The benefits of a fresh start

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Could taking a fresh start — apart from on New Year’s Day — help you accomplish something important? 

Two classes I ran this week ended up being better, livelier than usual. One, for my Get it Done group, seemed friendlier and more engaged. The other, for my Extreme Writing Makeover class,  had more people attending than usual and generated a lot more questions.

How can I explain these differences? I’m not entirely sure. Some of it, undoubtedly, was a result of people feeling more relaxed after a long holiday season. But I suspect that the new year also had something to do with it. Even if we don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions (as I don’t), it’s hard not to get excited by the thought of a fresh start.

Research from Wharton professor Katherine Milkman shows we’re more likely to make vigorous new commitments at  the start of a new year. We might start a diet to lose weight, go to the gym to get fit, or make commitments to treat members of our families better. (You can see the abstract, here.)

Interestingly, she also found, we’re also more likely to work toward self-improvement during other so-called landmarks such as birthdays, holidays, new months, or even new weeks. Why? Because we feel as though we’re facing a clean slate. This gives us the luxury of ignoring — or at least moving beyond — the mistakes of the past and starting all over again. As well, a fresh start allows us to be more reflective and more concerned with the “big picture” rather than the small, day-to-day reality. In other words we can see the forest rather than the trees.

So, here’s what I suggest: the next time you’re struggling with a big project or even with a habit you’re trying to change, look for other occasions that will give you the opportunity to embark on a fresh start. Me? I’m struggling to control my email habit. Even though I always turn it off while I’m writing (a good first step) I still check it far too frequently and respond too quickly. I know this both stresses me out and makes me a less efficient and effective. I’m going to take a fresh start of next Monday to try to wrestle this habit into the ground. Care to join me?

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