When are you more likely to start something new? Is it at the start of a new year or a new month? Is it around your birthday? Do you feel more energized to make changes or start working toward new goals after the holidays or at the start of a particular season?
For many of us, we wait until some special event happens, or until the beginning of a new period to start something new. It’s perfectly normal to do this, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ll show you four ways to start something new any time of the year.
Why Do We Wait for Some Special Event or Period to Start Something New?
First, let’s understand why we tend to start new things more during certain times rather than on just any ordinary day. Does it really make that much of a difference?
If you pay attention to your thoughts, you might notice yourself saying something like this:
“I’ll start going to the gym at the beginning of next month,” or
“I’ll begin my new diet after the holidays,” or even,
“I’ll start my new project on Monday.”
But why do we do this? What’s so special or important about waiting until the beginning of a new period or for some occasion like your birthday, graduation, or moving to a new house or city?
Making a “Fresh Start” is Really a Thing
In her research article, “The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior,” Associate Professor of Operations, Information & Decisions at The Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania, Katherine L. Milkman, answers these questions. First, she and her colleagues found that people really do wait until these key times (temporal landmarks) to begin new endeavors. Life events act as markers, or turning points, that break up the minutiae of ordinary, day-to-day life. Thus, when we want to make a change, these landmarks create a dividing line between the “old self” and the “new self.”
They allow us to separate and somewhat detach ourselves from our past imperfections that we want to change. So we tend to start something new around times that indicate a fresh start, like the beginning of a week, month or year, holidays and occasions like New Year, birthdays or school semesters, or particular life events and transitions like moving, getting married or changing jobs.
Focusing on the Big Picture
Secondly, the study concluded that during these “fresh start” times, we tend to look more at the big picture and have a more “high-level” view of life. For example, in the middle of the month or a week, we are caught up in our work and are swept away by the current of tasks and to do lists. However, by the end of the week, the month, and especially the year, we start thinking about the following week, month or year.
This causes us to take a step back and evaluate everything we’ve been doing to that point. Then, we start planning how to improve and what we want to do differently. The fact that Monday, or January 1st, or our birthday signifies the start of a new period, makes us feel more focused on making these changes.
Although this might seem like a huge limitation being at the mercy of our own human psychology, this is actually good news for us. By understanding how our minds work, we can then find ways to make our natural tendencies work for us and not against us. I’ll show you how.
Four Ways You Can Start Something New Any Time of the Year
1. Find other dates and events that can act as temporal markers
First of all, we have so many opportunities throughout the year to use as turning points to start something new. At the very least, we have Monday every seven days, and we have holidays and special occasions almost every month. However, to add to this, look for other events that could be significant time markers.
Do you have a vacation you’re planning? Is there a conference, seminar, or training workshop coming up that you’re attending? Is there some local event in your community or even an obscure holiday that you can attach meaning to as a temporal marker? How about important events your friends and family have? Nothing says you can’t dovetail off of other people’s life events too. In fact, sometimes it can be even more motivating. Today just happens to be my mother’s 70th birthday, so in celebration of such a momentous occasion, it would be the perfect day to start something new.
If you need ideas, check out the web site National Day Calendar. They have “holidays” for every day of the year. For example, November 15th is National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day, National Philanthropy Day, and America Recycles Day, among several others. These are three great ways to start new habits like eating healthier, giving to charity or starting to live in a more environmentally friendly way – and that’s just one day out of 365. Here are also a couple sites that show what happened on this day in history for some inspiration from people who did great things before us: History.com and TimeandDate.com.
2. Create your own “Fresh Start” day
If you aren’t able to find any existing or predetermined days or events, then create your own. Really, the idea is just to find something that breaks up the monotony of day-to-day life. So take a look around you and find something you can attach significance to that can make it a good day for a fresh start.
For example, today is an extremely ordinary day for me. It’s a Wednesday in the middle of the month. I didn’t have any classes to teach or other appointments on my schedule, so I spent the whole day at home writing and researching. However, one thing I’ve wanted to try for a while now is yoga. I only did it once before, many years ago, so I’m a total beginner. Well, in all my searching and googling today, I came across a YouTube channel that has yoga for beginners and a “30 Days of Yoga” video series. How exciting! So guess what? Starting today, an ordinary day in the middle of the week in the middle of the month, I’m starting something new with 30 Days of Yoga.
3. Look at every day from a different perspective
In another study conducted in early March 2014, Katherine L. Milkman and her colleagues instructed participants to set a goal for a fresh start that would occur in April 2014. Then, they asked participants to choose a date in late March to receive a reminder about this goal. Participants were given seven consecutive date options, and each date was presented as March 18th (Tuesday), March 24th (Monday), etc. for all participants. However, one date in particular, March 20th, was framed in two ways – “Thursday; The Third Thursday in March” for the control group, and “Thursday; The First Day of Spring” for the “new beginning” group. Can you guess what happened?
Overall, March 24th (Monday) was selected the most by both groups, but when comparing March 20th, this date was chosen more than 3 times as much by the new beginnings group than by the control group. So the point is that a date like March 20th doesn’t seem very special when it’s just another Thursday. However, if you change the perspective and look at it in a way that’s meaningful for your fresh start motivation, the first day of spring makes the day much more significant in helping you start something new.
4. Assign meaning to ordinary things in your routine that break up the minutiae
Lastly, even throughout the course of a day, you can create opportunities to start something new. You already have your routine, where you likely do many of the same mundane tasks every day. So pick one of those tasks that can be used as a trigger for a new task.
For example, I recently read an article where the author said that he has a “shut down” routine he does every day at the end of his work day. He works from a home office, so he decided that he would use this regular shut-down activity as the catalyst to start cleaning his house every evening. So every day, after shutting down his work, he has added the new task of cleaning up around his house. Plus, he has been more successful in sticking to it because the two tasks are now linked in his mind.
You can do the same thing with even totally unrelated tasks. I wanted to find time to listen to my favorite podcasts every day, so I bought a small portable blue tooth speaker and put it in my bathroom. Now, whenever I take a shower and get ready in the morning, I utilize that time to also listen to podcasts. Any new habit you want to start can fit into your existing routine if you can be creative in linking tasks or assigning certain tasks as triggers to start new ones.
Over to You
What are some challenges you have in trying to get motivated to start new things throughout the year? Is there anything in particular that you’ve found that works for you? I’d love to hear from you, so please share thoughts, questions or personal experiences in the comments. And have an awesome day!
- The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior, Management Science
Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, Jason Riis
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
- Put Your Imperfections Behind You: Goal Initiation Is Motivated by Temporal Landmarks that Signal the Beginning of New Time Periods, Association for Psychological Science
Hengchen Dai 1, Katherine L. Milkman 2, and Jason Riis 3
1 Organizational Behavior Department, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis;
2 Operations, Information and Decisions Department, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania;
3 Marketing Department, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania