by Laura Nalin, LPC, CADC
As the New Year unfolds, people typically embark on the journey of self-improvement, dreaming of resolutions aimed at fostering positive change. However, despite our best intentions, many of us find ourselves grappling with the challenge of maintaining these resolutions over time. The culprit behind our struggles may lie in a psychological phenomenon known as temporal discounting, where the value of future rewards diminishes as they move further away in time.
Temporal discounting is a cognitive bias that influences our decision-making by prioritizing immediate gratification over delayed rewards. While it's a natural aspect of human behavior, it often becomes a stumbling block when trying to adhere to long-term goals, such as those set in the New Year. Fortunately, research suggests that befriending our future selves can serve as a powerful strategy to overcome temporal discounting and foster lasting positive change.
One longitudinal study I often mention is sessions is the "Marshmallow Experiment" conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. In this groundbreaking study, preschoolers were presented with a tempting choice: they could either eat one marshmallow immediately or wait for 15 minutes and receive two marshmallows. The findings revealed a striking correlation between the ability to delay gratification and later life success.
Children who demonstrated the capacity to resist the allure of instant satisfaction tended to exhibit better academic performance, improved health outcomes, and higher levels of self-control in adulthood. This experiment underscores the significance of considering the future self when making decisions in the present, illustrating how the ability to delay gratification can have far-reaching implications for one's life.
So, how can we apply the lessons learned from the Marshmallow Experiment to enhance our chances of sticking to our New Year's resolutions? One key strategy involves building a stronger connection with our future selves. By envisioning the positive outcomes and rewards that will result from our efforts, we can counteract the immediate pull of instant gratification.
Consider the example of someone resolving to adopt a healthier lifestyle in the New Year. In the face of a tempting slice of cake or the allure of skipping a workout, picturing the future self reaping the benefits of improved health, increased energy, and enhanced well-being can act as a powerful motivator. This mental shift transforms the decision-making process, making the long-term rewards more salient and compelling.
In addition to visualization, I also recommend employing tools such as goal-setting and implementation intentions to strengthen the bond with our future selves. Goal-setting involves defining clear and achievable objectives, while implementation intentions involve specifying the when, where, and how of goal-related actions. Together, these strategies create a roadmap for success and help bridge the gap between our present and future selves.
Furthermore, recent research in neuroscience suggests that cultivating a sense of empathy towards our future selves can enhance our ability to resist immediate temptations. Brain imaging studies indicate that when individuals think about their future selves, the same neural networks associated with thinking about others are activated. This suggests that treating our future selves with the same care and consideration as we would a friend or loved one can foster a stronger commitment to long-term goals.
As we embark on the journey of self-improvement in the New Year, let's draw inspiration from the Marshmallow Experiment and the concept of temporal discounting. By befriending our future selves, visualizing the rewards of our efforts, and employing strategic goal-setting, we can navigate the challenges of temporal discounting and increase the likelihood of maintaining our resolutions.
In addition to these strategies, let's also consider the wisdom of nature in influencing our decisions. Just as seasons change, so do our energies and motivations. Embracing the cyclical nature of life, it's important to recognize that winter can be a season of rest and reflection. Just as trees shed their leaves to conserve energy, allowing goals to take root during this period can set the stage for vibrant growth in the spring.
It's okay to rest, recharge, and allow our aspirations to bloom when the conditions are right. The ebb and flow of nature's cycles teach us that there's a time for action and a time for stillness. By aligning our goals with the rhythm of the seasons, we can cultivate a more sustainable and harmonious approach to self-improvement.
As we build a deeper connection with the individuals we aspire to become, let's also acknowledge and honor the influence of nature on our journey. By integrating the wisdom of both psychology and the natural world, we pave the way for lasting positive change and a fulfilling journey towards self-discovery.