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A beginner’s guide to choosing the colour of your underwear on New Year’s Eve

When crises came knocking on our doors in 2022, lavender candles were lit, kidcore rainbow charms were donned, credit cards were swiped in fountains, and solutions were manifested to subliminal playlists on YouTube. While doomscrolling and shitposting skyrocketed, most of us squeezed the last drop of serotonin our brains had to offer in the quest for fleeting optimism that could last us the rest of the year.

Well, what if I told you that the holiday season comes with a legendary custom that could—quite literally—help you set the tone for the next 365 days altogether? As 2022 comes to a close, it’s time to pay attention to the tiniest and often overlooked detail in our New Year’s Eve outfit: the colour of our underwear. Let me explain.

The unique tradition of lucky underwear colours

Unless you’re still living in the dial-up modem age of the internet, chances are that you’ve heard about the countless New Year’s Eve traditions around the world. Be it tossing non-lethal furniture out of the balcony, smashing plates on your neighbour’s door, or keeping carp scales in your wallet, these customs hinge on hopes of starting a new chapter every year with fortune and good luck at the forefront.

While the origins of many New Year’s Eve traditions have been lost to time, the custom of wearing undies of a specific colour is believed to have started in Latin America—although countries including Spain and Italy also practise the same.

According to Zenger News, the tradition in question dates back to the Middle Ages when Church authorities barred people from wearing red garments, which were associated with dark forces, blood, and witchcraft. “However, people started to see the colour as an evocation of life and passion. They then began using it during the winter to attract abundance, as this time was when nature dried up and survival was difficult,” the publication reported.

As of today, supermarkets in Mexico are seen selling underwear of different colours—majorly bright red, yellow, and green—leading up to New Year’s Eve. Many Asian countries including China, Taiwan, and the Philippines have also followed suit.

The belief behind the tradition is that the colour of the undies you wear on the last night of the year will dictate your luck for the next 365 days. “There are many different myths and legends,” Clementina Ordoñez, a merchant in the city of Veracruz, Mexico, told Zenger News. “Here, women buy more items than men, although each passing year, the number of interested men grows.”

Although there are no ‘ground rules’ for the custom, many claim that the undergarment should be freshly purchased close to New Year’s Eve. While some believe a clean pair would get the job done, others state that there’s a better chance of embracing luck in the upcoming year if the underwear is gifted by someone else over the holiday season.

Nevertheless, wishing upon a colourful undie has never hurt anyone. So, whether you choose to pair it with a set of matching aura nails or jazz things up with Pantone’s Colour of The Year 2023 ‘Viva Magenta’, here’s an overview of all the lucky underwear colours you can sport when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve:

1. Red

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Was your 2022 Dating Wrapped a brutal reality check of your lacklustre love life? If you’ve been on one too many Tinder dates or stream Joji like there’s no tomorrow, red might just be your lucky colour for 2023.

Red underwear is often worn in the spirit of bringing romance and passion into one’s life. In China, people prefer pairing the colour with gold lace in a bid to embrace loyalty, happiness, and success. In Italy and Spain, red underwear is also considered as the standard to promote a healthy lifestyle.

2. Yellow

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Consider donning a fresh pair of yellow (or gold) underpants if you’re looking to make some serious dough or land a dream job in the year ahead.

The colour essentially symbolises prosperity and wealth in countries like Brazil and Mexico, and is believed to bring a plethora of other successes into your life. When it comes to gold-hued underwear, however, Peru, Chile, and Ecuador have a rule that the pair should be gifted for them to work their sunny magic. In some Latin American countries, people also claim that you should wear yellow underwear backwards or inside out to boost your luck even more. Say less.

3. Green

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As the quintessential colour of nature, you can choose to wear green underwear this New Year’s Eve if you’re addicted to your phone and use TikTok like it’s Google. If you’re a Discord user, the purpose behind that previous line is basically to “go outside and touch some grass fr.”

Symbolising freedom and natural energy, green underwear is said to bestow a change of scenery and pump your life chock full of new possibilities. In some countries, the colour is also believed to usher good fortune—given its association with money and growth.

4. Blue

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If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better, work out more, and take regular mental breaks, blue is your go-to underwear colour. Worn in the hopes of improving health, wellness, and tranquillity in the upcoming year, the colour doubles as a reminder to breathe, listen to your body, and make health your number one priority.

5. White

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If your rat race of a job, social battery, or your exhaustive existence on the internet has drained all of your energy in 2022, listen up. Harbouring parallels with blue underwear, white is the perfect colour choice for those of you who want a little extra serenity in 2023.

