New Year, New You? Don't let the Fresh Start Effect Backfire on You.

New Year, New You? Don't let the Fresh Start Effect Backfire on You.

January 24, 2022

Look around. This time of year, you probably don't have to glance or scroll very long before being bombarded with advertisements for gym memberships, healthy meal delivery subscriptions, or exercise equipment. And why not? These industries are capitalizing on a real phenomenon - the Fresh Start Effect.

The Fresh Start Effect is the tendency of people to use a special occasion or key date as a reason to take action towards achieving a goal. It may seem silly to some, but the simple act of shifting into a new calendar year allows us to see our past selves as different and separate from our current selves. Moreover, it grants us the freedom to visualize and plan for a future, more ideal self.

And does the effect work? Well, sort of. We don't need to depress you with the statistics on the percentage of New Year's resolutions that are still being stuck to by springtime. What we can share with you is some of the lesser known "Dos and Don'ts" for successful Resolution-Keeping.

DO take "inventory." As you embark on your new goal, you may want to ask yourself, what do I need to make this happen?4 Is there a skill you need to learn, support from a friend or spouse to hold you accountable, a piece of equipment, or a time of day you need to block off in your schedule regularly to pursue it consistently? Set yourself up for success by working out the details and potential barriers before running into them.

DO set small, specific process-oriented goals on the way towards your resolution. Say you want to lose 10 pounds, maybe you'll start with a micro-goal of making a nutritious breakfast smoothie every morning to ensure you're always starting your day on the right foot. Or perhaps you hope to learn to play the piano. Resolving to sign up for lessons before the end of January might be a great goal to start.4

DO track your performance. Before you start your quest to "save more money" or "live a healthier lifestyle," you should have a way to define what metrics are most important to you about this goal and how to measure them. Once you've determined the quantifiable aspects of your plan, take inventory of where you are now. Then, in the future, you'll know how to define success. There are many task-specific tracking apps in the world, so feel free to harness technology to your advantage on this one.5

DO know your "Why." Your resolution should be important and meaningful to you. Try not to let outside expectations or others' wishes influence what you commit to yourself.4

DON'T set a goal in an aspect of life you already feel pretty successful. Research suggests fresh starts work the best when a person has recently experienced failure in this aspect of life.6 Think of the analogy of playing a multi-level video game- if you are down to your last life and still have a long way before the final level, hitting the reset button will give you a revived sense of self-efficacy. If you were doing great and someone trips the power, you'll feel disappointed and perhaps less motivated to work towards something you already built.

DON'T skimp on sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in most common resolutions. For those aiming to improve work performance or get a promotion, a lack of sleep reduces productivity. For those looking to improve their body composition, missing sleep will decrease your production of leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full) and increase ghrelin production (the hormone that increases appetite and fat storage). If you want to focus on relationships - again, insufficient sleep will negatively impact your mood and social interactions.7

DON'T expect perfection. We are all human with multifaceted lives. Embrace your setbacks when they happen as opportunity to reignite your motivation or rewrite your strategy.5 Framing failure as a reason to recommit rather than quit will keep you on the right path.

DON'T decide because it is January 4th, you can't get started. There is nothing uniquely special about the ringing in of a new year that is any more significant than choosing another temporal landmark…it could be as easy as choosing the ringing in of a new week if you want to start next Monday.5