It’s that time of year when shops start selling diaries and planners for 2020. We’re not even at the end of 2019 and it seems like it’s already time to think about next year! Flipping through planners in a stationery shop yesterday, I was struck by how many had ‘fresh start’ themes.
They implied January 2020 would be the start of a personal development or health journey for the reader. Your ‘best year ever’, in a sense. And I hope it will be – but I wonder if you really need to wait for two months before kicking off this fabulous new year…
We love a fresh start
As humans, we seem to be drawn to fresh starts of all kinds – the first day of the New Year is typically when millions of people commit to various resolutions. But we also view the first of the month or the first day of the week as a ‘fresh start’. This is particular relevant when it comes to making personal changes.
It’s not entirely rational to wait until the first of January to make a change that could benefit us now. What’s so special about the 1st of January? If anything, you could argue that it’s even harder to make changes when we’re likely to be on a holiday, out of our routine and recovering from a holiday often marked by over-consumption.
So what’s so special about January 1st? Rationally speaking, absolutely nothing. If anything, it’s simply tradition.
Pushing our start date for a change or a new habit into the future could represent good planning, or it could simply be an acknowledgement that the change will be difficult. Therefore, we delegate it to our future self and carry on as usual. In other words, we anticipate the psychological discomfort and start to procrastinate.
Choose your ‘temporal landmark’
Dai Hengchen , Katherine L. Milkman and Jason Riis explored this topic in their 2014 paper ‘The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior’. They looked at the impact of fresh starts on helpful behaviours (e.g. exercise, diet) and stated that these time-based landmarks allow us to “relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.”
Their research studies demonstrated that we’re more likely to make choices in line with our aspirations when we frame a given day as an opportunity for a fresh start. Regardless of the day.
In his book “When”, the author Daniel Pink explores our fascination with fresh starts and highlights 86 possible ‘fresh start’ dates in any calendar year. His list includes Mondays (52 possibilities), First of the month (12 possibilities) and the first day of a new season (4 possibilities). The basic point here is that we don’t need to wait until a new year.
Here’s your opportunity
Today is both Friday – the end of a working week for many of us – but it’s also the first day of a new month. So rather than waiting until next Monday, or December 1st or even the start of 2020, what’s stopping you from making a beneficial change today?
Wipe the slate clean today and make a start. Delaying it needlessly sounds a lot like procrastination.