As a universal symbol of peace, purity, innocence, happiness, joy, and rebirth, white underwear is donned with the promise of welcoming a fulfilling life and reversing your fate in the year ahead. In Puerto Rico, the colour is also believed to promote fertility, health, and overall zen.

6. Pink

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Why settle for less if the colour of your New Year’s Eve underwear can strengthen your relationship with your boo, friends, and family… right?

As opposed to red, pink underwear is all about evolving your unspoken rizz and inviting harmony into your life. This rosy hue is preferred in South American countries like Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, and is believed to boost your luck when it comes to your social life—coupled with a promise that the future won’t always be so tense. In fact, wearing this colour is said to inspire you to make more concrete plans with your friend group and even hit things off with someone new.

7. Black

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Now, the belief surrounding this colour is quite disputed. While some claim black underwear ushers control, helps you take the reins, focus on your goals, and stay streamlined and organised the following year, others state that the gloomy colour brings nothing but bad luck.

Sure, black lingerie may be sexy to don during New Year’s Eve but, if you ask me, I’d recommend switching things up with another colour just to stay on the safe side. At the end of the day, it’s literally a new year. So, why not take your first step in something more vivid than sticking to a classic shade of underwear?

8. Polka dots

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This last one’s a bit eccentric for a New Year’s tradition. In the Philippines, polka dots—and round shapes, in general—are considered lucky for those seeking riches in the upcoming year. Here, wearing polka-dotted underwear is said to bring you financial prosperity and fortune that could last ages!

If I were you, I’d choose a base colour aligned with your goals and purchase a polka dot version of the same. Boom! Two birds, one stone. Now, it’s your turn to choose your New Year’s Eve underwear wisely.

Master the art of ‘new year, new me’ using behavioural psychology

Failing to keep New Year’s resolutions is just about as popular as making them in the first place. In fact, 25 per cent of people who make a New Year’s resolution are proven to give up by 7 January every year. Many of us are enticed by the clean slate that the time brings along with the opportunity to turn over a new leaf, so we make vows to become healthier, happier and more productive. I mean, who doesn’t want a good excuse to at least try to ditch their bad habits and toxic relationships? But why do so many of us fail, or often give up completely?

Fortunately, behavioural psychologists have been investigating what makes people turn good intentions into long-term habits for over 100 years now. If you want to ensure that your resolutions don’t fail, try using these five tricks from behaviour change psychology to master the art of ‘new year, new me’:

The 21 day myth

Most people would say that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but according to science, that’s a myth. It turns out that 21 days is the minimum amount of time needed, but on average it actually takes around two months to form a new habit. Sometimes, it can even take up to eight whole months if the habit involves a significant lifestyle change.

The length of time needed really depends on how much of a lifestyle change you’re aiming for—for example, deciding to eat a piece of fruit every day will be fairly easy to integrate into your existing routine. However, if you’re trying to overhaul and revamp your entire diet, don’t be disappointed if you don’t develop new taste buds within a month. Forming new habits is a process, and embracing a longer timeline means that you allow enough time to fail and learn from it, rather than seeing it as a reason for giving up.

When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions that stick, try implementing mini habits that you can progressively add into your routine every month. Success is more likely to follow if you set small goals based on achieving a larger goal, as multiple short-term goals are guaranteed to help motivate you in the pursuit of your long-term ambitions. For example, if you want to improve your diet, start with smaller changes like making healthier swaps while you’re out grocery shopping or trying one new recipe a week. Sounds like a good start, right?

Bribe your brain with dopamine

In 2017, a group of researchers investigated why only some people were able to stick to their resolutions with ease while most failed miserably. They were surprised to discover that only one thing predicted long-term success. Surprisingly, it didn’t matter how motivated people were, nor how important they believed their resolutions to be. The only factor that predicted adherence to a long-term goal was whether someone actively enjoyed the behaviour they performed to achieve the goal.

When you enjoy something, the psychological process releases the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter dopamine, which leads to feelings of pleasure and happiness. Many addictive habits—such as smoking, drinking alcohol or eating junk food—are highly rewarding because they result in an instant spike of dopamine. Our brains are hardwired to prefer activities that quickly reward us with this neurotransmitter, which means you have to get creative when it comes to resolutions based on long-term benefits.

One way to do that is by pairing a highly rewarding behaviour (say drinking coffee) with a healthy habit to create a positive association in your brain. For instance, if you want to exercise before work and you love drinking coffee in the morning, make it a rule to only drink coffee after putting your gym clothes on or treat yourself to a coffee on your way to the gym. Soon your brain will learn to associate gym preps with the enjoyment of drinking coffee.

