Monthly Archives: December 2018
Goal keeping: The psychology of New Year’s resolutions and how to keep them
(Please note: This blog is a slightly extended and fully referenced version of an article that was first published in The Conversation).
Academic research by Dr. John Norcross and his colleagues has shown that up to 50% of adults make New Year’s resolutions (NYRs) and the most common resolutions are wanting to lose weight, doing more exercise, quitting smoking, and saving money. It’s a time that individuals want to re-invent themselves but less than 10% actually manage to keep the NYRs after a few months.
We’ve all made NYRs that we begin with the best of intentions but within a few weeks are back to our old ways. As a Professor of Behavioural Addiction I know how easy people can fall into bad habits, and why on trying to give up those habits is easy to relapse. NYRs usually come in the form of lifestyle changes and changing behaviour that has become routine and habitual (even if they are not problematic) can be very hard to break.
The main reason that people don’t stick to their NYRs is that they set too many and/or they are unrealistic to achieve. There has also been some research by Dr. Janet Polivy and Dr. Peter Herman into ‘false hope syndrome’ (FHS) that is applicable to NYRs. FHS is characterized by an individual’s unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease, and consequences of changing their behaviour.
For some people, it takes something radical for them to change their ways. It took a medical diagnosis to make me give up alcohol and caffeine, and it took pregnancy for my partner to give up cigarette smoking. To change your day-to-day behaviour you also have to change your thinking. But there are tried and tested ways that can help individuals stick to their NYRs and here are my personal favourites:
Be realistic – You need to begin by making NYRs that you can keep and that are practical. If you want to reduce your alcohol intake because you tend to drink alcohol every day, don’t immediately go teetotal. Try to cut out alcohol every other day or have a drink once every three days. Also, breaking up the longer-term goal into more manageable short-term goals can also be beneficial and more rewarding. The same principle can be applied to exercise or eating more healthily.
Do one thing at a time – One of the easiest ways routes to failure is to have too many NYRs. If you want to be fitter and healthier, do just one thing at a time. Give up drinking. Give up smoking. Join a gym. Eat more healthily. But don’t do them all at once. Chose just one and do your best to stick to it. Once you have got one thing under your control, you can begin a second resolution.
Be SMART – Anyone working in a jobs that includes objective-setting will know that any goal should be SMART (i.e., specific, measurable, achievable, realist and time-bound). NYRs should be no different. Cutting down alcohol drinking is an admirable goal but it’s not SMART. Drinking no more than two units of alcohol every other day for one month is a SMART resolution. Connecting the NYR to a specific aspirational goal can also be motivating (e.g., dropping a dress size or losing two inches off your waistline in time for the next summer holiday).
Tell someone your resolution(s) – Letting family and friends around you know that you have a NYR that you really want to keep will act as both a safety barrier and a face-saver. If you really want to cut down smoking or drinking, real friends will not put temptation in your way and can help you in monitoring your day-to-day behaviour. Never be afraid to ask for help and support from those around you.
Change your behaviour with others – Trying to change habitual behaviour on your own can be difficult. For instance, if you and your partner both smoke, drink and/or eat unhealthily, it is really hard for one partner to change their behaviour if the other is still engaged in the same old bad habits. By having the same NYR (e.g., going on a diet), the chances of success will improve if you are both in it together.
Behavioural change isn’t limited to the New Year – Changing your behaviour (or some aspect of it) doesn’t have to be restricted to the start of the New Year. It can be anytime.
Accept lapses as part of the process – It is inevitable that when trying to give up something (alcohol, cigarettes, junk food) that there will be lapses. You shouldn’t feel guilty about giving in to your cravings but accept that it is part of the learning process in enabling behavioural change. Bad habits can take years to become engrained and there are no quick fixes in making major lifestyle changes. These may be clichés but we learn by our mistakes and every day is a new day and you can start each day afresh. Right here. Right now.
Finally, some of you reading this might think all of this sounds like too much hard work and that it’s not worth making NYRs to begin with. However, research by John Norcross and colleagues has also shown that individuals who make NYRs are ten times more likely to achieve their goals than those that don’t make explicit NYRs. Food for thought (rather than thought for food)!
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching one’s personal goals: A motivational perspective focused on autonomy. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(1), 60-67.
Marlatt, G. A., & Kaplan, B. E. (1972). Self-initiated attempts to change behavior: A study of New Year’s resolutions. Psychological Reports, 30(1), 123-131.
Norcross, J. C. (2006). Integrating self-help into psychotherapy: 16 practical suggestions. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37(6), 683-693.
Norcross, J. C., & Mrykalo, M. S. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change Processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405.
