The Fresh-Start Effect and how to make it work for you

© istockphoto

© istockphoto

Happy New Year, lovely!

I was listening to a Freakonomics Podcast today called “When Will Power isn’t Enough” in which Katherine Milkman, a Professor of Behavioral Economics from Wharton Business School was being interviewed about her research into what helps motivate us to change habits.      Most of the program was talking about so called Temptation Bundling – which is when you motivate yourself to do something you would rather not do by combining it with something you love.  Katy shared her own success in succeeding in her goal of getting to the gym more often by deciding to only let herself watch her favorite tv shows whilst working out.    Other ideas from listeners to included taking the rest of the day off work and going to the movies after your annual pap smear and drinking scotch whilst folding laundry.  It’s taking the spoonful of sugar strategy to a whole new level, although I am Mary Poppins would approve of that last one.

Along with Temptation Bundling, the podcast also mentioned some research into New Year’s Resolutions in which they identified  a phenomenon known as the “Fresh-Start Effect”: It turns out that having the perception of a new beginning actually enhances our ability to achieve goals. The Fresh-Start Effect is based upon our perception of “temporal landmarks” -a way of marking the passing of time. In a paper published in Management Science, Milkman, Dai and Riis explain that having an awareness of these landmarks generates “new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors”. The podcast goes on to explain how the Fresh-Start Effect has some important implications for large-scale behavior change strategy (like taking it into consideration in public health preventative screening campaigns).

But what I find most interesting is the astonishing possibilities for personal development, healing, growth and transformation that become available when we think creatively along these lines. We can access the benefits of The Fresh Start effect proactively simply by noticing or deciding to notice the passing of time.  This act of becoming conscious of the passing of time  is at the root of many ancient spiritual traditions like meditation and prayer which foster reflection or contemplation, but it can also be achieved through secular practices like mindfulness and journalling.

you can have exactly as many fresh starts as you are willing to notice.

As soon as we shift the effect from the sub-conscious into the conscious we can create temporal landmark opportunities at will. Or to put it another way, you can have exactly as many fresh starts as you are willing to notice. Each consciously observed period of time generates the opportunity to observe that the past – (and in this case most notably our past experience of our own pain, shame or failure) has passed. But it isn’t enough to notice the possibility of a Fresh-Start, you also need to give yourself permission to have one – which may require forgiveness of yourself and others.  The other crucial element in Fresh-Starts is having the willingness to acknowledge that you really don’t know what is going to happen in the future. The acknowledgement that we don’t know for sure can be a powerful tool, it can drive the tiny wedge of possibility between the pain from the past and fear of the future. With a little leverage this sliver of hope can crack open an awe-inspiring amount of joy, and a sense of freedom and optimism which can be just what we need to motivate us to make the changes we desire.

So this year, I wish you all the optimism you need to get inspired and take as many fresh starts as you need to be the best and happiest you that you can be.


If you would like some support with a Fresh Start, I would love to help.   Click here for more information and a special BUY ONE GET ONE FREE offer on my RE-WRITE THE RULES, Life Transformation Sessions.