The fresh-start effect

 The fresh-start effect

It’s a New Year. And for most people, that marks a fresh start.

But for me, the ball dropped with barely a nod. I made no resolutions. I posted no blog.

That’s because I’ve come to believe that fresh starts happen all year long.

I’ve celebrated and written about my business anniversary, the Jewish New Year, and the solar eclipse. More privately, I’ve observed other temporal landmarks.

My birthday.

The first day of my son’s last year of high school.

The twenty-first anniversary of my second parent’s death.

On each of these occasions—and so many others—I’ve taken stock and vowed to step up my game. I’ve tried to hold myself accountable.

Especially when I’m back at square one.

Daniel Pink, the best-selling author of very cool books including WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, says there are 86 opportunities to start fresh in any given year.

These include: the first day of a new month (12), the first day of any week (52), the first day back from vacation (2), and even the anniversary of your wedding, first date, or divorce (in my case, many, many more than 3).

In a recent Pinkcast newsletter, he referenced a study called The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior, by researchers at The Wharton School.

The team showed that Google searches for the term “diet,” gym visits by undergraduate students, and commitments to pursue goals all increase following temporal landmarks (e.g., the outset of a new week, month, year, or semester; a birthday; a holiday).

In other words, throughout the year, we tend to “relegate past imperfections to a previous period,” which induces us to “take a big-picture view of our lives, and thus motivates aspirational behaviors.”

And we do this over and over again.

So how can we use these temporal landmarks to create new “mental accounting periods” for ourselves? And how can we progress, from setback to setback, without losing enthusiasm?

Remember the joy. Even as the passion cools, remember how we felt when we bought the fancy digital scale, the unicycle, or the ukulele. That joy gives us hope and keeps us focused.

Look ahead, not back. Forget the chocolate cake that broke our no-dessert streak. Or the days we binged on bad TV instead of running with the dog. Just. Start. Again.

Do whatever works. Reset the same goal over and over. Try new ones. Take breaks. We’re playing the ultimate long game. And with any luck, it won’t be over anytime soon.

Last year at about this time, I wrote about Whatever Works, my favorite New Year’s film.

In it, each character experiences a major reset—more through blind luck than strategic hard work. Even Boris, the hypercritical main character played by Larry David, finds love. 

So, my friends. May this year be one of restarts. As many as we need. Exactly when we need them.

Because, as Boris said: Whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works.”

Keep me posted, friends. And I’ll keep Hacking Away at Happiness. One goal at a time.

Decision science

Decision science

Amateurs making music

Amateurs making music