Use the “Fresh Start Effect” of Changing Seasons to Re-set Goals

Use the “Fresh Start Effect” of Changing Seasons to Re-set GoalsIt can be tough to watch the sun set on the more relaxed pace of summer and perhaps even the memory of a restful vacation, but there’s also something about kids going back to school, possibly cooler temps and a return to routines that gets many of us excited about finishing the year strong. Whether September heralds the coming of fall or, in the southern hemisphere, the promise of spring, it often ushers in a sense of new beginnings.

It turns out these transitional periods are a great time to revisit progress made to date and reinvigorate yourself for more. You can apply new learnings and insights you’ve gained in the first three-quarters of the year to refine goals, or recommit to push ahead on those you’ve already got on the books. Those efforts can help you close out 2023 on a high note and set yourself up for an amazing 2024.

Turn the page . . .

A key driver of this desire to reevaluate and take action on our goals during periods of transition is based on what psychologists call the “fresh start effect.” The author of How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, Katherine Milkman, Ph.D. explains it like this. “My research shows that having a ‘fresh start’ is a powerful motive to initiate positive change at home and at work.” Milkman and others refer to “temporal landmarks” as cues that people use not only to distinguish the past, present and future in terms of time, but also with regard to how we see ourselves.

She and her colleagues have found that the beginning of a new time period naturally enhances motivation and people’s intentions to pursue their goals. The power, they’ve found, is that recognizing specific points in time, a sort of mental then and now, helps us disconnect our past imperfect self from what we imagine will be a better future self as we move closer to our goals.

Fresh starts need not be confined to New Year’s Resolutions at the start of the calendar year. They can arise around a birthday, holidays, first experiences (such as moving or a first date), as well as the start of a month, semester, billing cycle or even your basic Monday.

It’s as if we time-stamp a certain moment and assign it to our past and then choose to see what comes after that moment as a new window, clean slate, and an opportunity to be someone even better than before. You can leave old habits and mistakes back there while you move forward into the future with a greater sense of confidence and a heightened image of your future self. That’s powerful because feeling a certain sense of separation from past imperfections can stimulate goal setting and pursuit, according to Milkman.

. . . but not until you’ve tracked your progress

The thing about the fresh start effect, however, is that it works best when things are not going so great. Perhaps you’ve missed the mark, experienced a setback or just aren’t making the progress toward your goals that you would like. That’s when a fresh start lets you leave the mindsets and strategies of the old you behind while you move forward with a new and better you with refined strategies.

If, on the other hand, you’re really crushing it, a reset is likely not a great idea. Don’t change what isn’t broken. That’s why tracking performance is so important. Although it can feel a bit tedious, tracking progress toward goals is crucial so you have more than your gut to rely on to know what’s working and what’s not. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but develop some objective measures to assess performance, or enlist friends or colleagues to provide feedback on your behaviors. Then use these periods of transition to review your results and tweak as needed to make the last four months of the year your strongest.

Support yourself with a combo deal

While unique time posts and fresh starts are highly effective in helping you reset, goals are not typically reached or missed through a single action at one point in time. That’s why keeping the big picture in mind and even seeing yourself riding a wave that ebbs, flows and rolls through time can be a good adjunct to fresh starts.

If things are going well and a fresh start is not called for, see yourself in a more continuous flow where you can decide to take things to the next level or expand your reach, rather than starting over. Research also shows that exposing yourself to your own achievements can be a powerful motivator to keep on keeping on.

Fall (or spring) into the future

You have the power to make any day of the year a new start, or the top of a wave you want to keep riding. Connecting goal setting to specific points in time can serve as a nudge to recommit to goal-directed behaviors; facilitate closure on a difficult event or setback; and provide a clean slate where the most current you can achieve even more than you have in the past.

September may be just the motivation you need to apply nearly a year’s worth of learning and experience to finishing 2023 on an upswing.