Wonkblog’s guide to New Year’s resolutions

December 27, 2012

The end of the year signals the start of an age-old tradition: Setting a New Year's resolution that will likely prove unattainable. Four in five Americans fail to attain their New Year's resolution, with a third giving up before the end of January.

What should you do if you really do want to make your New Year's resolution actually work this time around? Here's what the research says about the best ways to attain some of the most common New Year's goals. 

Resolution: Live longer. Action: Win an Olympic medal! Alternatively, take more naps. 


This man is certainly on the path to a long life.

The British Medical Journal recently looked at the lifespans of nearly 1,000 Olympic athletes who competed in the games between 1898 and 2010. They found that these athletes lived, on average, 2.8 years longer than the average person in their home country. This advantage was true across sports, from cyclists to golfers.

If an Olympic medal doesn't seem to be in the cards, another good route might be sleep more. UnitedHealthCare does an annual survey of 100 centenarians, asking about them the habits they keep in order to understand what might contribute to their longevity. When asked about the behaviors they adopted during their adults years, 88 percent said they "get plenty of rest/sleep." That's more than those who professed to stop smoking or see their doctors regularly.

Resolution: Get smarter. Action: Maintain "funnier, raunchier, stinkier" memories.


Build one of these in your mind, and you'll be remembering names in no time.

Joshua Foer is a science writer who has done extensive research on how to best boost memory. He's even won the U.S.A. Memory Championship (yes, that exists). While he can't tell you exactly how to get smarter, he can tell you how to remember details way better than you can right now.

Foer talks about a something called a "memory palace," where you focus on the very visual details of a scene to enhance memory call. "The idea behind the memory palace is to create this imagined edifice in your mind's eye and populate it with images of things you want to remember," he explains. "The crazier, weirder, more bizarre, funnier, raunchier, stinkier the image is, the more unforgettable its likely to be."

Here's Foer explaining the concept in a recent TED Talk. 

Resolution: Lose weight. Action: Exercise more.

This isn't exactly shocking news: Most scientific research does suggest that more exercise tends to lead to greater weight loss. In 2009, researchers combed through 43 studies that included 3,476 participants and came away with three conclusions. First, when compared with no treatment at all "exercise resulted in small weight losses across studies." Two: "Exercise combined with diet resulted in a greater weight reduction than diet alone. And, lastly, more exercise "increased the magnitude of weight loss."

Resolution: Become more attractive. Action: Cut off your beard.


These competitors in the European Beard Championship could face challenges when they look for love.

Sorry, hipster dudes: Ladies don't think your beard makes you look more manly. Barnaby Dixson, a sociologist at Victoria University in New Zealand, had European and Polynesian women rate the attractiveness of men, with a full beard or no facial hair at all. The results, published last year in the journal Behavioral Ecology, found that women "do not rate bearded male faces as more attractive than clean-shaven faces."

There is, however, a trade-off here as the subjects in both studies did rate the bearded men as likely to be of higher social status. So, take your pick: social status or attractiveness. You can't have both. 

Resolution: Quit smoking. Action: Go to the dentist.

Again: New Years resolutions are so much fun! (Seth W./Flickr)

The Cochrane Collaboration has looked at dozens of interventions to help with tobacco cessation. They've found that combining a behavioral therapy with pharmaceuticals will usually increase the odds of quitting. Their research has also challenged the idea that quitting 'cold turkey' won't work: Cochrane researchers have found that those who quit abruptly or gradually have similar odds of success. 

One surprising finding from the Cochrane Collaboration's work is the success of interventions by dentists, who may notice signs of smoking in a routine exam. "Combined findings from 14 studies including over 10,500 participants showed that tobacco interventions by dental professionals helped tobacco users to quit," the group found in a review published this past summer. 

SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
December 27, 2012

The end of the year signals the start of an age-old tradition: Setting a New Year's resolution that will likely prove unattainable. Four in five Americans fail to attain their New Year's resolution, with a third giving up before the end of January.

What should you do if you really do want to make your New Year's resolution actually work this time around? Here's what the research says about the best ways to attain some of the most common New Year's goals. 

Resolution: Live longer. Action: Win an Olympic medal! Alternatively, take more naps. 


This man is certainly on the path to a long life.

The British Medical Journal recently looked at the lifespans of nearly 1,000 Olympic athletes who competed in the games between 1898 and 2010. They found that these athletes lived, on average, 2.8 years longer than the average person in their home country. This advantage was true across sports, from cyclists to golfers.

If an Olympic medal doesn't seem to be in the cards, another good route might be sleep more. UnitedHealthCare does an annual survey of 100 centenarians, asking about them the habits they keep in order to understand what might contribute to their longevity. When asked about the behaviors they adopted during their adults years, 88 percent said they "get plenty of rest/sleep." That's more than those who professed to stop smoking or see their doctors regularly.

Resolution: Get smarter. Action: Maintain "funnier, raunchier, stinkier" memories.


Build one of these in your mind, and you'll be remembering names in no time.

Joshua Foer is a science writer who has done extensive research on how to best boost memory. He's even won the U.S.A. Memory Championship (yes, that exists). While he can't tell you exactly how to get smarter, he can tell you how to remember details way better than you can right now.

Foer talks about a something called a "memory palace," where you focus on the very visual details of a scene to enhance memory call. "The idea behind the memory palace is to create this imagined edifice in your mind's eye and populate it with images of things you want to remember," he explains. "The crazier, weirder, more bizarre, funnier, raunchier, stinkier the image is, the more unforgettable its likely to be."

Here's Foer explaining the concept in a recent TED Talk. 

Resolution: Lose weight. Action: Exercise more.

This isn't exactly shocking news: Most scientific research does suggest that more exercise tends to lead to greater weight loss. In 2009, researchers combed through 43 studies that included 3,476 participants and came away with three conclusions. First, when compared with no treatment at all "exercise resulted in small weight losses across studies." Two: "Exercise combined with diet resulted in a greater weight reduction than diet alone. And, lastly, more exercise "increased the magnitude of weight loss."

Resolution: Become more attractive. Action: Cut off your beard.


These competitors in the European Beard Championship could face challenges when they look for love.

Sorry, hipster dudes: Ladies don't think your beard makes you look more manly. Barnaby Dixson, a sociologist at Victoria University in New Zealand, had European and Polynesian women rate the attractiveness of men, with a full beard or no facial hair at all. The results, published last year in the journal Behavioral Ecology, found that women "do not rate bearded male faces as more attractive than clean-shaven faces."

There is, however, a trade-off here as the subjects in both studies did rate the bearded men as likely to be of higher social status. So, take your pick: social status or attractiveness. You can't have both. 

Resolution: Quit smoking. Action: Go to the dentist.

Again: New Years resolutions are so much fun! (Seth W./Flickr)

The Cochrane Collaboration has looked at dozens of interventions to help with tobacco cessation. They've found that combining a behavioral therapy with pharmaceuticals will usually increase the odds of quitting. Their research has also challenged the idea that quitting 'cold turkey' won't work: Cochrane researchers have found that those who quit abruptly or gradually have similar odds of success. 

One surprising finding from the Cochrane Collaboration's work is the success of interventions by dentists, who may notice signs of smoking in a routine exam. "Combined findings from 14 studies including over 10,500 participants showed that tobacco interventions by dental professionals helped tobacco users to quit," the group found in a review published this past summer. 

SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Next Story
Brad Plumer | December 27, 2012