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  • Writer's pictureAdrian Bethune

Is it Time to Ditch the New Years' Resolutions?

Updated: Jan 5

As we approach the cusp of a new year it’s natural to think about fresh starts and what the next 12 months might have in store for us. We might even be thinking about new years' resolutions, reflecting on the things we’d like to change in our lives, leave behind or improve upon.



So, what is it about this time of year that might promote a feeling that we’d be glad to see the back of the past 12 months? And, how can we help to shine a more positive light on our past experiences?


Understanding how the brain works might just help you move forward into the new year with a more positive outlook!


The Negativity Bias

Have you ever noticed that humans can’t help but be drawn to negative stories?


Whether it’s tuning into the news, doom-scrolling on social media or focussing in on that one piece of ‘not-so-great’ feedback amongst a glowing appraisal, psychologists call this the ‘negativity bias’. A hangover from our primitive days, this bias quite literally kept us alive and kicking as our hypervigilance to danger helped us to stay safe on the savannah.


Fast forward a few hundred thousand years and, whilst the day-to-day dangers are no longer there for many of us, our brains continue to scan for threats, fixating on modern day negatives. Neuropsychologist, Dr Rick Hanson, describes the brain as ‘Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good’, meaning that all our bad experiences are ‘stickier’ and more memorable.


So, when you reflect on the past 12 months, just remember that our brains are naturally drawn towards negative experiences, and we might need to make a concerted effort to remember the positive.


Peak-End Theory

To add to our natural inclination to focus on negative experiences, we might also be susceptible to what is known as ‘Peak-End Theory’. This is the idea that when we look back at an experience, our recollection is heavily influenced by the peak emotional response (positive or negative) and how we felt at the end of that experience. For example, we could go on an incredible holiday with many joyous moments but if our flight home is severely delayed and we end up losing our luggage, then our overall impression of the holiday diminishes.


As we know, the festive period can be a fraught time for many. With pressure for perfection, family dynamics to navigate and often a time of loneliness, it’s quite possible that we are entering the new year feeling flatter and more burnt-out than we might have hoped.


Reflecting on our experiences from before the festive period can help us to remember that things might not be all that bad!

 

What Went Well in 2023?

So, with our brains working with a bias towards negative experiences, is it possible to shift our focus towards the positive? In short – yes!


According to research conducted by positive psychologist, Prof. Martin Seligman, writing down three good things that have happened for you at the end of each day – no matter how big or small – can have a profound effect on how we view the world, as well as our levels of happiness and wellbeing. Over time we can retrain our brain to become ‘Velcro for the good’ and lessen the effects of the negativity bias.


By the same token, making a concerted effort to recall the things that went well for you in 2023, might just shift your perspective on the past 12 months and help you step into 2024 with a more positive outlook. Here are three tips to help you with the exercise:


1.       Creating a new tradition

One thing we love to do as a family on New Years’ Eve is to take down our family calendar and look back over the many events and activities we did together. It’s amazing how many things you forget about and it’s a lovely way to reminisce over the past year – savouring the highs and acknowledging the challenges we overcame too.


2.       Scroll for the positives

Scrolling through the thousands of photos we have on our devices can be a great way to prompt our memories. We often snap our way through our daily experiences and micro moments which might have otherwise gone unnoticed and dipping back into these can help us to relive those moments.   



3.       Write it down

Journalling is a brilliant way to record the positive moments in our daily lives. Why not kick-start the New Year and re-wire your negativity bias by making a weekly or daily habit of writing down three good things at the end of the day. If anything, it makes a brilliant read at the end of the year!

 



Whether you’re starting 2024 feeling great about the past 12 months or looking forward to seeing the back of 2023, taking the time to reflect on our experiences can be a great way to see in the new year with a more positive and hopeful outlook.  


Happy New Year!


 

If you enjoyed this take a look at our blog 'Do You Know Your Stress Signals?' with Dr Emma Kell.

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