New Year’s resolutions are set with the best of intentions. But they notoriously fail to translate into lasting behavioural changes.
The new gym membership falls into disuse come February; items forbidden from the new diet sneak back into the pantry by March. Even goals to work less and spend more time with friends and family seem to fall by the wayside almost as soon as the holiday break is over and the brimming email inbox beckons.
But recent psychological research highlights several reasons why these kinds of resolutions might actually work – as well as simple ways to set yourself up for success.
The fresh start effect
A series of recent studies supports the idea that the start of a new calendar year spurs initiation of activities related to self-improvement. They show Google searches for the term “diet”, gym attendance, and use of goal-support websites are highest in January and decline month by month over time.
Researchers doing the studies call it the “fresh start effect” – the idea that particular days and dates serve as temporal landmarks, much like physical landmarks serve as demarcations of important places. In the case of temporal landmarks, the demarcation is between a past self, who has perhaps failed to meet goals, and the present self, who has goal pursuit at their fingertips.
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