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New Year’s resolutions, backed by Northwestern research

Tired of writing about cliché resolutions every New Year? Northwestern University experts share unique resolution ideas based on research published in 2019

This year, Northwestern experts proved the benefits of a number of innovative resolution ideas, from playing sports to promote brain health to talking to children to prevent development of racial bias. 

The following experts are available to discuss their scientific research in the context of health-, career- and relationship-focused New Year’s resolutions:  



Skip the hand sanitizer 

EricaHartmannHealthResolutions2Erica Hartmann recommends putting away the antibacterial cleansers because skin and surface sterilization, even at the gym, is contributing to antibiotic drug resistance.

“The vast majority of microbes around us aren’t bad and may even be goodWipe down gym equipment with a towel. Wash your hands with plain soap and water. There is absolutely no reason to use antibacterial cleansers and hand soaps.” 

Read more about this research in our story “Stop sterilizing your dust.

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Avoid packaged foods, especially in the U.S. 

AbigailBaldridgeHealthResolutionsAbigail Baldridge says that for a healthier New Year, it’s best to skip the packaged foods and eat fresh, especially if you live in the U.S. where the vast majority of packaged food is ultra-processed, with higher median sugar and sodium content compared to other western countries. 

“To say that our food supply is highly processed won’t shock anyone, but it’s important that we hold food and beverage manufacturers accountable by continually documenting how they’re doing in terms of providing healthy foods for consumers. The verdict is they can and should be doing a whole lot better.” 

Read more about this research in our story, “America’s packaged food supply is ultra-processed.

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Play sports for a healthier brain 

NinaKrausHealthResolutionsMany recent headlines focus on the dangers of contact sports, but Nina Kraus finds that, in the absence of injuries, playing sports actually improves auditory processing in the brain. This means athletes are better able to distinguish voices from background noise, such as hearing their coach over the cheering crowd. 

 “A serious commitment to physical activity seems to track with a quieter nervous system. And perhaps, if you have a healthier nervous system, you may be able to better handle injury or other health problems.” 
Read more about this research in our story, “Play sports for a healthier brain."

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Incorporate mindset into your fitness plan 

RobertKushnerHealthResolutionsRobert Kushner proposes health plans that are about more than food restrictions. His scientifically-validated Six Factor Quiz helps people identify their fitness challenges in order to permanently change their lifestyles. 

“Each person and situation is inherently unique, which is why one-size-fits-all diets consistently fail. You need to address one’s lifestyle challenges and understand which of the many barriers – behavioral, psychological and physical – need to be overcome.” 

Read more about this research and take the quiz in our story, “Why you fail at weight control."

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Network with other women 

BrianUzziYangYangCareerResolutionsBrian Uzzi and Yang Yang have a career-focused resolution for women: build a close network of other women. Their research finds women learn from other women how to navigate male-dominated workplaces in order to achieve greater professional success. 

“Such an inner circle can provide trustworthy, gender-relevant information about job cultures and social support, which are very important to women in male-dominated settings.” 

Read more about this research in our story, “Most successful women surround themselves with other women.

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Focus on failure in order to achieve ultimate success

DashunWangCareerResolutionsDashun Wang finds that failure is a great predictor of long-term success. Those who fail early in their careers actually do better in the long run, and he says it has to do with how people incorporate the lessons learned from failure. 

 “A key characteristic of failure is that no one is immune to it. And when that happens, we hope these results give you reasons to be optimistic, as they highlight the importance of perseverance and suggest that good things may await those who stay the course.” 

Read more about this research in our story, “Failure prognosis: data science predicts which failures will ultimately succeed."

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Have a problem? Sleep on it 

MarkBeemanRelationshipResolutionsMark Beeman has scientifically proven, for the first time, that people are better able to solve problems the next day, after a good night’s sleep. This is likely due to the way the brain consolidates and reorganizes memories during sleep. 

“If you want to solve problems or make the best decisions, it’s better to sleep on it than to be on Twitter at 3 a.m. This study provides yet more evidence that brain processing during sleep is helpful to daytime cognition.” 

Read more about this research in our story, “Have a vexing problem? Sleep on it.

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Talk to your kids about racial bias 

 SylviaPerryRelationshipResolutionsSylvia Perry finds it is important to explicitly discuss racial bias with children because by not socializing children about race, parents may be unintentionally setting children up to be ignorant to inequalities that persist in society, and they may even be implicitly endorsing the negative racial messages children are exposed to. 

“This strategy impacts racial attitudes when children are still in the process of developing, which has been referred to as an optimal time for intervention.” 

Read more about this research in our story, “White parents aware of racial bias more likely to discuss current racial events with their children."

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Focus on the family, not just the kids

KelseyHowardRelationshipResolutionsKelsey Howard has found that parents often put their marital relationship on the backburner while caring for teens with depression. They maintain a stable marriage while the teen is in active treatment, but struggle in their relationships when treatment ends.

“Families are interactive, fragile ecosystems, and a shift in a teenager’s mood can undoubtedly alter the family’s balance – negatively or positively.” 

Read more about this research in our story, “Parents of depressed teens in treatment may also benefit from counseling."

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Be careful with your body language 

SylviaPerryRelationshipResolutions2Sylvia Perry finds that our body language toward individuals affects how others perceive them. For example, if Jane behaves in an unfriendly manner toward John, others in the room will perceive John as unfriendly. 

“We could be picking up messages from nonverbal signals in our environment that we are not even aware of. These findings suggest that when we see people being less friendly toward one individual, we often attribute the unfriendliness to the target, believing that we like them less because they are not friendly, when in fact, it is others who were not friendly to them.” 

Read more about this research in our story, “Are attitudes contagious?

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