From inspiration to motivation: The Fresh Start Effect. 

The year 2022 is drawing to a close. 2023, here we come. For many of us, this time of the year let´s us reflect on what we want to let go off in the next year. We then capture these hopes for change in our New Year's resolutions.

Most people make similar resolutions. Today's resolutions include contemporary goals such as saying "no" more often to avoid excessive commitments or limiting social media use or screen time in general (digital detox). The classics, however, are still related to diet, exercise and money.

The phenomenon of using January 1 as a marker for change is widespread. But what explains our desire to radically change something (or usually everything) precisely then?

A study by Hengchen Dai et al. (2014) titled "The Fresh Start Effect." demonstrates that temporal milestones such as a new year, a new month, a new birthday, or even a new academic semester create new "mental accounting periods" that serve two main purposes: Creating distance between the present and the past, and stimulating a broader view of life:

Mental accounting periods, separated by temporal landmarks, create a psychological distance from our past imperfections and encourage us to adjust our behavior to a new, positive self-image.

In addition, temporal landmarks interrupt our daily routine and give us the opportunity to view our lives from a more holistic perspective, which in turn can enable us to devote more time and effort to achieving our goals.

So when it comes to setting goals, each new year presents a new opportunity. The beginning of certain periods seem to be a good opportunity to reinvest in goals because they bring at least a temporary boost of willpower.

But if we're honest, most of us are just reliving last year's unkept promises and unfulfilled goals. Again and again we set out on the same journey (and sincerely believe that this time everything will be different).

So how can we use this motivational boost without falling back into our old patterns and giving up after just a few days or weeks? In other words - how do we succeed in pursuing our goals in the long term?

Here are our tips:

Take life on life’s terms – one day at a time. And have fun while you’re doing it. Joe Perry

  1. One at a time

Unhealthy behaviors develop over time. Therefore, it takes time to replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones. You don't have to turn your whole life upside down and reevaluate everything. That will only lead to overwhelm. Instead, work on changing one thing at a time.

Make resolutions that you believe you can keep. For example, if you want to exercise more often, schedule two or three days instead of seven. Or if you want to establish a regular meditation practice, start with 5 minutes.

(Recommended reading: Atomic Habits by James Clear)

Sticking to good habits can be hard work, and mistakes are part of the process. Don’t declare failure simply because you messed up or because you’re having trouble reaching your goals. Instead, use your mistakes as opportunities to grow stronger and become better. Amy Morin

  1. Focus on learning not perfection

Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps in achieving your goals are perfectly normal and okay. Don't give up just because you haven't gone to the gym in a week. Everyone has ups and downs. Failure means giving up or not trying to achieve your goals in the first place - not having relapses and missteps or making mistakes. On the contrary - these are necessary steps on the path to success and growth and at best you can gain valuable information from them.

Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together. Paul Ryan

  1. The power of community

Share your resolutions and experiences with family and friends. You can join a group of colleagues who are quitting smoking. Or treat yourself to professional help to achieve your goals: e.g., a meditation class, coaching, an exercise class at your gym. If you have someone to share your goals, your difficulties and your successes with, your path to your goal will be easier and less intimidating.

Try new things, step out of your comfort zone, take risks, do things in ways you’ve never done them before, ask for help, surround yourself with self-actualized people, become obsessed with the fact that you have one go-round on this planet as the you that is you, and realize how precious and important it is not to squander that. Jen Sincero

  1. Ask for help

Many of us have a hard time asking for and accepting support. Accepting help from people who care about you and will listen to you strengthens your resilience and your ability to cope with the stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to achieve your goals on your own, you should seek professional help. Psychologists are especially trained in understanding the connections between mind and body. They can offer strategies for adjusting your goals to make them achievable, and help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.