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The 'fresh start effect' and what that means in 2021

I thought, back in those heady days of December, that my first blog post in 2021 would be a spirited defence of The New Year's Resolution. It would be a rousing call to action for everyone who struggled through 2020 and watched their goals evaporate into thin air as the world transformed in front of our very eyes. As an aside: the biggest goal I achieved in 2020 was to only wash my hair once a week. And I'm still quite proud of that one. So this was going to be a much needed boost to get us all ready and pumped for an amazing year.

But once again, the 'Rona has laughed at my plans, and this week I find myself schooling a spirited 4 year old boy and an emotional 10 year old girl. And trying to fit my work around that. So, maybe my goals will need to be adjusted slightly (i.e. a lot) for the next couple of months or so, and maybe that's the same for you?

But back to the point.

The New Year's Resolution is almost laughed at these days as being pointless and irrelevant. But actually, there's some good science behind why they can actually be really powerful and effective. Just like birthdays, anniversaries and new terms; the new year is a 'temporal landmark' and goals set at this time are particularly effective for two reasons:

1) They allow you to open a 'new mental account', or fresh start, in the same way a business has a clear annual accounting system. They distance you from previous habits.

2)They interrupt attention from the day-to-day, and allow you to take a step back and reflect on what's passed and what you want from the future. They make you pay attention to your surroundings for just a brief amount of time before they just get blurred into wallpaper again.

In short, temporal landmarks 'slow our thinking, allowing us to deliberate at a higher level and make better decisions'*

The 'fresh start effect' is real, and you can harness it (even in these extraordinary times!) by slowing down your thinking and taking a much needed step back. Even if it's only for a short amount of time.

The tricky part, of course, is keeping that momentum going once the day to day takes over once again. And the answer to this is in the goals you set, and how accountable you are for them. So, same with any goal - it must be specific enough, and measured in some way, so you know you've achieved it. There must always be a time frame against it. And it must be positively stated (it's difficult to achieve a 'stop smoking' or' lose weight' or 'avoid social media' kind of goal because your subconscious will simply obsess about that one thing.) Instead, it should focus on the positive outcome of doing that thing such as spending more time with your parents, or feeling great about your body when you go swimming etc. And of course, it must be achievable, or you'll just give up.

An example of a great goal is

'I'll check all my writing in 2021 and take out excessive or unnecessary exclamation marks and smiley faces'.

That's much better than the rather vague 'I'll make my personal brand more professional'. Which is fine as an intention, but needs specific and measurable goals underneath it so you stay on track and motivated.

Brian Tracy's** tactic of writing down your top goals every night before you go to sleep, and then reading them first thing in the morning before you do anything else, is an excellent way to keep on top of goals. And by doing them fresh every day, it means you can adapt them as things change during the year. Accountability is also key to success, so share them with someone who won't squash them, preferably a coach or someone who is truly independent.

So, I hope that 2021 is a positive one for you, and that you achieve your goals, however small or unusual they may be. You can't always be on your A game, but you can always slow things down and think about what you really need and want.

May the odds be forever in your favour...

References are from

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