Beginnings have power. As we learned last Sunday, people consider some dates on the calendar as more significant than others and that they use them to demarcate the passage of time, to end one period and begin another.
Like landmarks, fresh start dates slow our thinking allowing us to deliberate at a higher level and make better decisions.
Buy what are the implications of the fresh start effect?
The implications are also personal and social. People who blunder at the start, let us say on a new job, in a project, or trying to improve health perhaps, can alter their course to use a temporal landmark to start again.
In other words, people can strategically create turning points in their personal life histories, according to researchers Dai, Milkman, and Riis.
In later research, the same researchers found that imbuing an otherwise ordinary day with personal meaning generates the power to activate new beginnings. For instance, when they framed March 20 as the first day of spring, the date offered a more effective fresh start to participants than simply identifying it as the third Thursday in March.
Identifying one’s own personally meaningful days; a child’s birthday or wedding anniversary, can erase a false start and help us begin anew.
Organizations can also benefit from these findings. Recent research has shown that the fresh start effect applies to teams. For instance, rather than waiting for the next quarter to smooth out a mess, leaders can find a meaningful event occurring sooner; perhaps a product launch, to put screwups in the past and help the team move forward. Another application would be in reminding delinquent employees on their contributions or attendance to meetings. Sending them a message on their birthdays rather than on another day can prompt them more to act on it.
Consumers might also be more open to messages on days framed as fresh starts, the researchers found. If you are trying to encourage people to eat healthier, “a campaign calling for Meatless Mondays will be far more effective than one advocating Vegan Thursdays,” they said.
I applied the fresh start effect on my students this year. Knowing that New Year’s Resolutions are hardly foolproof, I showed to them that they can make a new start on any day by constructing their own temporal landmarks especially those that are personally meaningful, recover from rough beginnings and start again.