Why We Make Resolutions On New Year’s

When we are overweight, we should always want to get in shape. When our house is a mess, we should always want to get organized. When the digits in our bank account resemble the ones in our heart rate, we should definitely want to save more and spend less (if your heart rate resembles a wealthy bank account, please see a doctor immediately).

We should want to make these changes at any given time, but we typically wait to make the decision to improve these areas of our lives until January.

Why do we make New Year’s resolutions and not May 13th resolutions? The date should make no difference when it comes to bettering our lives, right?

Maybe not.

Of course we should always want to tackle the deficiencies in our lives regardless of the date, but we aren’t always motivated to do so. Research by Wharton professor Katherine Milkman has found that we can use the day on the calendar to our advantage.

Milkman coined the term “fresh-start effect” which refers to the energy and determination we feel when we are able to wipe the slate clean.

When the calendar turns from December to January, we experience a fresh start. A year filled with mistakes and failed goals is on its way out and a bright, beaming new year is rolling in. We feel like we can take on the world, and we use that momentum to make goals – ones we feel good about our ability to achieve.

This explains why, in January, my brother thinks he can beat me in ping-pong, even after a year of experiencing nothing but defeats.

A fresh start can do wonders for our motivation.

And Milkman has found that we can harness this clean slate momentum to focus on the pursuit of goals at other times throughout the year. Milkman points out that there are fresh-start moments are all around us. We don’t have to settle for a new year.

We can use new months, new weeks, and birthdays to refocus our efforts.

If we look for them, we can find many opportunities to take advantage of a clean slate. A new relationship, a new job, even a new wardrobe. By focusing on these fresh-start opportunities, we can harness motivation to pursue our goals more actively.

Just don’t tell my brother…I don’t want him thinking he can actually beat me in ping pong.


Photo credit: Flickr