Goal-setting is an activity that we all engage in on a regular basis. Whether it’s challenging yourself to walk the stairs to work or planning to have dinner prepared by a certain time, we set goals for ourselves as a means of growth and development. However, when it comes to setting big goals for ourselves — like breaking a habit or drastically changing your life in one way or another — we tend to wait for moments that feel like starting fresh.
Think of it this way: if you were going to start a diet, would you do it on a Friday or on a Monday? Psychologically, we’re more likely to choose Monday because it presents itself as a ‘temporal landmark,’ or an important point on the calendar that breaks time into pieces and offers a fresh start — in this case, the start of a new week. Another important ‘temporal landmark’ that we typically observe is the start of a new year. People set themselves new year’s resolutions to be enacted at the beginning of a new year because it is a transitional period into a new year.
While Mondays and New Year’s are great periods to initiate new goals, finding a time that is personally meaningful to you, as an individual, to launch these new goals might be the key to finding the motivation you need to be successful. Experts suggest that dates that hold significant meaning to us often prompt self-reflection, making them the perfect time to set these goals into motion.
Hengchen Dai is the assistant professor of organizational behavior at UCLA Anderson School of Management, and she is one of the researchers who have studied the phenomenon known as the ‘fresh start effect.’ The fresh start effect is the perception that, during these transition periods, we can shed our old, flawed selves and leave behind our failures to start working towards self-improvement; Dai calls these “psychologically significant transition points.”
While this could be a specific date or even a cycle that you get yourself into, it doesn’t need to be anything nearly as strict. In fact, it can be any significant point in your life that might invite change: maybe it’s the last day at your old job or the first day of a new school year. People will use breakups, sports calendars, work schedules, vacations, and special anniversaries among other things to implement their new goals. Birthdays are also a common choice, and when you break it down further, the actual birthday itself matters, too. People who are experiencing a birthday ending in nine — 29, 39, 49, etc. — for instance are more likely to take on new challenges in the face of a new decade.
While using a significant date can help you kickstart your goal setting, there’s no guarantee that you will succeed in the long run. However, initiating a transition in the first place is the first step in the right direction.