The Fresh Start Effect

The “fresh start effect”: here’s how Milkman and co-authors Hengchen Dai and Jason Riis explain it in “The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior”: 

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.

Every day, I struggle between doing what is right for me in the long-term and doing things that satisfy my instant gratification monkey, which is usually not in line with my long-term goals. On a typical weeknight after work, once I finish my dinner, I debate between working on something productive (my blog, reading a book, or doing research) and being completely unproductive (watching Twitch, Netflix, or Youtube).

I would like to believe that I am productive the majority of the time, but I definitely underestimate how many hours I spend a day being unproductive. Finding a balance between being productive and being absolutely lazy is an art – one that I have yet to master.

Sometimes humans, including me, do irrational things. In this particular case, the irrational behavior I am referring to is the fact that many of us have long-term stretch goals or dreams that we want to accomplish (I hope you do), but hardly ever take the day to day steps to make those dreams a reality.

Instead of focusing on our long-term goals every day, like losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, we rationalize a way for us to eat the chocolate cake today because after all – we can always exercise tomorrow.

Don’t push off what you can do today on to tomorrow.

Why Are You Behaving Irrationally?!

Whether you are trying to pursue Financial Independence by making more money through a side hustle, saving money through frugality, or investing your money – you need to take the appropriate actions today!

Let’s use the example of saving money. All of us understand that we need to save money if we are ever going to become financially independent or retire early (or retire at all). However, such a small percentage of Americans have any money saved, more accurately the majority of Americans have consumer debt or credit card debt. But, why?! Why do so many American’s have nothing saved?!

It’s the same reason why so many Americans are overweight – because humans are LAZY!

I am not calling you lazy, but I am calling you out (and myself out) for being lazy most of the time.

It is so much easier to plop yourself on your couch, bed, or chair than it is to plop yourself onto a treadmill, bicycle, or anything that makes you sweat. In the same sense, it is so much easier to order delivery, to call an Uber, or to buy the notoriously delicious latte than it is to cook your own food, ride the slow MTA subway, or make your own coffee -respectively.

So, following my own advice, I have been cooking my own food, refusing to hail any cab anywhere, and making my own coffee – most of the time… I bought a latte the other day at work and died a little inside.

As much as we slip up from time to time, it is important to recognize instances of irrational behavior and try to correct it going forward.

yesterday you said tomorrow.jpg

Stop Waiting For Tomorrow, Next Week, or Next Year

As much as we want to become successful, rich or generally happy, many of us aren’t taking the appropriate steps on a day-to-day basis.

If you are overweight and want to have washboard abs by next summer, then you need to take the appropriate steps today! You need to get your heart rate up and sweat, you need to eat a healthy diet, and you need to commit to a new healthier lifestyle. Don’t rely on your “New Year’s Resolution” as a commitment device and wait around for January 1st to begin your new lifestyle (like everyone else) – hit the gym today!

In the same sense – if you want to become financially independent in the next decade, then you need to start increasing your income, increasing your rate of savings (%50 savings rate is a good start), and begin your investing journey. You need to do these things today, not tomorrow, not next week, and not next year – TODAY!

It is easy to splurge on yourself in the short-term and justify abnormally expensive purchases with the classic: “I had a long week at work, I deserve this”. Instead of splurging on yourself because you “deserve it“, try treating your money with respect because your money “deserves” to be treated better.

I realize this advice is harder to follow than it is to type on a blog, but I try my best to behave rationally every day. Taking small steps towards the bigger goal is how great things get accomplished.

Take the steps that will bring you closer to your goals, not further away.

The Time Is NOW!

Treat every day like a “new day” because… well, it is a new day.

What did you say yesterday that you would do today? What are you waiting for? Why are you waiting?

If there was something important that you needed to get done, then don’t hold it off for tomorrow.

There’s no time like the present.




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  1. You hit it right on the head. This is something I am certainly guilty of myself. There are so many changes I want to make in my life. Many I have started, but many I have been putting off for years. It is only possible to finish something and feel accomplished if we START. Taking the first step to work toward a goal is the hardest part. For me, the reason I have put things off for so long is because they seem so daunting. I think this happens to many of us. We set ourselves up for failure before we even take the first step. In my renewed view of my goals, I push myself to take the first step. After all, once that first step is out of the way, why not take another? We get too wrapped up in the road we believe that we are going to travel that we put off making the first move. Take the first step and then take a look around to see where you are. The second step will be much easier than you think.

    1. Thanks for the well written comment!

      You are absolutely right. Success is just a matter of committing to taking one step in front of the other consistently.

      I find that the hardest tasks to accomplish are tasks w.o due date or self imposed due dates. It is alot easier to get your head in gear when your boss or professor puts a deadline on you.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Very valid points made in this post, Jack. I think as humans we also tend to look at only the finish line and often get overwhelmed by the task ahead. It is important to remember what Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Just take that first step now and the rest of the journey will unfold itself.

  3. I agree with your comment above Jacked – tasks that can be done at any time are done at “no time”. To make myself to those kinds of things I have to make a list and deliberately set aside time.

  4. Yes jack you are right there is no tmrw , yes need to do it today .I think procrastination is biggest enemy which i experience and i know i also needs to change

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