People tend to look for new opportunities in the new year, with researchers dubbing it the Fresh Start Effect. This is why it happens.

It’s that time of year. People promise themselves many things, often in the form of “new year resolutions” – to exercise more, to eat better, to seize the day, to stop smoking… or secure a better job. This means January is prime time for job seekers and for hiring managers to get the ball rolling with recruitment. Indeed, psychologically, the start of a cycle (such as a new year, new month, or new term), tends to increase goal creation, as researchers have found. January 1, tends to be one of these monumental dates.

There is no optimal time to make a major life change or career decision. Time is a human construct after all. However, January may be optimal for career changes because our mind is already primed for new beginnings. The Fresh Start effect, as described by Hengchen Dai, is a person’s ability to disassociate past performance outcomes from their current or future goals. That means that from a psychological perspective, specific days or months – such as January 1, and even all of January, are often seen to be an opportunity to reset… or a default reset button. It is an opportunity to regain our focus, update our targets and refresh our goals. This is why gym memberships tend to spike in January and many more people try to quit smoking, read more, or start new hobbies.

Is a Fresh Start a Good Thing?

If you are often complacent, or passive the rest of the year, a “fresh start” may be the opportunity to hit the ground running and take steps to better yourself, at work, and even in your personal life. Often, our past failures and imperfections stop us from taking a step forward. This opportunity to start afresh gives us a boost in confidence and makes us more optimistic. This means that using temporal landmarks such as a new year, a new month, or even a new day for pursuing a new goal can be effective. It may help you overcome self-inflicted challenges – such as a lack of willpower or lack of self-confidence that may hinder you from achieving your goals.

When should one use fresh starts?

  • When there is room for improvement
    Fresh starts are an opportunity to nudge yourself in a better direction. If you’re already making progress in your goals, it may not make sense to start again. Instead, focus on improving what you’re already doing. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
  • Don’t ignore your past
    Recognise efforts that haven’t worked in your favour and learn from them. Do not start from ground zero. This will help you avoid making similar mistakes again. Don’t let failure define you, instead understand and recognise your limitations and work around them.
  • Give yourself permission to reset, not just in the new year.
    Don’t rely on time to tell you when you should reset or start anew. Use every morning as an opportunity to reset, if need be. A new day is a new opportunity, after all.

Using the Fresh Start Effect to your advantage

  • Set weekly goals. The feeling of a brand new notebook, a fresh slate, is tough to beat. Mondays are your new notebook. You can choose to set new goals for this new week and achieve them. Use the Power of New to propel you forward!
  • A chance to recalibrate.
    When you drift from your goals, pick a date, any date, and make this your Fresh Start date. It could be a birthday, a holiday, a new month, or a new season. Align your goals with this new date and give yourself breathing space to start afresh and motivate yourself to improve.
  • Set long-term goals.
    Every day is a step toward achieving your long-term goals. Each decision and choice you make today will impact your future – so keep those goals in check! Every little step counts.

Truly, you don’t need to wait for the calendar to make a fresh start. Whenever you feel it’s time for a fresh start it is perhaps also time to think about these two questions:

  • What do you want to take with you into this new chapter / start in your life?
  • What do you want to leave behind?

Happy “fresh start” to you, dear reader.

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