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It's time to ring in the new year, so lots of people are ready to make their new year's resolutions. With the help of psychology, you too can be on your way to fulfilling your goals this year!

Hosted by: Hank Green
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Hank: Time for a pop quiz, how many of these statements are true of you? 1: You bought a shiny new planner or notebook recently. 2: You’ve been researching gym memberships. 3: You suddenly have a very long list of personal goals. 4: You are considering getting into bullet journaling.   If you checked at least one of these boxes you might have a New Year’s resolution. And if you do, well my friend, you have come to the right place. Here on SciShow Psych we’ve made all kinds of videos that could help you out in the coming weeks. So, kick back, put on your comfy pants, and enjoy some of our favorite psychological life hacks.   First, let’s kick things off with our New Year’s video from last year, which is a good place to start, honestly.

So, here’s Brit with some more about how to set helpful goals.  

Brit: Odds are you’ve made New Year’s resolutions before, and they probably sounded great at the time. Hooray, I’m gonna be a better me, but how often do you stick to those resolutions, really. Maybe you’re motivated to hit the gym for the first couple weeks of the year, but by February you’ve already forgotten where you put your ID card. As frustrating as that can be psychologists do have some insights into why it’s so hard for us to stick to our resolutions.

And some advice for how to actually accomplish them this time around. The biggest problem seems to be the kinds of resolutions we make. Researchers have been trying to pin down what makes a goal motivating for a long time.

According to the commonly accepted goal-setting theory, specific and challenging goals make us work the hardest and perform well, much better than say being told to “do your best.” The “specific” part makes sense, that way your successes are measurable. Over and over again studies have shown that measurable goals work because they allow you to see how things are coming along so you don’t give up right away or feel like you’ll never accomplish as much as you want to.

So if you wanna lose weight, for example, your best bet would be to decide how much weight and by when, rather than just saying you’d like to be thinner. Or if you want to be more adventurous you could commit to trying one new activity a month.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

Brit: - But the idea that we're more likely to succeed with challenging goals is a little less intuitive. You'd think the easier the goal, the more likely you'd be to achieve it. But it turns out that's not the case.

For example, way back in 1976, researchers had 96 people take reading comprehension tests. Some were asked to to try to answer 18 questions correctly, some were asked to try for five questions, and the rest were told to just do their best. They were also split into a timed group and an untimed one.

Those told to try to get 18 right predicted that they'd answer more questions correctly, and then they did. They also put in more effort. Untimed participants who were give the hard goal spent 33% more time working on the questions than those who were given the easy goal and 57% more time than those who were just told to do their best.

Since then, lots of other studies have found the same thing: You're more likely to be successful if you aim long as the goal is still within your reach.

That's actually a pretty big caveat, because generally speaking, goals are a lot harder and take longer to achieve than we think. That miserable depression you feel when you ultimately fail to achieve an impossible goal, it has a special name - "false-hope syndrome."

Obviously, you don't make resolutions thinking you'll fail; you pick things that you think you have control over and because being in control feels good, making resolutions feels good, too. That confidence in your ability to exert control over your behaviors and actions, also known as "self-efficacy," is a key factor in achieving goals.

But it can also make you too cocky. Studies have found that the warm-and-fuzzies that come with goal setting can fade quickly, and when people don't meet those goals, they're more likely to feel badly about themselves or consider themselves failures.

The best solution, researchers say, is to channel Goldilocks and choose resolutions that aren't too easy or too hard but just right. Unfortunately, this can be a bit of a guessing game. Tracking your progress and getting feedback on how you're doing can help you pinpoint where that sweet-spot is.

Research on goal-setting theory has also found some other tricks that might help you stick to your guns. Making your resolution a part of your routine, so there's something consistent reminding you to keep it up, can increase your chance of success.

So can telling other people what you're up to. We tend to not want to look inconsistent -

 (04:00) to (06:00)

- or like failures in front of other people, so making our goals public have been shown to increase our commitment to them. 

And don't worry too much about failure or setbacks. How you frame your successes and failures is really important. Hard goals aren't as motivating if you're worried about failing, and being able to set aside temporary failure makes a big difference in finally succeeding.

