Introducing the Fresh Start Effect—a psychological trick to spark big change this fall

Animated image of a person walked towards a curved arrow

Do you ever experience those times of year where it just makes sense to step back, assess and implement meaningful life changes? Suddenly we’re motivated to set new goals and accomplish them. Past failures relax their hold on us and we’re able to see the big picture. Change is possible.

For many people, that time of year is January. With the change of the calendar, we think about how much we exercise and what we eat and try to implement new habits. However, that’s not the only time of year where we’re likely to feel this way.

Researchers have dubbed it the fresh start effect: the phenomenon whereby people are “more likely to tackle their goals immediately following salient temporal landmarks.”

The research, published in the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science, used historical Google search volume data, university gym attendance records and data from a goal setting website to demonstrate this phenomenon.

It convincingly argues that “temporal landmarks” like birthdays, job changes, public holidays and the start of a new month divide our lives into different parts. These landmarks take us out of the weeds of our day to day lives and encourage us to take a broader view of life. We can then view past mistakes or failures as belonging to the past. Unburdened, we can pursue present goals with more passion, drive and commitment.

For many people, one such landmark is the month of September, which signals the return to school for children and parents and the return to a more normal, structured work environment for employees and managers.

In this three-blog series, we’ll offer expert tips on how parents, children and organizational leaders can leverage the fresh start effect this fall.

First, we’ll examine the stress warning signs parents and children commonly experience when prepping for back to school. We’ll share insights from trusted LifeSpeak experts on how the whole family can manage stress around three key areas: homework, extra-curricular activities and social media.

Then, we’ll bring in organizational change expert, DEI strategist and senior director of talent management Siobhan Calderbank to talk about common pressures that underrepresented groups face when returning to work in the fall. She’ll explain what HR managers can do to help fill the gaps for those groups in organizational support strategies.

Leverage these tips or share them with your employees to improve mental health and overall wellbeing at home and in the workplace this fall.

Learn more about back to school stress here.