TIME Mental Health/Psychology

7 Psychology Tricks to Make Your Resolutions Stick

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One goal, 365 days. Science says you've got this

You know the old goal-setting adage: Don’t bite off more than you can chew (especially if your goal is to lose weight). But if that were all it took, you’d have nailed last year’s plan—and the year before last’s. But plenty of new research into modern psychology and the science of goal-setting and willpower offer some surprising non-cliché tips for making your resolutions work for you.

1. Start on a Monday.

The turn of another year tricks us into seeing our big-picture selves, our slates wiped clean. Take advantage of it. People commit to their goals more fiercely after a major benchmark like New Year’s Day. If you are an I-don’t-believe-in-resolutions person who nonetheless wants to break a bad habit, wait for a Monday. It’s the most popular day of the week for starting diets and stopping smoking, studies show.

2. Don’t just wing it.

How’s this for a terrible irony: the more you want your goal, the less you’re likely to plan for it, according to a forthcoming paper in the journal Behavioral Science and Policy. That’s because we tend to think good intentions are enough, but an actual plan prevents procrastination. People with plans stick to their goals way more often than those who wing it.

3. Do not have a Plan B.

Backup plans backfire by zapping your desire to chase your main goal. In a series of new studies, people who were told to think up a Plan B were less likely to attain their main objective. Researchers suspect that having backup goals may make failure feel somehow more acceptable.

4. Pick a round number.

George Wu, professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and his colleagues recently looked at marathon runners at the bitter end of their races. A huge number of people finished in times that clustered around round numbers, the researchers discovered—like a 4-hour marathon. “Marathon runners feel a lot worse just missing these really arbitrary reference points: the round numbers,” Wu says. So when people are really, really close to just missing their round-number goal, they’re much more likely to speed up at the painful end to beat it. People who are projected to beat it comfortably, however, actually slow down.

5. Put cash on the line.

In a 2008 study, the most effective weight-loss plan was one in which people had to fork over cash if they didn’t meet their goal. After 16 weeks, those with financial incentives lost 14 lb. more than those who just weighed in. Try it at stickK.com, a site designed by behavioral economists who will gladly donate your cash to a recipient of your choice if you fail.

6. Chop it up.

You know how good it feels to tick off an item from your to-do list. Put that to work by hacking a massive goal (reading 24 books a year, say) into parts (two per month). It’s more gratifying than working away at one big goal, says George Wu, professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

7. Conserve your willpower.

Think of willpower as your greatest natural resource, but know that it’s also a finite one, some experts say. Every time you engage your willpower for one task—saying no to a glass of wine, passing up the free cookies at work—you have less to resist other temptations. Since willpower is the secret ingredient to meeting your goals, use it wisely.

 

TIME Infectious Disease

How To Prevent The Flu This Winter

Getting a flu shot tops the list

Flu season may begin as early as October, but it really heats up in December. To stay healthy and enjoy the holidays, follow these basic flu prevention tips.

Get a flu shot

You should have done this months ago, but it’s not too late. This year’s flu shot may not have been the most effective, but the vaccine is the best protection against the disease, which, it bears reminding, is not just a couple of days feeling woozy—some people have to miss work (and play) for weeks when the virus hits. Look for a place that’s still offering the shot and get vaccinated.

Wash Your Hands

The guidelines are pretty simple. Put soap on your hands and wash them with hot water for 20 seconds. Still, more than 95% of people don’t meet this standard, according to a 2013 study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you wash your hands frequently, including but not limited to when you eat, sneeze, touch garbage and use the restroom.

Avoid Sick People

This one is obvious. Leave the area if you see someone who looks feverish and is sneezing or coughing. Stay home if you have flu symptoms yourself.

Go to the Gym

Exercise boosts your immune system and makes you less likely to catch the flu. Exercising at least 2 and a half hours a week reduces the likelihood that you’ll catch a flu-like ailment by about 10%, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Get Sleep

Your immune system will function best when you’re well rested. Adults typically need 6 to 8 hours each night. If you’re getting less than 6, you may want to rethink your habits.

