Fresh Start Effect by Jane Barker
Is September your second chance January
Its that time of year, when you suddenly notice that the days are becoming shorter, and there is that familiar chill in the air. Perhaps you have returned from holiday and are now facing going back to work and all the potential pressures that brings. That next bank holiday seems like such a long way a way! For some of us, September can be emotive, perhaps a reminder of significant memories such as your first day at school, or your children starting school or university. Or maybe a time to be more serious, and for some this can install a sense of anxiety and a longing for the past long lazy days of summer.
However, some people thrive on structure and routine and September can feel like a positive time for reflection, as we begin to transition from holiday time to the new academic year.
September, like New Years day and Birthdays or other significant dates can be referred to as ‘Temporal landmarks’ – this basically means signaling the start of a new distinct time period.
So if you’re a person that feels motivated to make change, you are not alone, there is now research to indicate that September, like January, gives us a clean slate, a time for setting new goals.
This links to a study carried out by (Dai, Milkman and Riis, 2014) who referred to this as the ‘Fresh Start Effect’ – it’s easier to motivate ourselves into good habits at natural transitional points or temporal landmarks. These distinctive events can inspire us to look at the bigger picture and maybe start to identify areas we would like to change.
So why does the Fresh Start Effect work?
Most people will have things that they would like to improve and most of us will remember the times we have failed our goals. Temporal landmarks highlight the gap between current behaviour (e.g unhealthy eating or too much time screen time) and a preferred desired future behaviour (e.g. exercise more/ better management of finances).
Psychologists studying the ‘Fresh Start Effect’ show we are able to place our past imperfections in a previous period of our lives. “Individuals think of their past, current and future selves as interconnected but separable components of their identity”(Parfait, 1984) so for example, a person may compare their past and current self and wonder if their future self could be wiser. So by blaming our past selves we can create a positive image of our current self which in turn, empowers us to feel more motivated to work harder towards our goals.
Therefore, if we have left our past failings behind, our future successes lie ahead. For example, a person approaching their 30th birthday may see this as a landmark. A landmark that separates them from their carefree lifestyle and lack of commitment in their 20’s, to their new mature 30 year old adult self by making plans to sort out their finances, be healthier or considering their career.
So why wait for January! Why not have a ‘Fresh Start’ now? Ask yourself these questions.
What do I want to be different in 12 months time?
What’s working best for me? Which of those things do I want to build upon?
What are the challenges to achieving this?
What feels negative or draining, that holds you back? What might help with this?
What do I need to say no to more, that will give me the time to do this?
You may be surprised how much calmer and focused you feel once you’ve decided what your future goals will be.
By Jane Barker MBACP Accredited and Registered Counsellor