It' s that time of the year when resolutions are made and sometimes soonest forgotten after diets are planned and shelved. 

If the Christmas season were a brand, is it ever at risk of being “forgotten” (at least when it comes to what it truly stands for) or even temporarily postponed (in favor of something else)?  Of course Christmas will always be in our hearts (pun intended), just like our favorite brands are, and some things will never change (like drinking our favorite soda despite all the health warnings on sugar content). What might change are  the identities involved, the experiences, the symbols or the memories of something -  is Christmas now known as a season for gaining weight or taking a vacation as FB posts show,  more than for sharing blessings and for celebrating the birth of Jesus?
I would like to relate this reflection on how we seem to connect how we think (or what we remember) with how we feel and act.  One of my areas of interest is neuroscience – which is not really as imposing as one might imagine, especially since what I really like to explore in this field is often combined with other disciplines  - such as neuroleadership, neuromarketing, and even neuroloveology. My interest on how the brain responds to mental or emotional cues, cultural or social symbols, or even environmental and physical codes which lead to certain attitudes and behaviors was brought about my curiosity on why people keep bad habits even if they know these are offensive and annoying to others or even debilitating or fatal for themselves.
I first came across an article by Rock and Schwartz (2006) on the Neuroscience of Leadership which explored how the brain interpreted as negative, any effort to change what it knows to be a habit (think smoking or drug addiction) – only because the brain remembers it so well.  This memory of habits is said to have played an important role in prehistoric times when our ancestors needed to permanently remember what might be edible (smooth, sweet,  bright colored) or  poisonous (smelly, bitter, thorny).  For purposes of organizational change, this is an important input in coaching or mentoring subordinates whose habits need to be managed  – to change a lifetime habit, you cannot just issue a memo.  One needs to pay repeated attention to that behavior you want to change or lead people to discover insights of change by themselves.
On another perspective, at a culture-mind-and-brain conference I attended in UCLA back in 2012, there was a discussion on how, at a biological level, people are being molecularly shaped by their choice (or lack of) of activities – for example, it was found that having a sense of purpose in life may protect against Alzheimer’s or that childhood poverty may lead to a higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome (high blood sugar, obesity) when they get into adulthood.  Most interesting was the finding that those with high level of maternal nurturance were able to ward off these diseases better than others. (Unfortunately, there was no study on the effect of the father in taking care of children among those in lower socio-economic levels.)    Add to this the effect of one’s environment on habits where a study on heroin addiction of soldiers during the Vietnam War showed how a change of location such as when they went back to the US, could lead to the elimination of the drug dependence by just removing mental and visual cues (for example, the sight of an ash tray may provoke a desire to smoke).
Imagine then how our yuletide activities are shaping us both in mind and body – by sheer memory of what an-honest-to-goodness Christmas get together is like for Filipino families, where decors are out and Christmas songs played as early as September, where food is the language of celebration and the reason to get together. When we see red and green for other times of the year (or as early as the “ber” months), are we “programmed” to eat more thinking that just as Christmas is a celebration, so all celebrations must have lechon? Filipinos love to eat, get together, and tell ourselves “it’s okay to eat this much but only during Christmas”.  (How long is our Christmas season again?)  If our activities are changing us biologically, imagine what the next generation’s national weight average might be.  Maybe there ought to be a topic on neuroparty or neuroeating to help us understand this compulsion better.

Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc.  She will be conducting the 20thDelivering Outstanding Service program on July 21-22, 2016 in Makati.  For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.netor call (02) 584-5858 or (02) 412-0034.