But while you're working towards keeping that resolution, it's worth keeping in mind that goals can have negative effects, too. When you're focusing on one thing, sometimes that comes at the expense of other, and focusing on a short-term goal might cause you to overlook long-term consequences. Plus, goals can destroy intrinsic motivation, meaning that you stop doing something because you want to and start doing it because you have to.

These pitfalls are mainly tied to reward systems, which is why it might not be a good idea to try to motivate yourself with a shiny prize for keeping your resolution. So, like, don't commit to learning French because you'll reward yourself with a trip to Paris. Decide you want to learn French, then set up a plan for how many segments of that online course you'll finish by June, or whatever.

And if you're really stuck on what to resolve, you could always decide to watch every single episode of SciShow: it's specific, measurable, and you'll have tons of fascinating facts to share with your friends.

[slide: "SciShow Psych"]

Hank: Okay! So you got your resolution, it's specific, it's measurable, now you just need to turn it into a habit. Well, how do you do that? So here's another one from Brit to help you out, and also to help - let's be honest - me, as well.

[slide: "How to Form a Habit"]

Brit: We talk all the time about our habits. We want to get into the habit of going to the gym, or [SFX: digital beeping] break the habit of hitting snooze...six times in a row. But to actually change our habits, it helps to understand how scientists define them and what research can tell us how to make and break them.

A habit is an action that we do automatically in response to some contextual cue because we've associated that cue with doing that thing. Like buckling your seatbelt automatically when you get in the car - being in the car is the cue, and buckling up is the habit. It might seem like an exaggeration, but the thing that scientists call a habit really is automatic; -

 (06:00) to (08:00)

- really is automatic; you just experience that contextual cue and the habit happens without you having to devote much conscious thought to it.

Those cues can be pretty much anything from seeing a note on the fridge to having just done another activity, and it's the piece that's often overlooked when people talk about habits. A habit isn't just a thing you do; it's also the cue that makes you do it. Psychologists believe we don't always use the best strategy to change our behavior. What seems like the obvious way to go isn't always supported by the research into how people actually form durable habits. 

Like smartphone apps designed to remind you to "do the thing -" great idea, right? Your phone reminds you until eventually, you just do it automatically. But a 2014 study from researchers in the UK showed that reminders from an app can increase the likelihood that you'll do something in the moment, but it'll also work against that thing becoming an automatic habit. Why?

Because you have the reminder to rely on. There's no reason for the habit to become automatic because your phone will tell you what to do and when. But research says there is stuff we can do to be better at making habits.

One strategy is known as "piggybacking." This is where you pile an activity on top of another habit that you're already in the habit of doing. That way, the habit you already have can serve as the cue to do the second one.

For example, a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that people trying to get into the habit of flossing their teeth could piggyback the habit of tooth flossing into the habit of tooth brushing. Furthermore, they had more success forming the habit when they flossed after brushing than when they flossed before, because the tooth brushing became the cue for them to floss.

Now, how long does it take to really pick up a habit? There's a lot of self-help advice out there that tries to convince you that you can "form a habit in 21 days!" But research suggests there's really no set timeline by which a habit is set in stone. It often takes much longer than three weeks, but it also can vary widely from person to person.

One 2010 study of 82 participants tracked how automatic a particular habit became for people over the course of 12 weeks. The researchers then used that information to approximate how long it would take for the habit to become fully automatic for each participant. And -

 (08:00) to (10:00)

And - the results ranged from 18 days to 254 days.

But they also found that occasional missed days didn't doom the habit. You don't have to be perfect; you just have to stick with it.

And then, of course, we often underestimate just how important that context cue is. For instance, a 2012 study found that students who were in the habit of going to sports events at their school's stadium automatically talked louder when they were shown a picture of the stadium. The researchers reasoned that talking loudly in the stadium counted as a habit and just seeing a picture of the place was enough of a cue to trigger it.

In fact, context is so important that it can also be the key to breaking a bad habit. A time when your normal routine is disrupted is a great time for habit breaking. If you move to a new apartment or start a new job, it's the perfect time to try to break that Starbucks habit, especially if you aren't walking by it everyday on the way to the office.

