If you feel like life gives you a fresh start every Monday, you're not imagining it: a recent study says landmarks in the calendar are the most natural times to start setting new goals and habits. This "fresh start effect", as the researchers call it, can help us find the motivation to break away from our older selves.
According to a paper published in Psychological Science, so-called "temporal landmarks" - specific dates and days - are more likely to encourage us to set goals when they make us think of new beginnings.
Researchers from Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania ran five separate experiments to figure out the different ways our perception of time can affect our ability to set - and keep - goals. In one experiment, 165 participants completed a short online survey. They were asked to set a personal goal and then choose a day to start working towards it.
The participants were randomly assigned to two groups, one of which was given a list of dates all written in the same format, while the other had a list where Thursday the 20th of March was marked as the first day of spring.
Those in the latter group were much more likely to choose the 20th of March as their start date. The researchers suggest that the 'first day' framing in their lists was much more appealing when it came to picking a point where the participants could start afresh.
What's more, choosing the right date appears to give us more encouragement to actually follow through on the goal that we've set ourselves. "People's strengthened motivation to begin pursuing their aspirations following such temporal landmarks originates in part from the psychological disassociation these landmarks induce from a person's past, imperfect self," the team concluded.
They also looked at Google search trends to augment their findings. Queries for the word "diet" peaked at the beginning of each week and each month, as well as on the days following a national holiday. They also noticed the same patterns in data pulled from a university gym: the number of visits increased dramatically at the start of new weeks and new semesters, and right after birthdays.
The good news for those of us with less willpower than most is that these 'temporal landmarks' keep coming around. "The abundance of fresh start opportunities throughout the year offers repeated chances for people to attempt positive self-change," the researchers observed, "so even if they initially fail, they may subsequently succeed."