TIME medicine

The Surest Way to Cure Your Hangover

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The holidays. A new year. There’s a lot to celebrate, so don’t ruin it with a hangover or a food coma. Here's how to avoid both

A night of too much booze often comes with a side of queasiness and a pounding headache. We’ve all heard rumors about what helps, from hot sauce to burnt toast to more alcohol, but here’s what doctors say really works as a morning-after remedy.

First, it’s important to recognize what your hungover body is trying to tell you. Alcohol makes you urinate more, and that depletes your body of much-needed fluids. At the same time, impurities in the fermenting alcohol essentially flood your body with toxins, causing those painful side effects.

It’s not always easy in practice, but the best way to avoid that nasty hangover in the first place is to alternate your alcoholic drinks with water.

Too late for that? On the morning after, the very best way to ease your stomach is to drink water. Water will rehydrate you, dilute the toxins that have built up overnight and flush them out.

Eating is also key, whether you want to fight or prevent a hangover. Filling your stomach before you drink, especially with heavier, greasier foods, can line the stomach and slow down the absorption of alcohol. And noshing after a night out, even if it’s last thing you feel like doing, can replenish your body with nutrients so it starts to function better.

READ MORE Should You Eat Whatever You Want For The Holidays?

If you remember, try taking two aspirin before going to bed, and another couple when you wake up. That can ease some of the head pounding that comes from the drop in blood alcohol and being dehydrated from all that drinking.

As for overeating, it’s sometimes inevitable, especially at holiday feasts. Try to cut down on your portions, or at least eat more slowly. That can help your brain and body stay in sync and work together to determine when you’re no longer hungry. Extra points if you load up on high-fiber foods like whole grains, vegetables and nuts; they’ll make you evacuate your bowels more frequently and make you feel less uncomfortable. Just remember not to bring it up during one of those big meals.

TIME

7 Mental Health Resolutions for 2015

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Here's how to take care of your mind this new year

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, our self-improvement efforts often focus on getting a better body. And we ignore that other, equally important part of our wellbeing: our mental health.

Certain health hazards come with warnings, like cigarettes or alcohol, but less obvious ones, like loneliness and rejection, can take just as great toll, says psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts. Research shows social isolation is linked to shorter lifespans, yet we often ignore our emotional hygiene. “If our dental hygiene were as poor as our emotional hygiene, we’d be all gums and no teeth,” says Winch.

This year, prioritize your mind as well as your body, and make a resolution for better mental health. Here are some of Winch’s tips for prioritizing your emotional hygiene in the new year (and all year long).

1. Pay attention to emotional pain. Psychological pain is much like physical pain—if something hurts for more than a few days, you need to do something about it. If you experience rejection, failure, or have a bad mood that lingers too long, don’t ignore it.

2. Take action when you feel lonely. Chronic loneliness is devastating to your emotional and physical health because it increases your chances of an early death by 14%. Therefore, when you feel lonely, actions like reaching out to family members, connecting with friends or joining a dating website can help. Make a list of people who you’ve been close to in the past (use your phone book, social media friends, and email contacts) and reach out to one of them each day to chat or to make plans. It will feel scary and risky to take those kinds of steps, but that’s what you need to do to break the cycle of disconnection and end your emotional isolation.

3. Stop your emotional bleeding. Psychological wounds tend to create vicious cycles that get worse with time. Failure can lead to feelings of helplessness that in turn can make you more likely to fail again in the future. To break the negative cycle of failure, find ways to gain control of the situation. Our minds are not as reliable as we tend to think, so ignore misleading feelings from your gut that tell you to give up, and focus on the aspects within your control, such as your preparation, planning, effort and execution.

4. Protect your self-esteem. Your self-esteem is like an emotional immune system—it can increase your resilience and protect you from stress and anxiety. Good emotional hygiene involves monitoring your self-esteem and boosting it when it’s low. How? Avoid negative self-talk that damages it further—despite how tempting it might be to indulge these kinds of thoughts at times.