So what does the research tell us about making a habit? Decide which habit you want to incorporate into your daily life. Then, pick a thing or place or event that you encounter every day that you can tie that habit to and every time you encounter that context, do the thing. Some goal-setting advice out there might encourage you to vary your routine to keep it interesting, but with habits, you gotta keep it consistent, because half of the habit is the cue.

With time and repetition, psych researchers tell us it can become automatic. You just gotta have the motivation to stick to it until you don't need motivation anymore.

[slide: "SciShow Psych"]

[Hank]: I'm so glad Psychologists have actually looked into this. Forming habits is hard enough, so it's nice to know that there's some solid research out there.

Okay, so by this point, you might have a resolution in mind, but you might need something a little bit more specific than just "form a habit around it." Like, if your resolution is to stop being afraid of public speaking, you can create all the habits you want, but that might not stop you from wanting to pee your pants every time you have to present in a meeting.

But there's good news here: Psychologists have some specific strategies for you, too. Here's what they have to say about turning anxiety into excitement.

[slide: "How to Turn Anxiety Into Excitement"]

 (10:00) to (12:00)

[slide: "How to Turn Anxiety Into Excitement"]

[Hank]: Picture this: You're backstage getting ready for a concert you've been practicing for for weeks - you are nervous as all get-out, while your friend backstage is smiling and excited and they tell you, "You're not nervous, you're just excited, too!" Depending on how they say that, you might be kind of annoyed, like, you know how you feel.

On the other hand, maybe you've been excited about this show for a while, and trying to channel your energy into that feeling now could actually work.

It's called "emotional reappraisal." The basic idea is that your emotions are really a combination of your physiology and what you're thinking. So, changing what you think can literally change the emotion you experience.

For as long as Psychology has been a thing, there's been some debate about what an emotion is and how it's different from other kinds of thoughts and experiences. But lately, Psychologists are pretty sure that there are at least two major components: some kind of automatic reaction your body is having plus your interpretation of why you're reacting that way.

[SFX: beating heart] Like if your heart starts racing as soon as you see a car speeding down the road [SFX quickens], you'll probably experience that as the fear of possibly being hit because you know that the car could be dangerous.

The latter part is called "appraisal," and it's basically your inferences about why your body feels the way it does. If you can change the appraisal though, you might be able change your emotional experience. Like, if that car is on a racetrack, you're just excited about the race.

One study demonstrated this by recruiting 90 men to participate in an experiment while on a foot-bridge - either a shaky suspension bridge or a stable one. The researchers showed the participants a picture and asked them to tell a story about it. Then, they offered the participant their phone number, saying they could tell them more about the study if they called later.

When these participants, who were all straight men, were on the shaky, scary bridge, the stories they told had more sexual and romantic content, and they were more likely to call the researcher later if... it was a woman.

 (12:00) to (14:00)

[Hank]: - if it was a woman.

But this didn't happen if they were on the sturdy bridge or if the researcher was also a man.

What these Psychologists figured was happening was that on the shaky bridge, people were having a "fear reaction" - things like heart-racing and sweating more. But when the researcher was a woman, they interpreted it sexual attraction, leading to the romantic stories and the increased phone calls. 

People had roughly the same physiological reaction on the shaky bridge, most reported being more fearful. But when given a situation that provided an alternate explanation, they took it. 

We've mentioned this study before in the context of misattribution, where people sometimes can mistake fear for love. But with reappraisal, you can use this quirk of emotions to change your interpretation of your feelings on purpose.

When 140 students were told that they had to deliver a persuasive speech that would be recorded and judged by a committee, they understandably started to get nervous. But then, half the group was told to reappraise their reaction by specifically telling themselves that "they felt excited" - the other half was told to say that "they felt anxious."

Although that didn't change how much anxiety the students reported about the speech, those who were told to say they were "excited" later said they did actually feel excited by it.

But here's the really cool part: The committee was totally real and didn't know what group each of the speakers were in, and they rated participants in the group that told themselves that they were excited as more persuasive, competent, and confident than the group told to appraise their feelings as anxiety.

So while you're reappraising your emotions, you're not denying your feelings. The people in the study still felt nervous, but the change in perspective helped them in other ways, both emotionally and in their performance.

