It’s only the 2nd of January, but already the promises you made to yourself at midnight 2 days ago are starting to clash up against your work/life balance and those chocolates your mum brought you for Christmas. Sticking to a New Year’s resolution is tough.  It it was easy, we wouldn’t need to reaffirm them every year, but are there any tricks you can take from our Digital Psychology tool kit?

Funny you should ask…

The trick to successfully keeping your resolution intact is cognitive amplification. “Cognition” is just psychologies fancy way of saying belief, and belief is what makes the world go around (if you thought it was love, I’m sorry to say you’ve been misled by Hollywood).

I believe!

Believe you can stick to your New Year’s resolution my child

Belief is everywhere, and I’m not just talking about the religious, bearded chap sitting on a cloud type of belief that you see posted on bill boards outside churches.  No, I’m talking about your everyday common or garden beliefs.  Like the belief that you’re going to go to the shops later, that red is your favourite colour, or the recurring belief that jumping out of a third floor window is a bad idea.  Every decision we make, every single minute of every single day is based on beliefs.  I’m even typing this because I believe that you’re going to dedicate your time reading it.

Now, if there’s one thing you should learn from digital psychology, it’s that beliefs are malleable. How’s that you ask?

Good question…

Belief can be reduced, subverted, or amplified. Let’s take the example of an online purchase. You may go to Amazon.com with the intention of buying a new Auna AV2-CD508 amplifier for your HiFi (nope, I’ve never heard of them before either, but that’s beside the point).  You’re keen to buy an Auna product because you’ve had great positive experiences of their products in the past.  Your belief that Auna products are good and that you are going to buy one is a cognition.

How could Amazon reduce that cognition?

Quite easily, as it happens.  On checking out the amp’s product page, I can see that it’s only got a user rating of 3/5 stars, based on 13 customer reviews.  Hmm…  that makes me a little nervous.  Suddenly, my belief’s not quite as concrete as it should be before committing to a purchase. Maybe I should look at some other amps instead?

Now it’s time for Amazon to start subverting my cognition. What’s that in the ‘sponsored items similar to this item’ widget?  Why it’s a Fatman Mi-Tube 2 Bluetooth Hybrid Valve Amplifier.  Wow! – it’s got 5/5 stars, 30% off, and it’s available for next day delivery.  Consider my cognition well and truly subverted.

This new amp looks pretty amazing, I’ll grant you, but it’s also a lot more expensive than the original Auna amp.  Time for some cognition amplification

What’s that, there’s only one left in stock?  Geez, they must be really popular. And from reading the reviews, it really does sound like an awesome product.  And when I look at the other Fat Man products, they’re all really expensive. £250 by comparison looks quite reasonable.

Oh go on then, I’ll take two.

Job done!

So, returning back to the topic of this post, how can we use these cognitive techniques to increase your chances of keeping your new year’s resolutions?

cognition amplification through stating

“I must keep my new year’s resolution. I must keep my new year’s resolution”

Well, there are a myriad of cognitive amplification techniques that are used within digital psychology (I’ve just walked you through a few in the previous example).  Two of my favourites are ‘stating’ and ‘sharing’. The act of stating a cognition i.e. writing it down, has been shown in numerous examples to amplify the cognition being stated (there’s a good reason why misbehaving school pupils are often required to write lines up on a blackboard). Indeed, eminent 20th Century psychologist Edgar Schein discovered during the Korean War that the Chinese required American PoWs to repeatedly copy out communist mantra as part of their indoctrination process. The technique proved remarkably effective at converting prisoners to the communist way of thinking.

The second technique, sharing, requires you, the aspiring resolution maker, to publicise your resolution as widely as possible.  In the pre-social media age this would have required writing down your resolution and posting it to friends and family, but in this new age, simply sharing your resolution via your social and messaging networks will have the same effect.

So be loud and proud, and announce to the world via Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp your good intentions (and if you’re not confident enough to do this, then you probably wouldn’t have gone through with your resolution anyway.  A secret cognition’s a pretty flimsy thing).

And on that note, I’ll wish you all a wonderful 2015, and may all your resolutions hold true.

All the best

Andrew (The Guku)