Newspaper article The Queensland Times (Ipswich, Australia)

Make a New Start Work; the New Year Has Dawned - Set Some Goals with Friends and Go after Them

Newspaper article The Queensland Times (Ipswich, Australia)

Make a New Start Work; the New Year Has Dawned - Set Some Goals with Friends and Go after Them

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa A Williams UNSW Australia

NEW year's resolutions are set with the best of intentions. But they notoriously fail to translate into lasting behavioural changes.

The new gym membership falls into disuse come February; items forbidden from the new diet sneak back into the pantry by March.

Even goals to work less and spend more time with friends and family seem to fall by the wayside almost as soon as the holiday break is over and the brimming email inbox beckons.

But recent psychological research highlights several reasons why these kinds of resolutions might actually work - as well as simple ways to set yourself up for success.

The fresh start effect

A series of recent studies supports the idea that the start of a new calendar year spurs initiation of activities related to self-improvement.

They show Google searches for the term "diet", gym attendance, and use of goal-support websites are highest in January and decline month by month over time.

Researchers doing the studies call it the "fresh start effect" - the idea that particular days and dates serve as temporal landmarks, much like physical landmarks serve as demarcations of important places.

In the case of temporal landmarks, the demarcation is between a past self, who has perhaps failed to meet goals, and the present self, who has goal pursuit at their fingertips.

An additional set of studies, published recently in the journal Psychological Science by the same team, looked into this effect in more detail.

In one experiment, participants asked to think about New Year's Day as a meaningful day visited more websites related to goal support (and spent more time browsing them) than those who were asked to think about it as an ordinary day.

Directly speaking to the idea that a temporal landmark mentally separates people from their past selves, another experiment in the series established that framing a character in a short story as experiencing a new beginning led participants to perceive that character as different from who they'd been in the past. …

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