Norcross, J. C., Ratzin, A. C., & Payne, D. (1989). Ringing in the New Year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14(2), 205-212.
Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1989). The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(2), 127-134.
Polivy, J. (2001). The false hope syndrome: Unrealistic expectations of self-change. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 25, S80-84.
Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2000). The False-Hope Syndrome Unfulfilled Expectations of Self-Change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(4), 128-131.
Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2002). If at first you don’t succeed: False hopes of self-change. American Psychologist, 57(9), 677-689.
Farm assist? A brief look at ‘tractor sex’
One of my good friends, Dr. Mike Sutton, recently sent me a story he’d come across with the headline “Suffolk man had sex with 450 tractors”. Given my academic interest in paraphilias and fetishism, I decided to try and track down the original source of the story and found that it was first published by the Suffolk Gazette back in 2015. According to the news report:
“Ralph Bishop, 53, was found by police with his trousers around his ankles “interfering” with a tractor parked in a field outside Saxmundham. He was arrested on suspicion of outraging public decency, and admitted to having had sex with around 450 tractors all over the Suffolk countryside. When officers searched his terraced home they found a collection of more than 5,000 tractor images on his laptop. The photos showed Bishop had a special desire for John Deere and Massey Ferguson tractors, particularly green ones. A police insider said: “We couldn’t believe it when we found him in the field. He was wearing a white t-shirt and Wellington boots and very little else. He was clearly in state of high excitement at the rear of the machine. Thankfully nobody else was around, but the field is close to a village primary school so we had to arrest him and educate him about the error of his ways. He told us he was particularly ‘in to’ axle grease and the presence of this around the back of tractors was all too much for him.” Bishop, twice divorced, was released without charge on condition he sought psychological help. He was put on the sex-offenders’ register. “He is also banned from the countryside and is now forbidden to go within one mile of a farm,” the police insider added. “So he has to live and remain in the middle of Ipswich to comply with that. However, we are watching him because we are worried about the safety of several street-cleaning machines.” Another policeman added: “He’ll also need to keep away from the town’s gardens – if he takes a fancy to a lawn mower he might find he loses more than just his liberty.”
Since the publication of this story, it has been re-reported dozens of times including the Daily Star and has even had follow-up stories (also in the Suffolk Gazette) – just type in the words ‘Ralph Bishop’ and ‘tractor’ and you’ll see what I am referring to. Given that I have written a number of articles on what has been termed ‘objectum sexuality’ (involving individuals who have sexual relationships with cars, trains, and bicycles) I wouldn’t have been overly surprised to hear of such a story, but the story is a hoax. My suspicions were raised by some of the alleged quotes from the nameless police officers in the story but the real clue to the story being a hoax (along with the follow-up stories) was that these stories were written by a ‘Crime correspondent’ called ‘Hugh Dunnett’ (‘whodunit’).
Despite the story being a hoax I decided to see if there were any real examples of ‘tractor sex’. A quick bit of Googling demonstrated that there is certainly a niche market for pornographic videos featuring individuals having sex in tractors including Porn Hub and elsewhere (please be warned that clicking on these links leads directly to sexually explicit material). I also found the occasional admission in online forums of individuals who had sexual fantasies concerning tractors but these appeared to be nothing more than isolated dreams rather than being a fetish that was enacted. I also discovered that there is a sexual practice colloquially known as a ‘Kentucky Tractor Puller’. According to online sources, the description is as follows:
“The act of a male and a male or male and a female preforming anal sex. During sex the receiver clenches their butt-cheeks tightly and runs with the penis still in the buttocks”.
I then went onto Google Scholar, and a just published 2018 paper appeared after I had typed in the words ‘tractor sex’. A paper in the journal Medical Journal Armed Forces India by Antonio Ventriglio and colleagues entitled ‘Sexuality in the 21st century: Leather or rubber? Fetishism explained’. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by what I found. In the very first paragraph of the paper, the authors repeated the hoax story:
“In the UK, in early October 2015, a man was arrested for having had sex with 450 tractors. According to the news report, he was found to have over 5000 tractor images on his laptop. He had a special desire for John Deere and Massey Ferguson tractors, particularly the green ones. He was into axle grease, which apparently turned him on sexually. He was placed on the Sexual Offenders’ Register”.
Although academics (including myself) can be fooled by hoaxes, the authors of the paper clearly didn’t even check out the original source. In fact, the authors cited the article that appeared in the Daily Star but if they had continued to read the story to the very end, they would have seen the fact that even the newspaper believed the story to be a hoax.
