Unscripted: Science and Engineering Research

Stick To It 2017

By Allison Mills | Published

Get advice from researchers on keeping your resolutions this year. Look past all the productivity and six-pack ab hype; this is how to dig deeper into committing.  

Every New Year, I try hard not to set any resolutions. Promise less and deliver more, right? But inevitably I make a few that I forget before the end of January. I only seem to dredge them up later in the year for guilt trips.

For all of us feeling the slip on our New Year's resolutions, there's a lot we can learn from researchers.

More Zzzzz

 Jason Carter says sleep more. And he would know; he's a sleep expert as well as the chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Integrated Physiology and assistant to the Vice President for Research for research development at Michigan Tech.

"Each year, the most common New Year's resolutions include losing weight, exercise, and eating right," Carter says. "What if I told you there was a way to enhance these resolutions by being completely lazy?"

Yeah, it really is that simple.  Sleep more. In fact, Carter says, there are now numerous studies showing that individuals who typically have normal metabolism of glucose respond to restricted sleep by developing a metabolic profile that looks like a pre-diabetic's. Moreover, these sleep restricted groups tend to binge eat junk foods. And here's the real problem: nearly one out of three adults regularly get less sleep than they need—the ideal is seven to nine hours each night—and other studies estimate that nearly 90 percent of adolescents are chronically sleep deprived.

"If you are having a hard time sticking with that new exercise routine or diet, ask yourself if you're getting enough sleep."Jason Carter

Consider a complementary New Year's resolution that will back your bedtime up by 30-40 minutes, preceded by a relaxing wind-down routine that does not involve back-lit electronics (that includes TV, people), and catch a few extra winks.

Resolve Like a Researcher

Researchers have to find resolve year-round. Adrienne Minerick, assistant to the provost for faculty development, says resolutions are a key, continuous improvement tool for all researchers. 

"We all work our tails off to problem solve and test phenomena or dependency or widget, puzzle over the results, formulate explanations, and then lay it out for others to also puzzle through," she explains. "Invariably, we miss perspectives and sometimes walk away hat in hand because we overlooked something obvious or key."

It's a modern fable: if you want to succeed, you have try, try again—and again, and again. Researchers who work diligently on writing proposals, preparing lectures, presenting at conferences, publishing papers, and taking care of the rest of life show that resolutions aren't simply notes on paper; they're internalized goals.

"I’ve found engineers have to self-study our own psyche to persist in this challenging game."Adrienne Minerick

Less is More

Another idiom: work smarter, not harder. The key to that is putting up boundaries, says Kathy Halvorsen, a dual-appointed professor of social science and forest resources.

"So many early career faculty get the message that they should be constantly working—weekdays, evenings, weekends—to be successful and get tenured and promoted," she says. " I subscribe to the idea that it is really important to put bounds on the time we devote to our work, including research and teaching."

Halvorsen teaches multiple classes, mentors grad students, and is the lead investigator on numerous grants, including one where she organizes a team of more than 100 researchers from six different countries. She doesn't take vacation when she can; she carves out time for it—and makes sure to take evenings off to recharge.

"Many of us focus on working longer, when we really should be concentrate on more focused work for shorter time periods."Kathy Halvorsen

Halvorsen recommends checking out Cal Newport's Study Hacks Blog and his book Deep Work: Rules for Focuses Success in a Distracted World. We've got some additional resources listed in the sidebar.

Now go do!

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.