With Santos’ method of self-kindness and the S.M.A.R.T formula, we can grade our actions on a curve.
“When that drill sergeant wants to pipe up, switch to a different inner monologue. Talk to yourself like a loving parent or coach who’s trying to soothe rather than scold. Remind yourself that being human means not being perfect all the time, and give yourself compassionate touches: Neff suggests stroking your hand as you would to soothe a friend. While this might seem self-indulgent and hippy-dippy, the science shows it’s an effective way to meet our goals. Neff and others have found that people who are self-compassionate eat better, exercise more, and are happier with their bodies. They also procrastinate less and bounce back more resiliently after failures,” Santos concluded.
“By recognizing the ways our minds lead us astray, we can be sure not to squander the powerful fresh start effect of the new year. Doing so requires overcoming the overwhelming cultural urge to pursue total change, as well as extending ourselves a little grace. And that’s why I’ve committed to a different resolution this year: instead of hitting the gym or the diet books, I’ve pledged a little more self-compassion.I suggest you do, too.”