5. Revive your self-worth after a rejection. It’s very common to be self-critical after you get rejected. It’s an unfortunate reaction, since that’s when your self-esteem is already hurting. You’re most likely to call yourself names, list all your faults and shortcomings and generally kick yourself when you’re already down. The most important thing you can do after getting rejected is to treat yourself with the same compassion you would treat a good friend. Make sure your inner voice is kind, understanding and supportive.

6. Battle negative thinking. When something upsetting happens, it’s natural to brood over it. But replaying the scene over and over in your mind will not give you much insight or closure. The best way to break a brooding cycle is to distract yourself with a task that requires concentration, like a game on your cell phone, a quick run or a crossword puzzle.

7. Be informed on the impact of common psychological wounds and how to treat them. You know how to treat a cut or a cold, so you should also know how to treat rejection, failure, loneliness, guilt and other common emotional wounds. By becoming mindful about your psychological health and adopting habits of good emotional hygiene, you will not only heal your psychological injuries when you sustain them, but you will elevate your entire quality of life.

For more tips, watch Winch’s Tedx Talk on how to practice emotional hygiene.

TIME Infectious Disease

Christmas Aside, Sierra Leone Declares Five-Day Lockdown in Ebola-Hit North

Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone
A soldier inspects a woman with an infrared thermometer for signs of fever, one of the symptoms of Ebola, at a check point in Nikabo, a village in Kenema, Sierra Leone on August 27, 2014. Mohammed Elshamy—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Christmas celebrations are excepted

The northern parts of Sierra Leone will be locked down for five days as a measure to contain the Ebola epidemic, with Christmas celebrations being the only exception.

“Muslims and Christians are not allowed to hold services in mosques and churches throughout the lockdown except for Christians on Christmas Day (Thursday),” Alie Kamara, resident minister for the Northern Region, told Agence France-Presse.

Shops and markets will be closed and “no unauthorised vehicles or motorcycle taxis” will be allowed to circulate “except those officially assigned to Ebola-related assignment,” said Kamara.

Sierra Leone recently overtook Liberia as the country with the highest number of Ebola infections, in an epidemic that has killed more than 7,500 people, mainly in west Africa.

Sierra Leone Deputy Communication Minister Theo Nicol said that the lockdown “is meant for us to get an accurate picture of the situation,” adding: “Other districts will carry on with their own individual lockdown after this if they deemed it necessary.”

Six of the country’s 14 departments have restrictions on the movement of people, and the government has announced a restriction on large Christmas and New Year gatherings.

[AFP]

TIME infectious diease

Firm Recalls Caramel Apples Amid Listeria Fears

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Happy Apple said the recalled caramel apples were no longer available in stores

(WASHINGTON) — A Missouri firm is recalling its Happy Apple brand caramel apples because of the potential that they could be contaminated with listeria. The recall comes after at least three deaths and at least 29 illnesses in 10 states have been linked to an outbreak of the deadly bacteria.

Happy Apple Co. of Washington, Missouri, said in a statement Wednesday that one of the apple suppliers to its California facility reported that there may be a connection between the listeria outbreak and the apples it had supplied. The recall covers 31 states.

The Food and Drug Administration is continuing to advise consumers not to eat prepacked, commercially produced whole caramel apples.

The recalled Happy Apple caramel apples were sold in single pack, three packs, four packs and eight packs with a best use by date between Aug. 25 and Nov. 23. They were available for retail sale through grocery, discount and club stores in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

Happy Apple said the recalled caramel apples were no longer available in stores.

The grocery chain Safeway pulled prepackaged caramel apples from its shelves after the family of an 81-year-old woman who died of listeria filed suit Monday. She had bought several caramel apples from a Safeway supermarket in Felton, California, in October, the suit claimed.

The FDA says five deaths have been reported, with listeriosis contributing to three of the deaths. It is unclear whether it contributed to a fourth, the agency said, while a fifth death was unrelated to listeriosis, the infection caused by the bacteria.