Psychologists think this works because you have two different pathways for how you react emotionally to things. Both of these paths start with the thalamus - that's the part of the brain that monitors all of your sensory input. If something's really outta place, it sends signals that you should spring into action. One signal goes to the amygdala -

 (14:00) to (16:00)

[Hank]: - signal goes to the amygdala - the fast path - and the other, the cortex - the slower path. 

The amygdala starts a fear reaction, which is a big part of its job in general. Meanwhile, the cortex needs to process whether it's really something to be scared of, and then it can send a signal back to the amygdala to say, you know, like, "Chill out, man." This explanation seems to make sense when we actually look at the brains of people, as they reappraise emotions, using FMRI. 

When people were shown negative scenes, their amygdala activated more than with neutral scenes. But when they were asked to reinterpret those scenes with a better story, their amygdala activation went back down. And at the same time, parts of their prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of higher-level reasoning, were activated by that reappraisal.

It's good to note that not everyone is equally good at doing this. Some people who are better at reappraising are referred to having "affective flexibility." This means they're better at avoiding negative responses and focusing on the positive and might also be a sign of better mental health overall. But when you can, reappraising seems to help make your mood more positive, and since reappraising can help make stressful things feel less stressful, it's a pretty useful tool to help you chill out.

[slide: "SciShow Psych"]

[Hank]: Thanks, past-Hank. That was actually... really helpful.

Emotional reappraisal could probably help you achieve all kinds of resolutions, especially ones related to becoming more confident or getting over fears. But there are plenty of other worthy goals out there, too. For instance, maybe one of your resolutions is to feel more comfortable spending time by yourself, to cast aside the FOMO, the "Fear-Of-Missing-Out" on things.

It's easier said than done, but if you're up for it, there are some strategies that can help. Here's Brit with more.

[slide: "The Fomo is Real but You Can Overcome It"]

[Brit]: [checking phone] Just gonna take a minute here to check my feed... Aw, new post and this cat is floofy - yes, LOVE, not (?~15:53) like, mm-hmm... Why are shark attacks trending so-, oh, drone footage, yep, that'll do it. It-, oh!

 (16:00) to (18:00)

[Brit]: - Oh! Looks like Hank and Stefan were hanging out at Olivia's last night, huh. They look like they had fun. Wonder what they were doing there? Was everyone... there? W-, why wasn't... I invite-, wait, did they not like me??

[deliberate exhale]

You might have experienced this downward spiral of emotion we call "FOMO" or the "fear of missing out." We live in a digital age where you can make connections and have instant access to other people's lives with the tap of a finger. But! The nonstop flood of content mean you might come across something you weren't invited to, and that anxiety you feel can be AWFUL.

But luckily, Psychologists have been studying what FOMO is and why it happens, and they've come up with a few tricks to combat it. The buzzy acronym is thought to have originated in the world of marketing and business in the early 2000s, but with the rise of internet culture, it has become a widespread phenomenon.

But it isn't a new one. You see, FOMO is really just a modern take on our innate need to belong to a group; a need which traces all the way back to our earliest ancestors that formed social groups for survival. Our species is exceptionally social. More so than any other primate species to our knowledge, we have evolved to rely on cooperatively living in groups to survive, and that's great! Except that when survival relies on inclusion, being left out may literally be a death sentence. So it's no wonder that humans start to feel a bit anxious when the see members of their social group doing awesome things without them. 

Of course, nowadays, you won't be left in the wild, alone, left to fend for yourself if you're not invited to a party. But it still kinda feels that way. And you still experience a stress response to the perceived threat. Like other fears, FOMO is triggered by activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the "fight or flight" response, and that stress hurts. It doesn't matter that there's no direct damage to your PHYSICAL body occurring. Several studies have demonstrated that the effects of social pain, like being excluded or experiencing a loss, really do activate the same part of the brain as physical pain.

While all that explains why we feel FOMO, it doesn't really give us any clues to combating it. The first step to figuring that out is being able to measure it. So, a group of researchers in 2013 -

 (18:00) to (20:00)

[Brit]: - 2013 collected data from over 1000 participants to develop a psychological assessment tool which specifically measured FOMO. 

And they found that higher FOMO scores correlate with lower scores in mood, general well-being, and overall satisfaction with life circumstances. So, the FOMO is real and it sucks.