I then found a 2016 paper by Brian Holoyda and William Newman in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry entitled ‘Childhood animal cruelty, bestiality, and the link to adult interpersonal violence’. I knew the word ‘tractor’ appeared in the paper but I had no idea in what context. I emailed Dr. Holoyda who sent me the paper. I had been expecting to read that there was some kind of bestial act relating to a tractor but this wasn’t the case. It cited a paper published in a 1963 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry by Dr. John Macdonald which related sadistic acts by a farmer (the so-called ‘homocidal triad‘) towards animals:
“Macdonald described some patients who were “very sadistic,” including one patient who “derived satisfaction from telling his wife again and again of an incident in which he assisted in the birth of a calf by hitching the cow to a post and tying a rope from the presenting legs of the calf to his tractor,” the result being that he “gunned the motor and eviscerated the cow” (p. 126). He claimed that “in the very sadistic patients, the triad of childhood cruelty to animals, fire setting and enuresis was often encountered” (p. 126–127), though he never explicitly stated how many patients had a history of these comorbid behaviors. Macdonald reported that within six months of his study, two patients killed a person, neither of whom he identified as having a history of animal cruelty (or enuresis or fire setting, for that matter), and that one patient with schizophrenia committed suicide”.
I ought to add that bestial acts by farmers is not uncommon. The Kinsey Reports (of 1948 and 1953) arguably shocked its readers when it reported that 8% of males and 4% females had at least one sexual experience with an animal. As with necrophiliacs who are often employed in jobs that provide regular contact with dead people, the Kinsey Reports provided much higher prevalence for zoophilic acts among those who worked on farms (for instance, 17% males who had worked on farms had experienced an orgasmic episode involving animals). A more recent reference by Dr. Anil Aggrawal outlining his new typology for zoophilia (which I overviewed in a previous blog) noted the cases of what he described as opportunistic zoosexuals who have normal sexual encounters but who Aggrawal argued would not refrain from having sexual intercourse with animals if the opportunity arose. Aggrawal claims that such behaviour occurs most often in incarcerated or stranded persons, or when the person sees an opportunity to have sex with an animal when they are sure no-one else is present (e.g., farmhands). Aggrawal claims that opportunistic zoosexuals have no emotional attachment to animals despite having sex with them.
Thankfully, I did manage to locate one paper in the academic literature where tractors were inextricably linked with paraphilic behaviour. In 1993, a paper by P.E. Dietz and R.L. O’Halloran entitled ‘Autoerotic fatalities with power hydraulics’ published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. They reported two case studies of men who used “the hydraulic shovels on tractors to suspend themselves for masochistic sexual stimulation”. One of the men was an objectophile (although the authors didn’t call him that – I am using Dr. Amy Marsh’s definition in a 2010 paper on objectum sexuality in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality to classify him as such). This man actually developed a romantic attachment to his tractor, and went as far as giving his tractor a name and writing poetry about it. Unfortunately, the man “died accidentally while intentionally asphyxiating himself through suspension by the neck, leaving clues that he enjoyed perceptual distortions during asphyxiation”.
The second case was a man who was found dead in a barn lying on his front pinned under the hydraulic shovel of his tractor. His body was covered with semen stains and there was evidence of masochistic sexual bondage. His clothes were folded neatly away nearby. He was found naked except for a pair of women’s red shoes (with 8 inch heels), knee high stockings and tape duct wrapped around his ankles. Ropes led from his feet to the tractor which when raised would lift his inverted body causing complete suspension. It is not known exactly what happened but it is likely that the engine stalled and he was crushed underneath the tractor shovel. He died of positional asphyxiation by chest compression. This was an atypical autoerotic fatality because he did not purposely use asphyxiation but it did cause his death.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.
Dietz, P. E., & O’Halloran, R.L. (1993). Autoerotic fatalities with power hydraulics. Journal of Forensic Science, 38(2), 359-364.
“Dunnett, H.” (2015). Suffolk man ‘had sex with 450 tractors’. Suffolk Gazette. Located at: https://www.suffolkgazette.com/news/suffolk-man-sex-with-tractors/
Holoyda, B. J., & Newman, W. J. (2016). Childhood animal cruelty, bestiality, and the link to adult interpersonal violence. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 47, 129-135.
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., Gebhard, P.H. (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Macdonald, J. M. (1963). The threat to kill. American Journal of Psychiatry, 120(2), 125-130.
Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm
Rawle, T. (2015). Perv who romped with 450 TRACTORS caught with 5,000 racy pics of farming vehicles. Daily Star, October 21. Located at: https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/471306/Pervert-tractor-sex-fetish-farm-vehicles-arrested
Ventriglio, A., Bhat, P. S., Torales, J., & Bhugra, D. (2018). Sexuality in the 21st century: Leather or rubber? Fetishism explained. Medical Journal Armed Forces India. Epub ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mjafi.2018.09.009