Who doesn’t like a new year? It represents an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and the possibilities seem endless.
Social scientists say that our affinity for New Year’s resolutions actually has a name, “fresh start effect.” In their paper, The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior, researchers Hengchen Dai and Katherine Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Jason Riis from Harvard Business School quantify the case for this phenomena.
The study abstract suggests that Google searches for terms such as “diet,” and “gym visits” all increase following temporal landmarks (e.g., the outset of a new week, month, year, or semester; a birthday; a holiday).”
The researchers proposed “that these landmarks demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.”
At last, validation that “past imperfections” belong in the past. Catholics have longed used confession to regulate less than desirable behavior to the rear-view mirror, Jews use Yom Kippur as a day of atonement and school-yard kids call a new start in a game a “do-over.” They all work for me.
Inspired by the New Year, I am reluctantly taking on “neatness” as a priority in 2014. In late December a 7-year-old relative visited our house. While peering into each room she uttered with disdain, “messy, messy, messy.” Although I have long maintained my household piles are indicative of my “creative-idea mind” at work, I must admit that there is quite a bit of upside to modifying this past imperfection. The goal certainly qualifies as “aspirational.”
If my household tidying goes awry there is always my computer screen to fall back on. What a great device. It offers the very human options of sleep, hibernate, log off or shut down just in case the year starts rough. However, since the “fresh start effect,” restart, is always available, I am good to go for 2014.
If you are wondering what others aspire to this year, the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology sites the following as the top resolutions for 2014:
- Lose Weight
- Getting Organized
- Spend Less, Save More
- Enjoy Life to the Fullest
- Staying Fit and Healthy
- Learn Something Exciting
- Quite Smoking
- Help Others in Their Dreams
- Fall in Love
- Spend More Time with Family
If you are among the 45% of the population who makes New Year’s resolutions, we wish you good luck in meeting your goals. For everyone else, may 2014 bring what you seek regardless of your “mental accounting period.”
Carol Lewis Gullstad January 6, 2014