TIME ebola

Atlanta Lab Workers Potentially Exposed to Ebola, CDC Says

CDC Chief Dr. Thomas Frieden Updates Media On Dallas Ebola Response
Exterior of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) headquarters on Oct. 13, 2014 in Atlanta. Jessica McGowan—Getty Images

Officials say up to a dozen CDC employees might have been exposed

Up to a dozen workers at the CDC’s Atlanta campus may have been exposed to a misplaced sample of the Ebola virus, agency officials said on Wednesday.

An agency spokesperson told the Washington Post that scientists mistakenly transferred the sample to an unsecured laboratory for testing. The technician who handled the sample and upwards of a dozen people in the area were being assessed for exposure risks.

A CDC official said the technician at greatest risk had not developed symptoms and would be monitored for 21 days. The exposure occurred Monday afternoon, and was discovered and rapidly escalated to supervisors by Tuesday.

Read more at the Washington Post.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: What’s the Healthiest Sweetener?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Why sweet and good-for-you might not go together

You’ve heard sugar is bad news. But what about all those low-cal or no-cal substitutes? And organic honey! That has to be healthier, right?

“Honey, table sugar—doesn’t matter. It’s all sucrose, and your body metabolizes it the same way,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. Lustig is also board president of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, and presenter of “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”—a much talked about YouTube lecture that lays out the perils of the sweet stuff.

Apart from its high calorie content, which contributes to weight gain and obesity, sugar messes with your body’s insulin responses, Lustig says. Heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease have all been linked to the types of insulin issues sugar provokes.

“Sugar also binds to proteins in your body and causes damage,” he says—the same kind that browns fruit left out on your kitchen countertop. “We’re all browning. That’s part of aging,” Lustig explains. “But sugar causes you to brown seven times faster.”

There’s more to say on the subject of sugar and your health, but the bottom line is that too much sugar is bad for you, and most Americans consume way more than they should. “Your liver can process roughly six to nine teaspoons a day without significant issue,” Lustig says. “The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons a day.” And while honey may contain antioxidants or compounds that, on their own, may offer some benefits, “The sucrose in honey is still sucrose,” Lustig adds.

Unfortunately, when it comes to artificial sweeteners and other sugar alternatives—from stevia to sucralose—the health picture grows foggier, not clearer. “Some people believe that, because some artificial sweeteners have no calories, they have no consequences,” says Dr. Yanina Pepino, research assistant professor in medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “But we know that’s not true.”

Pepino’s research has demonstrated that sweet tastes—even those produced by non-caloric sweeteners—have the power to ramp up your body’s insulin responses. She says there’s also data suggesting non-caloric sweeteners contribute to the development of metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes.

MORE: Should I Drink Diet Soda?

More new research has hinted that artificial sweeteners may mess with your gut’s microbes, the tiny organisms that live in your digestive system and help manage the ways your body breaks down and processes the stuff you eat. Like opening Pandora’s box, Pepino says any changes to the gut’s microbiota may lead to widespread negative health consequences.

“When it comes to sugar substitutes, we just don’t know enough,” she says—a sentiment Lustig repeats over and over again. And not knowing makes choosing between sugar and sugar alternatives a thorny proposition.

While some new sweeteners may claim to be healthier than others, the fact is they’re simply newer, so there’s not as much known about them, Lustig says.

In the end, both he and Pepino agree there’s only one right answer if you’re watching out for your health: Limit the amount of sweet stuff in your diet.

“I know people won’t like that answer, but that’s the only one I can give,” Pepino says. “There’s just no way to say one is better than another without a lot more data.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Email Habits of Very Productive People

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Here's how to practice good email hygiene

Ping! Check email. Ping. Check email again. Ping. Check. Ping. Check. Ping. Check.

If you’re like most people who sit in front of a computer all day, this probably sounds like you: When you’re not currently replying to an email, you’re looking to see if you have any new ones. Then when something new does come in, you read it, debate how to respond, then deem it too time-consuming for the moment. “I’ll get to that later,” you think. And if there’s nothing new, you’re nervously wondering why. “Is it because my inbox is full?!” So you keep checking back every 15 seconds until something pops up—in the meantime deleting all the junk mail that has since clogged your inbox.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now!

