New year, new nothing..?
Here we are – nearly 2 months into 2023 and post the collective ritual around January 1st to rigorously reinvent ourselves and commit to striving for a better, new year, new me version. Hands up if you still remember what was dotted down on a to-do list, vision board, post-it note or pub napkin. If so, chapeau (well done)! It is estimated that as many as 80% of people fall off their self-improvement journey by February. And only about 8% stick with them for the whole year.
So why do we feel we have to embark on a new change journey on January 1st? Where is this magical driver to set New Year’s resolutions and goals at what is a pretty grim and grey time coming from? Let’s diver deeper into the psychology of personal change.
Studies refer to the fresh start effect which marks a significant milestone that encourages us to set new goals. We can frame it as a mental accounting period. As humans we tend to craft our lives into narratives, defined by chapters rather than only one long continuum. As we go along, writing our own life stories, being the architects of our own lives, we are on the look out for any temporal landmarks that potentially and organically infuse a boost of extrinsic motivation.
And this cultural tradition goes back centuries, to Chinese antiquity, Roman Stoics, and noble goal setting attempts in the 1860s as referenced in letters from Mark Twain – a writer, humourist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer who wrote about goal setting amongst many other topics. One famous quote of his is: ‘Without dreams & goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.’
But luckily, goal setting can happen any other day after the 1st of January. By ditching the self-limiting beliefs that we may be doomed as soon as February arrives, we can start fresh and purified after any holiday breaks. Research even shows that any Monday of the year can be a day to reset and start fresh into the week and beyond. Or the first day of any month. This plenitude of temporal landmarks gives us hope to follow our ambitions, dreams and plans beyond just one day per annum.
By getting rid of the idea of the ‘perfect time’, we can all boost our minds, reframe our thinking and set a new beginning to benefit from the fresh start effect. This can also mean we prime ourselves and set/schedule a reminder for a future date. We can then engage in and place enough importance on the reflection aspect. For many of us, when we have an important idea, we do not try it out. Taking time to identify whether it is self-doubt that is holding us back or idea doubt allows us to better understand ourselves and navigate any hurdles that might stall action we need to undertake.
Self-reflection was an underrated inner tool in the past. Covid forced us to sit with ourselves to a much greater extent and we realised that self-reflection wasn’t as scary as we thought. It is incredibly powerful to define the areas of your life that you would like to nourish and dedicate time and energy to. Any goals and dreams worth pursuing will hold setbacks and surprises that when given the chance to reflect, learn from and consistently commit (and re-commit) to can create a joyful and successful year/life story.