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10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions

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New Year's resolutions have a habit of being broken more than any other goals. This year, impress your friends and show yourself resolved to follow through with these 10 scientifically-proven ways to honor your commitments to self-improvement and healthy change.

1. TO FEEL MORE FULFILLED, VOLUNTEER.

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People who volunteer as little as two hours each week report greater happiness, sense of purpose, and increased health. One study in Social Science and Medicine suggests that volunteering might contribute to happiness levels "by increasing empathic emotions, shifting aspirations," and helping people to re-evaluate their own life situations. Moreover, volunteering is protective in older adults against cognitive and physical decline.

2. TO INCREASE DISCIPLINE, REDUCE "ACTIVATION EFFORT."

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If this year you’re planning to learn a language or unpack that ukulele, you might want to take advantage of "happiness researcher" Shawn Achor’s "20 second rule." The author of The Happiness Advantage discovered that just 20 extra seconds of "activation effort"—the energy it takes to get started—is enough to cause most people not to do an activity. He found that if he reduced the time it takes to do something new by 20 seconds, such as moving the guitar next to the couch instead of hiding it away in the closet, he was more likely to do it every day.

3. TO BE MORE CREATIVE, MAKE ART WHEN YOU'RE HAPPY.

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Contrary to the popular notion that tortured artists make the best art, a recent study in the journal Nature found a link between increased creativity and positive emotion. Lead author Malinda McPherson found that "emotion has a huge effect on the way our brains can be creative," she told The Atlantic. Her research with jazz musicians found that positive emotion was related to a "deeper state of creative flow."

4. TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE, TAKE MORE BREAKS.

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If this is the year you aim to become more productive, the best thing you can do for yourself is to take more breaks. That’s right, do less to do more. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that frequent, short breaks that begin as early as a couple of hours after you begin work are most effective at refreshing employees. Overwork leads to exhaustion and an increase in stress hormones, which can create cycles of burnout.

5. TO EXPERIENCE GREATER HAPPINESS, TRAVEL MORE.

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Research shows we are happier when we spend our money on experiences and travel versus obtaining material things. Don’t forget the axiom, you can’t take it with you when you die… People’s greatest regrets at the end of their lives tend to be the things they did not do. And another study in Psychological Science, in which participants were fed chocolates, found that we tend to focus most potently on the "last" of an experience, so end your vacations on a high note.

6. TO QUIT SMOKING, DON'T GO AT IT ALONE.

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While there is an undeniable physical addiction to break with smoking, the National Institutes of Health has found that smoking cessation counseling programs and/or cognitive behavioral therapy are the most effective way to ensure you can quit. Of course, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which may include weaning off cigarettes through nicotine gum, nasal sprays, patches, or lozenges, improves quit rates by as much as 50 to 70 percent over no NRT therapy, so the two methods together may give you mega quitting power.

7. TO LOSE WEIGHT, STOP FOCUSING ON WEIGHT.

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Focusing on how much you weigh can defeat the process of trying to lose weight, according to an unlikely source: neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, author of Why Diets Make Us Fat. She asserts that our brains control our body weight at a "set point" within 10-15 pounds, because the brain is hardwired for survival. The brain perceives diets as a threat to survival and increases stress hormones, which are also linked to increased weight gain. Aamodt says to concentrate on a slow and steady regime of regular exercise, good food choices, and stress reduction instead. But don’t rely upon exercise alone. Try mindful eating—pay careful attention to your feelings and attitudes about food and choose opportunities to give your body what it needs versus what it craves.

8. TO SAVE MORE MONEY, RESTRICT YOUR ACCESS.

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When you make it harder to take out money, you save more. According to a study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, participants who committed to a restricted access savings account, versus a control group that did not, saved more money than the control. You can set up a savings account that penalizes you for taking out money over a certain dollar amount or more than a specified number of times per month. You could also take a set chunk of savings and invest it in a Certificate of Deposit (CD), which has a fixed investment period of usually several years, and a fixed interest rate, so you’re guaranteed not to lose any money.

9. TO FORM NEW HABITS, GIVE THEM MORE TIME TO STICK.

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Pop-science has erroneously spread the belief that all it takes to forge a new habit is about one month of consistent activity. A British researcher found that, in fact, it’s closer to 66 days. Luckily, you can miss a day in there, so long as you lay out a plan in advance that sets out concrete actions you can take on a daily basis, and do not feel pressured to "perform."

