New Year's resolutions are notoriously short lived, but they don't have to be. Follow this advice from UT researchers who know what fuels the human mind and body, and you're sure to see a whole new you in 2014.
Resolution: Choose an exercise regime and stick with it
Strategy: Don't ease into it; start at high intensity
Resetting after the indulgent holiday season sounds like a great idea, but many who set exercising as a goal find it hard to stick with a program. Turns out that easing into new activity isn't the answer, according to research by Molly Bray, geneticist and exercise physiologist in UT's School of Human Ecology.
Bray recommends working out at higher intensities. The longer a participant in her study maintained an optimal heart rate (find your target heart rate zone) and the higher the heart rate, the more likely that person was to complete the exercise program and see results.
"Many people can tolerate a higher intensity of exercise than they think, and they often feel better after such a workout," Bray says.
A higher exercise dose is associated with greater positive changes in several health risk factors (including body mass index, weight, percent body fat and resting heart rate). But it may be actual brain chemical changes, in addition to positive effects, that help people stick to a vigorous exercise program.
Consistency is key. "Consistent workouts can also help to establish a base of fitness that makes successive workouts easier," Bray says. "Exercising only once a week is like starting over every time."
Resolution: Learn to negotiate more effectively
Strategy: Make the ask
If 2014 is going to be the year of your professional reinvention, pursuing new opportunities may require some negotiation. Unfortunately, according to Doug Dierking, senior lecturer in management at the McCombs School of Business, successful negotiators are the exception rather than the rule.
Rule number one for a good negotiation: ask.
"It's very common for people to feel reluctant to ask for things, even things they really are entitled to," Dierking says.
In the lead-up to the ask, it's important to have confidence and consider the other side's perspective.
"Most of the time, when people look at negotiation they only consider their own perspective," he says. "People who are very successful are good at putting themselves in the other sides' shoes."
For instance, pick the right time. If your ask would inconvenience the other person, then it's probably not the right time.
Equally important is to ask for something reasonable, something the requestee can conceivably grant. Make sure you're talking to the decision maker.
According to Dierking, who teaches "The Art and Science of Negotiation" in the Texas MBA program, inexperienced negotiators make three common mistakes: asking for something that is not reasonable, making a demand instead of an ask, and not asking in the first place. The last, of course, is the most common.
"The worst somebody can do is say no, but you've already got no," Dierking says. "You're working from no."
Resolution: Breaking bad habits
Strategy: Understand how your brain creates patterns
Quit smoking. Stop eating junk food. Turn off the TV. Resolutions often center on ending a bad habit. But, according to psychology professor Art Markman, it's almost impossible to break a habit without replacing it with something else.
Take snacking. Your first thought may be to change the habit of snacking by replacing it with nothing (i.e., NOT snacking). "But your brain cannot learn to do nothing," Markman says. "So you need to start the process by trying to replace an existing habit with a new one." If you typically snack while watching TV, try knitting instead the new activity will keep your hands busy.
"Your brain is optimized to continue doing what you did last time without having to think about it," Markman says. "So, when you decide you want to change a behavior, you are fighting against millions of years of evolution that have created mechanisms that want you to maintain your behaviors."
Markman's new book, "Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others," is based on cognitive research that shows how to harness the brain's capabilities to adopt better habits.
Another tip? Find someone else with the same goal or who already has the habit you're aiming for. "If you spend time with people who have the habits you want to develop, it will naturally lead you to adopt the same goals."
Good luck with those resolutions and Happy New Year!
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