The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior
Washington University in Saint Louis - John M. Olin Business School
Katherine L. Milkman
University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School
Harvard Business School
December 24, 2013
The Wharton School Research Paper No. 51
The popularity of New Year’s resolutions suggests that people are more likely to tackle their goals immediately following salient temporal landmarks. If true, this little-researched phenomenon has the potential to help people overcome important willpower problems that often limit goal attainment. Across three archival field studies, we provide evidence of a “fresh start effect.” We show that Google searches for the term “diet” (Study 1), gym visits (Study 2), and commitments to pursue goals (Study 3) all increase following temporal landmarks (e.g., the outset of a new week, month, year, or semester; a birthday; a holiday). We propose that these landmarks demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviors.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 21
Keywords: goals, motivation, temporal landmarks, mental accounting
Date posted: January 21, 2013 ; Last revised: August 1, 2014
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