But a life tethered to your email means those other projects you want and need to do—be they big reports or personal tasks—can get postponed by days, weeks, or months. Not to mention, a new Canadian study found hyperchecking your email can make you (surprise!) more stressed. So we asked five people who have a barrage of emails to answer to tell us how they tame their inbox.

Read on for their strategies to deal with the deep, dark email crevasse.

Set designated “reply times”

“I do many quick checks of email throughout the day to see if there’s something high priority and urgent that has come in, but I only allocate two times a day to fully deal with the email that has accumulated. By batching all of the heavy duty email processing into bigger chunks, I can be much more efficient and reduce the feeling of constantly switching tasks.”

—Jacob Bank, computer scientist and co-founder and CEO of the Timeful calendar app

HEALTH.COM: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

Pick and choose what’s key

“I respond to priorities as soon as possible, and keep correspondence clear and super positive. Knowing that I’ll still never get through all the emails, I prioritize people who are asking for help and opportunities that support my intention. I’m also not afraid to use the “!” for high priorities or dramatic effect.”

—Tara Stiles, yoga instructor, author of the Make Your Own Rules Diet ($25, amazon.com), and W Hotels’ fitness partner

Email only the quick things

“Email works for quick day-to-day correspondence, but when I have something important to discuss or decisions to be made, I pick up the phone. It is always better to hear the person on the other end—the inflection in their voice. Emails can often be misunderstood.”

Bobbi Brown, makeup artist and Health‘s contributing beauty and lifestyle editor

HEALTH.COM: 13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less

Sort all your stuff

“I have found that treating my online mail just like post office mail works wonders. I created folders: Everything from mom folder, workout class folder, celebrity clientele folder, house folder, summer cottage folder, medical folder, kid folders, etc. With emails organized into categories, I can easily do my three steps…find, take action, or delete. You’ll also need to unsubscribe from junk. The volume of junk email is tremendous and spending time deleting each one is taking precious time away from you. Finally, prioritize emails that need attention that particular day. I hit reply and drag them to the corner of my desktop if I can’t get to them at that moment, otherwise I use my other rule, don’t leave an email request—answer asap.”

—Kathy Kaehler, celebrity trainer, author, and founder of Sunday Set-Up, a healthy eating club

Respond—don’t mull

“I try to respond to emails as soon as I see them because otherwise they can get pushed further down the inbox and may be ignored. I recommend you be responsive but not superfluous. By responding quickly and writing short, non-flowery emails, you can create an image of efficiency and attentiveness. Even short words like “Thanks” or “Got it” will help you build a culture of trust and signal that you are on top of your inbox.”

—Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, Health’s contributing medical editor, and cofounder of Tula Skincare

HEALTH.COM: 10 Nervous Habits That Hurt Your Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME ebola

Expert: Ebola Outbreak Will Probably Last All of Next Year

Professor Peter Piot still says he is encouraged by the progress made in Sierra Leone, where he believes the epidemic will soon peak Baz Ratner—Reuters

Professor Peter Piot still says he is encouraged by the progress made in Sierra Leone

Correction appended: Dec. 24, 2014, 7:00 a.m. E.T.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is likely to continue through 2015, says Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“We need to be ready for a long effort, a sustained effort [for] probably the rest of 2015,” he told the BBC after returning from Sierra Leone.

Piot, who was one of the scientists who discovered Ebola in 1976, said he was impressed by the progress he had seen in the country, where mortality rates have fallen to as low as one in three.

“You don’t see any longer the scenes where people are dying in the streets,” he said.

But although the outbreak has peaked in Liberia and probably will do so in Sierra Leone too in the coming few weeks, the epidemic could have a “very long tail and a bumpy tail.”

“The Ebola epidemic is still very much there,” he said. “People are still dying, new cases are being detected.”

[BBC]

The previous version of this article identified Peter Piot as the director of the World Health Organization. He is the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

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