Today marks a major milestone in the yearly calendar: most people have broken their New Year's resolutions and won't be attacking them again--at least for another twelve months. Gone are the goals to lose weight, get more exercise, or learn a new skill. 

If you made a resolution, it's likely that the goal is important to your personal life, health, or career. Giving up now is the worst thing you could do. If you don't want to be among the 90 percent of people who give up on their goals, behavioral psychologists have an answer to keep you moving in the direction of your dreams. It's a simple mind hack called 'The Fresh Start Effect.'

You care about January 1st, but your brain doesn't.

First, some background. Making resolutions on January 1st is a tradition that dates back to the Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. For your brain, it's a completely arbitrary date. We have attached meaning to the date, but the brain doesn't care. 

According to a team of scientists at Wharton who have done the most extensive research into this area, January 1st is a "temporal landmark," a date or event that marks the passage of time. You can create such an event over any other landmark--the beginning of a month, an anniversary or a birthday. 

Researchers believe that these dates or "new epochs" allow us to psychologically separate ourselves from past mistakes or failures and open a new time period to achieve a goal. That means you can designate almost any date as a landmark. 

Reframe ordinary days as "New Beginnings."

This week I touched base with one of the researchers on the original project. Hengchen Dai is now a professor at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. She sent me another remarkable study that shows just how powerful these fresh start dates can be.

The researchers identified 165 volunteers who desired to tackle a personal goal. The participants were asked to choose a date from one of seven consecutive days in March. On that day, they woudl be sent a reminder to start on their goal.

For one group--the control group--the dates were simply listed as days of the week. For the other group, March 20th was designated "The First Day of Spring." Participants in the second group were far more likely to choose March 20th than the control group who viewed March 20th as just an ordinary day.

Simply by re-framing the day of the week, people were more likely to choose it as the day to make a fresh start. You can do this yourself. Use landmarks as a new beginning. 

I set personal and professional goals during the year--but I give myself five opportunities to follow through--new quarters and my birthday.

Last year I resolved to hit the gym four times a week. I started strong, but trailed off near the end of the first quarter. So I started again on April 1st. And I started again on my birthday. By the end of the year I was going four to five times a week. I didn't need to make it a 2019 resolution because it's a habit that's stuck. 

Give yourself a fresh start several times a year and you won't be among the majority of people who start the year with good intentions, but fail reach their potential. 

Published on: Jan 18, 2019