We’ve all heard Einstein’s famous quote defining insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Yet in our more honest moments, many of us have to admit that when it comes to some aspects of our life, that’s just what we do.

Why? Making a fresh start and breaking with old ways is hard. Really hard -- as anyone who has tried to switch to a healthier lifestyle or make that leap from employee to entrepreneur can tell you. But there are ways to make it easier, according to science. The Wharton School recently rounded up a ton of them in an in-depth article.

Choose Your Date Wisely

New Year’s is behind us, but according to recent research, it’s far from the only time of year to start something new. Any new beginning will do really. A partnership between Wharton academics and Google revealed that searches for change-related terms like "diet" spike at the beginning of not only each year, but each week and month as well.

As doctoral candidate Hengchen Dai, who led the research, told Knowledge@Wharton, "There may be too much attention given to the New Year. Our research found there are repeated chances to achieve goals." So your first step in making a fresh start is choose a breaking point, what the researchers call a "temporal landmark" that’s meaningful to you, whether that be your 40th birthday or your first day back at work after your next vacation. There is no one magic right answer. Any day that seems logical and motivating can work.

Get Some Skin in the Game

Of course, choosing when to start only gets you so far. As Dai puts it, "temporal landmarks may only increase motivation for a short amount of time." What will carry your fresh start forward after that initial burst of enthusiasm? How about a bet? Publically wagering cash or your reputation on your new initiative can be strongly motivating, according analysis of data from 40,000 users of goal-setting site www.stickK.com, which the research team analyzed.

Not only did the data confirm people are more like to make a fresh start on a significant day like the start of a month, it also showed 78 percent of users who bet money on achieving their goals stuck with them compared to 35 percent of those who didn’t. Of course, specialized websites aren’t the only way to get some skin in the game. Pre-paying for a year’s gym membership, making a bet with a friend that you’ll really leave cigarettes behind this time, or making one big purchase towards your business dream could all work in a similar way.

Change Allegiances

We’ve all heard of parents tell their teens not to hang out with the wrong crowd, but it’s a principle we sometimes forget as adults. Who you surround yourself with has a strong effect on whether you stick with your goals. So if your regular after-work happy hour companions are consistently down on your dream of starting your own thing or taking a year-long sabbatical, maybe it’s time to find some new folks to share a drink with.

"It’s good to change the group dynamics if you need a 'fresh start,'" Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard says. "We tend to think of them as static, but groups are constantly reforming."

If you find this advice helpful, there’s plenty more in the long Wharton article, including tips on getting through the difficult middle section of the trek towards a goal and the role of mood in making a successful fresh start.

What sort of fresh start would you like to make?

Published on: Jan 20, 2014