The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior

36 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2013 Last revised: 7 May 2017

Hengchen Dai

Washington University in St. Louis - John M. Olin Business School

Katherine L. Milkman

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Jason Riis

Harvard Business School

Date Written: December 24, 2013

Abstract

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.

Keywords: goals, motivation, temporal landmarks, mental accounting

Suggested Citation

Dai, Hengchen and Milkman, Katherine L. and Riis, Jason, The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior (December 24, 2013). The Wharton School Research Paper No. 51. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2204126 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2204126

Hengchen Dai (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - John M. Olin Business School ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1133
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Katherine L. Milkman

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Jason Riis

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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