Tuesday will be the first day of 2019. We are all reflecting on the past year. Some of us are making New Year's resolutions. A lot of people will try to stop smoking or decrease their alcohol consumption. The gyms are about to get packed.
Why is this happening? Why is the start of a new year so important when it comes to setting goals and starting new habits?
Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis (The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior) suggest that our motivation for self-improvement peaks around the New Year because it opens a new mental accounting period, or a fresh start.
When a new mental accounting period opens, we feel a disconnect to our past imperfections. In addition to this, we experience a disruption to our daily decision making habits. Instead of focusing on time and effort as we normally do, we pay more attention to the end state of our actions. We are able to visualize the superiority of our future selves and direct our thinking towards high-level goals.
The start of a new month or week is another opportunity for people to experience a fresh start. You can actually see people pay more attention to their health around these times the same way you see them do during New Year. Individually, birthdays or other meaningful life events can also open new mental accounting periods.
Even though time progresses in a constant way, we don't perceive it as such. When we look at our own personal or communal history and future, we can identify temporal landmarks; dates that act as fresh starts.
This all might be fairly obvious. But think about how you can leverage this fresh start effect. Take advantage of the naturally arising temporal landmarks such as this New Year. Create your own fresh start moments by moving to a new apartment or getting a tattoo. Reframe people's thinking and associate change inside your team or organization to temporal landmarks.
A lot of New Year's resolutions will get broken. We all know this. But even though motivation does not equal the hard work that is required for any kind of personal change, you need motivation to initiate action and get things rolling.
New Year is an opportunity.