The types of resolutions we make on New Year’s Eve are generally an attempt to end our indulgences of those things that provide immediate gratification. By doing so, we hope to lose weight, stop smoking or stop drinking, which are often our most addictive behaviors. Addictions occur because they provide rewards. By tricking our minds into believing the misleading messages we say to ourselves, our brains come to believe these addictive rewards are more important than their actual value.
For example, if we trick ourselves into thinking that dressing in a seductive manner or driving a new car will make us attractive, then our prefrontal cortex will factor that belief into our decision-making. Our cognitions may change only if we pay attention to how other people react when our dress is too provocative and we realize we are getting the wrong kind of attention.
Thomas Jefferson wrote about the pursuit of happiness. This also means we have an inalienable right to make self-destructive choices. Society has chosen to make available foods that taste so seductive and provide instant gratification. However, we can train our brains to think differently and delay gratifying behaviors. Instead of focusing on the taste of chocolate melting in our mouth, we can consider the extra pounds we will acquire. This consideration can bring us back to reality.
It is irrational to think that we can eat whatever we want and still maintain a youthful figure. It is rational to think that the consequences of making poor choices are antithetical to what we really want. We will have healthy bodies if we focus on the long-term effects of the choices we make. Fortunately, our bodies send us truthful messages about the decisions we make, especially about the food we eat. For example, if we consume a 12-pack of beer, our body will tell us the resulting hangover is not worth it.
It takes awareness in the prefrontal cortex to recognize consequences of excessive drinking or overeating. To help our prefrontal cortex evaluate the consequences our behavior, we need to pay attention to all the pros and cons in order to make an informed choice. We must not try to trick our minds into thinking, “Just a few bites of chocolate won’t hurt.”
Learning by observation helps us to make good decisions. If Mary Jane starts a new diet every New Year’s Eve and by the middle of January she has given up her diet, then understanding the motives of her behavior gives us a chance to evaluate if the problem is the diet, or Mary Jane. If Mary Jane wants quick results, that would explain a lot. Gaining weight is much easier than losing weight. Nothing that lasts is quickly achieved.
If you decide to start a diet, give up drinking or other destructive behaviors, plan ahead for potential problems. Ask Mary Jane to explain why she quit her diet and evaluate if your decision-making process would be the same. Giving into the tricks we play in our minds to justify making bad choices perpetuates bad behaviors. Good behaviors can have a lasting effect and change your life in positive ways.
Get professional help for guidance that will help safeguard against sabotaging your own goals and objectives. There are medications to help you stop smoking and educational programs to inform the public on the dangers of smoking. Likewise, there is medication to help stop drinking and overeating. Seeing a dietitian helps you make healthy changes to your diet. Happy New Year.