(3 min read)
How often have you said to yourself on a Monday: ‘Right. This week I’m going to start this properly’?
It might be going to the gym, eating healthy lunches, getting up early, not drinking, or anything that you feel you ought to be doing. Whatever it is, Monday marks a new week and therefore a great time to start again. A fresh start, in fact.
The same applies to New Year resolutions. Or using a ‘big’ birthday as a starting point. Or the start of a new season. Anything really that gives us a psychological trigger to make a change in our behaviour.
Why do certain dates matter?
Research has shown that, rather than thinking of time as a continuum, we tend to see our lives in terms of ‘episodes’ anchored by notable or significant incidents in our lives.
Dai et al  show that the beginning of a school year or school holiday, a religious calendar event and personal life events – the day you passed your driving test, for example – can be temporal landmarks. Any event that is personally more significant than your ‘normal’ day can serve as this trigger.
Even something like a new haircut helps us psychologically separate our new self from the old, accentuating our positive identity. We then try to follow through on that image by changing something or doing something new. This helps to reinforce our new personal image.
Certain events in our lives are clearly momentous: going to college, getting married, starting your first job or a new business, having a child. But even the little landmarks have this effect of being a trigger for a fresh start – the first day of a new week, or coming back to work after a couple of weeks on holiday.
What do these event triggers do?
These landmarks open new mental accounts. They allow you to make a break from the past, feel more distanced from past perceived failures and a little like a new person, ready to take on the week, month or year ahead.
As Katy Milkman, James G. Dinan Professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania says, in her book ‘How to change’: “We’re more likely to pursue change on dates that feel like new beginnings because these moments help us overcome a common obstacle to goal initiation: the sense that we have failed before and will, thus, fail again.”
The ‘fresh start effect’
In 2014, Hengchen Dai, Katy Milkman and Jason Riis published a research paper called ‘The Fresh Start Effect’. In it, they offer two likely mechanisms for the fresh start effect.
First, we like to think we’re improving over time, so we attribute past mistakes to inferior versions of ourselves. And we use our current self-conceptions to inform our behaviour, so if you look back and think that you’re a harder worker today than you used to be, you will continue to work harder than you used to.
Second, in various activities we often get lost in our day-to-day lives. These trigger days or events force us to pause and look at the bigger picture. So we start to think about our bigger goals or longer-term life plans instead.
So we can see that leaders and managers can use events to help transform behaviours in the workplace. For example – using October, which is Cyber Security Awareness Month, to start to change the way staff behave towards cyber risks. And that’s why we’re offering just 20 SME companies the chance to make that fresh start this month – just sign up for our free trial here, to see how our short, fun online training episodes can help your people make the move towards better cyber security habits – creating a healthy and critical fresh start for your business.
 Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, Jason Riis (2014) The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior. Management Science. Published online in Articles in Advance 23 Jun 2014 . http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2014.1901