Thank God for neuroscientists.
This New Year’s you may make resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, fall in love, make more money, or do any number of things you have determined will make you better, happier, and healthier in 2014.
While these goals are laudable, they may not be attainable — especially if you make several resolutions at the same time. Science tells us that the brain functions like a muscle and if you put to much strain on it, it will simply give out. For example, you wouldn’t go to the gym after an absence of 10 years and attempt to immediately bench press 500 pounds — so why would you do that to your brain?
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for willpower (it’s located just behind the forehead). Here’s the problem with the prefrontal cortex — it’s busy. It is in charge of short-term memory, keeping us focused and solving abstract problems. Asking it to help you quit smoking while all this is going on might be one thing too many for it to handle.
So making many New Year’s resolutions may be setting you up for failure. Your brain may simply be incapable of doing everything you are asking it to do. Bad habits are indeed very hard to break because we generally don’t have to think about them. Developing new good habits requires brainpower.
One scientific study showed that the brain needs also to be well fed to help people develop willpower, which ironically, makes it very, very difficult for us to keep to a diet. It’s a Catch-22 situation: the more your prefrontal cortex is starved of calories, the less you are able to stave off the temptation to eat more.
If you are going to make a New Year’s resolution, try keeping it to one resolution or even half a resolution. Overtaxing your brain doesn’t work. If you feel temptation coming on, distract yourself and you may be able to temporarily clear the temptation out of your consciousness. Scientists call people who excel at controlling their spotlight of attention as “high-delayers.”
Whether you decide to make New Year’s resolutions or not for 2014, the attorneys at the Jurewitz Law Group wish you a happy, healthy, and productive New Year.
Ross Jurewitz is the founder and managing lawyer of the Jurewitz Law Group, a San Diego personal injury attorney law firm. These San Diego injury accident lawyers specialize in helping people seriously injured in a variety of accidents throughout San Diego County and California.
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