To understand how it developed psychologically, in more recent studies, researchers have started viewing the phenomenon through the viewing lens of "self-determination theory." That states that humans have three innate psychological needs for proper psychological development and self-motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

"Autonomy" is the need to be self-sufficient, "competence" is the desire to excel at something, and "relatedness" is the need to belong and be connected with others. Essentially, your fulfillment in these areas explains what motivates you, both internally and externally. And research has suggested that when these needs aren't met, that's when we feel FOMO.

Studies have found negative correlations between FOMO and psychological-need satisfaction. And in particular, people who score low on relatedness or high on needing to belong experience more FOMO. Which makes sense! If you feel less connected to your peers, you feel more anguish at the idea of being left out. 

Researchers have also found that FOMO is exacerbated by something called "individual relative deprivation" - the degree to which someone feels they are being deprived of something they SHOULD have based on social norms. Basically, FOMO seems to be worsened by comparing yourself to your social peers, especially if those peers seem to be better or happier than you. And nothing set you up for constant comparison with your peers like social media. That's probably why FOMO is so closely tied to social media use. 

Studies have found that high FOMO scores correlate with increased Facebook use, even when people find using social networking to be stressful. So, it may be a vicious cycle: you feel FOMO, so you check social media, and that only proves you ARE missing out, so the feeling deepens. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Studies have also found that FOMO correlates with authentic self-presentation on social media - that is, actually sharing your real feelings and what you're doing in life, rather than a glossier version.

 (20:00) to (22:00)

[Brit]: - glossier version. That, in turn is associated with better well-being, presumably because being real fosters more meaningful connections.

And this might explain the somewhat murky conclusions studies have come to regarding social media use and things like depression. Some people - like those with low FOMO or whose FOMO leads them to be more real - it's possible that being online is harmless, or even helps foster connections.

But for others, especially people with high FOMO, scrolling through Twitter or Facebook and seeing all the fun they're not having could worsen their anxiety. Since social media is one of the primary ways we connect as a society, more research is needed to understand how our constant exposure to other people's lives influences FOMO, or is influenced by FOMO, and whether it varies by person or by platform. 

Even without fully understanding the relationship between social media and FOMO though, Psychologists have a few ideas as to how to feel less of it. FOMO stems from outward perceptions, so to combat it, the research suggests turning inward to reflect on your own motivations and happiness - in other words, self-care. Some people find that journaling, meditation, and other mindfulness practices are good ways to reflect inwards instead of focusing on what's happening - or not happening - around you.

The key is breaking the loop of being stuck in FOMO and to be in the present moment. So, the next time you find yourself wishing that you could experience what others have in your social-media feed, unplug and focus on yourself by experiencing something that brings YOU joy instead.

After all, YOLO.

[slide: "SciShow Psych"]

[Hank]: All right. I could talk about resolutions all day, and we've done TONS of other videos that could be helpful to you in the coming year, but for now, I'll leave you with one more.

No matter what your resolution is, I bet you could use a healthy dose of inspiration about how to pursue it. Or at least, you might need that in a few weeks. So for one last video, here are psychology-based strategies about how to get inspired.

[slide: " The Research-Backed Secrets to Getting Inspired"]

[Hank]: Inspiration can be a hard thing to pin down. It's not the same thing as creativity, even though they often go hand-in-hand. But then again, inspiration is often -

 (22:00) to (24:00)

[Hank]: - inspiration is often the jumping-off point for creativity. Although, sometimes a creative though is the spark for inspiration. Then there's the whole issue of how to actually get inspired, because it seems like every article on Pinterest tell you something different.

Thankfully, scientists haven't spent too much time on Pinterest and have come to the rescue with actual research. In the last few decades, they've actually begun to understand inspiration, and they've even found evidence-backed ways to encourage it to happen. So, add this one to your Pinterest board, we guess.

Some of the most important studies on inspiration have come from two psychologists - Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot. Starting in the early 2000s, they studied inspiration from every angle: what it is, how it works, who gets it most, and what situations bring it about. And they were able to turn this nebulous concept into something more concrete and researchable.