10. CHOOSE A RESOLUTION THAT DOESN'T REQUIRE WILLPOWER.

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The secret to successfully following through on any of these resolutions is to start with those that don’t require willpower. A body of research has found that when people must exert extreme willpower, a function of the prefrontal cortex, it exhausts other functions such as mental endurance and the will to follow through. Willpower is a mental muscle that must be trained, so consider choosing a resolution that adds something to your life (such as joining a book club or making more homemade smoothies), rather than taking away (such as cutting out sugar or drinking all at once). Or, make strengthening your willpower your resolution.

This story originally ran in 2016.

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Interactive Chart Tells You How Long It Takes to Get Frostbite
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For many people, winter means dry skin and high heating bills. But if you find yourself outdoors in the right conditions, it can also mean frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the skin and the tissue beneath it freezes, causing pain, loss of sensation, or worse. It's easier to contract than you may think, even if you don't live in the Siberian tundra. To see if frostbite poses a threat where you live, check out this chart spotted by Digg.

The chart, developed by Pooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, looks at three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time spent outdoors. You can hover your cursor over data-points on the table to see how long you'd need to be exposed to certain wind chills for your skin tissue to freeze. If the wind chill is -22°F, for example (10°F air temperature with 5 mph winds), it would take 31 minutes of being outside before frostbite sets in. You can also look at the time scale above the chart to calculate it a different way. If you bring your cursor to the 40-minute mark, a window will tell that frostbite becomes a risk after exposure to -17°F wind chill for that amount of time. You can play with the interactive table at Tableau Public.

Chart of cold weather conditions.
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If you can't avoid being outside in extreme wind and cold, there are a few steps you can take to keep your skin protected. Wear lots of layers, including multiple socks, and wrap your face with a scarf or face mask before venturing into the cold. Also, remember to stay hydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, drinking at least one glass of water before going outside decreases your risk of contracting frostbite.

[h/t Digg]

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Flurry Road: 5 Tips for Safe Driving on Winter Roads
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For drivers in the Upper Midwest, traveling during the winter can range from slightly unsettling to deadly. Between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center, an average of 800 fatalities occurred annually as a result of weather-related accidents. Icy roads, poor visibility, and other factors can make cold-weather commuting a dicey proposition.

While we can’t control the weather (yet), we can increase our odds of navigating slush-filled roadways successfully. Mental Floss spoke with American Automobile Association (AAA) driving education expert William Van Tassel, Ph.D., for some key tips on how to get your winter driving in gear.

1. GATHER SUPPLIES.

Before you even start your car up for a trip through inclement weather, Van Tassel recommends you pack a worst-case scenario trunk full of supplies. “In case of emergency, you want things on board like water, a blanket, a flashlight, gloves, and kitty litter,” he says. (That last one is for traction in case you get stuck in a snowbank.) You should also have road flares, a shovel, an ice scraper, and a fully-charged cell phone to call for assistance if needed.

2. SLOW DOWN.

Posted speed limit signs assume you’re driving on clear and clean roadways. If snow or ice has accumulated, you need to adjust your speed accordingly. “In slick conditions, tires lose a lot of traction,” Van Tassel says. “You should be cutting your speed down by half or more.” Unfortunately, a lot of people learn this the hard way. “After a snowstorm, we’ll see more crashes on day one than days two or three.”

Van Tassel also cautions to avoid becoming overconfident on snow tires. While they provide better traction in bad weather, it’s not license to speed up.

3. MAINTAIN A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OTHER CARS.

You should be doing this regardless, but bad weather makes it even more crucial. Keep your vehicle at a safe distance from cars behind, in front, and off to the sides, as well as away from pedestrians or cyclists. If you need to brake suddenly, you need time—and space—to avoid a collision. “You really want more space in front,” Van Tassel says. Try to stay between seven and 10 seconds behind the vehicle ahead. That means seeing a landmark and then counting down until you pass the same marker. If you’re only a few seconds behind, you’re too close.

4. DON’T STEER INTO SKIDS.

“That was an old rule of thumb,” Van Tassel says. “The problem is, by the time I remember to steer into a skid, I’m already in a ditch.” If you feel your vehicle sliding, it’s better to steer in the direction you want to go. “You’ll drive where you look, so don’t look at a telephone pole.”

To help maintain control of the car, you want to focus on doing one thing at a time. “If you’re going through a turn, brake, finish braking, then turn. Don’t brake and turn at the same time.”

5. KEEP YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON.

Yep, even in broad daylight. Bad weather limits visibility, and headlights allow both you and your fellow drivers to orient a vehicle. “You’re twice as visible to other drivers that way,” Van Tassel says. “When people can see you, they can avoid you.”

Van Tassel also recommends that drivers avoid relying on fancy car technology to keep them safe. While blind spot monitoring and lane changing sensors are useful, they’re not there so you can zone out. “The tech is there to back you up if you need it. Drive the car, but don’t rely on those things,” he says.

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