Although tackling addictive behaviour is more difficult, there are ways to break the vicious cycle between cravings and bad habits. London-based psychiatrist and addiction expert, Doctor Alberto Pertusa, recommends trying the famous five-second rule to override cravings. The rule is pretty simple: as soon as you crave something—like a strong drink or a cigarette—start counting backwards (5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0). As soon as you finish counting, you have to immediately launch into any kind of physical activity without much thought, so that there’s no time for your thoughts to creep back in.

The 5-second rule works because counting backwards requires more mental effort than counting forwards, thus engaging the prefrontal cortex in your brain to temporarily override cravings or procrastination. Launching yourself into another activity also helps to distract and stimulate your brain, which reduces the desire for dopamine. In Doctor Pertusa’s experience, using the five-second rule to improve willpower can become a positive habit in itself, although it may not work for everyone.

Resistance is futile

Have you ever tried to stop thinking about something, only to end up obsessing over it instead? Psychology studies have confirmed that trying to give up a bad habit by simply telling yourself not to do it can ironically lead to a behavioural rebound effect.

In one such study, people who tried to stop thinking about eating chocolate for a mere five minutes actually ended up eating more than people who didn’t. Resolutions that focus on avoiding or suppressing a specific behaviour work in similar ways. Another large-scale study of over 1,000 people discovered that New Year’s resolutions based on avoidance were far less successful than ones driven by positive motivation in the long term.

That doesn’t mean you can’t give up a bad habit, but instead of trying to avoid it (and maybe failing to), resolve to replace it with a new one instead. Most (highly rewarding) bad habits are triggered by stress or boredom, so choosing a replacement activity that’s also similar or just as enjoyable can trick your brain out of craving it.

The law of least effort

Want to know why some people exercise, but most of us don’t? According to Professor Seppo Iso-Ahola, exercise undermines our sense of freedom on an unconscious level. While it may sound odd to think of yoga as a form of dictatorship, exercise poses a threat by removing our freedom of choice and taking up our leisure time.

Most of us have a few precious hours of free time a day, so we may begin to unconsciously resent how much time we spend not only exercising itself, but also getting ready or travelling to and from the gym. Over time, our willpower begins to weaken as our conscious desire to exercise battles against our unconscious ones to just chill (what our brain calls libertarian freedom and autonomy of choice). Over time, this depletes our mental energy, so eventually, when faced with the decision of whether or not to exercise, our brain follows the ‘law of least effort’—and we end up binge-watching TV instead.

To combat the law of least effort and overthrow your brain’s libertarian ideologies, you would have to resort to a psychological mind game by creating a forced choice.

To do this, feed your brain with the illusion of autonomy by allowing yourself to choose different activities depending on your mood or how much free time you have. The trick is that all your options have to involve some form of exercise, which makes it mentally easier than ‘all or nothing’ decisions about the activity. For example, if you normally go for a run but you’re tired, you can choose to go for a walk instead. If it’s raining, you’ll have to exercise indoors. You get the idea.

Make it more fun with foreplay

You may have realised by now that your brain is very demanding when it comes to behaviour change. If you want to make things more enjoyable, it’s time to engage in cognitive foreplay.

To explain how this works, it might be helpful to compare it with having a crush on someone. When you like someone, your brain tumbles you into having positive thoughts about them spontaneously, which pop up in your head often throughout the day. What’s fascinating about behaviour change is that you can convince your brain to do the same with specific habits—by actively concentrating and savouring the positive experience while you’re doing it, and also reminding yourself of how nice it was throughout the day.

Savouring the positive experience will lead to spontaneous positive thoughts about it, which fosters motivation on an unconscious level to repeat the activity. Previous studies have shown that people who do this become increasingly sensitive in their ability to derive greater enjoyment from performing positive health behaviours. On a biological level, this essentially rewires your brain to activate the pleasure and reward centres more often—call it cognitive foreplay, if you like.

What have we learned?

Humans are creatures of habit which are formed due to a complex interplay of conscious and unconscious desires—strengthened over time with routine, repetition and positive rewards. Behaviour psychology reinforces the fact that we have the power to mould both our brain’s biology and behaviour, meaning that New Year’s resolutions can be a powerful catalyst for change if we approach our resolutions the right way. So what are you waiting for? Whip out your digital devices and start curating your 2022 vision board as a step in the right direction today.

Anna McLaughlin is an academic Neuroscientist and the Founder of Sci-translate, a digital science communication agency, based in London, UK. With a PhD in Neuroscience & Psychology, MSc in Psychiatric Research and BSc in Psychological Science, she specialises in the neuroscience of wellbeing, which spans mental health, physical health, nutrition, immune function, fitness, sleep and productivity.