According to them, inspiration has three main qualities: one is "evocation," it's evoked spontaneously without your conscious control; another is "approach motivation" or the feeling that you just must make your vision happen right this second; and third - which is probably inspiration's most famous feature - is "transcendence." It's that sense of clarity and single-mindedness when all your other concerns just fall away and the great, wonderful words fall out of your brain and into the keyboard.

That's just me; I don't know how you create. That's how I do it.

The researchers also noted that you can both be inspired BY something, where you appreciate the value of an inspirational thing for its own sake, and be inspired TO DO something - that's where you feel motivated to extend that value to yourself, your work, or the world. According to Thrash and Elliot, real inspiration includes both.

Over the years, these two researchers have been able to put meaningful words to what inspiration is, but they're not the only ones who've studied it. Other papers have also focused on inspiration, and they've showed that - to no one's real surprise -

 (24:00) to (26:00)

- no one's real surprise - amazing things happen when you're inspired. Research has found that it makes people more productive, more creative, and more satisfied with life overall. 

For example, in a study where almost 150 undergrads were given a writing assignment, those who reported being more inspired wrote things that their peers judged to be more creative. They also wrote more and deleted fewer words. Also, in a sample of almost 200 U.S. patent holders, those who reported being inspired most frequently also often had the most patents.

Of course, that all sounds great, but the question we really want to know is - how do you actually make this feeling happen?

Well, for one thing you don't "make it happen." That's the point of "evocation," it has to happen on it's own. That said, researchers have found a few qualities that can encourage it to show up.

In their first study, Thrash and Elliot uncovered correlations between people's personality traits and how often they were inspired. They found inspiration is more associated with openness to experience than it is to conscientiousness. That suggests that to be inspired, you need to be accepting of what comes rather than trying to control those possibilities.

Inspiration was also linked to "intrinsic motivation" and negatively correlated with "extrinsic motivation" -  that is, those who were most frequently inspired WEREN'T driven by some external reward, like money or a promotion; they were motivated by something WITHIN them. In a sense, feeling inspired was its own reward. 

But don't think all it takes is to gaze up at the clouds and wait for this feeling to come either. Another trait associated with it was "work mastery;" that is, having well-developed skills. It was also negatively associated with competitiveness and fear of failure.

The lesson there? Get good at what you do, and "haters gonna hate." Don't listen to 'em. There's a lot to sort out there, but if you want to make inspiration happen, there are ultimately four research-backed ways to help it along.

First, don't pressure yourself. Trying brings willful control -

 (26:00) to (28:00)

- brings willful control into the mix, and that's the opposite of the spontaneous nature of inspiration. 

Second, get in a good head space. Thrash and Elliot found two precursors to inspiration are optimism and self-esteem. If you're feeling down, it's harder to trust that the feeling will come.

Third, do something else that's related to the task at hand. For an example of this one in action, researchers in a 2019 study asked 21 design students to come up with solutions to open-ended design prompts, like "A Device to Fold Hand Towels." 

Each problem was paired with a list of words that either came directly from the problem, was somewhat related to the problem, or was completely unrelated. And those who got a list of related words came up with more ideas for a longer period of time.

So if you're working hard, waiting for your muse to arrive, maybe take a break to admire the work of others in your field. Talk to your friend about what they're working on, read up on your heroes, let your mind wander around the fringes of your focus, and inspiration might pay you a visit.

Finally, it's probably worth developing your skills, too. Remember, work mastery is associated with more frequent inspiration, and Thrash and Elliot also found it's a precursor to this feeling happening in the first place. Plus, it's important in its own right.

In that study that gave people writing assignments, those who reported being more inspired wrote more creative pieces, sure. But pieces written by those who reported putting in more effort were rated as having more technical merit. So, for the best work, you need both.

And that just goes to show that for as great as this feeling is, being inspired isn't the only way to make something that you're proud of and that is great. Working hard is important, too. And, indeed, it might even be that the hard work has to come first.

[slide: "SciShow Psych"]

[Hank]: Thanks for watching this SciShow Psych compilation, if you want to check out some of our other videos, -

 (28:00) to (28:19)

- like, if you have resolutions about emotional intelligence or relationships, you can see some of our other videos at And if you're pursuing a big goal this year, good luck! We're rootin' for you.