Temporal Landmarks: Finding Your Fresh Start

By Cole Purvis
Woman's running shoes with 2024 written on them

As we usher in the new year, many of us find ourselves setting new goals and resolutions that aim for personal growth and positive change, just as we might have done in years prior. However, have we ever considered why we wait until the New Year or even a birthday or anniversary to set goals for ourselves? As it turns out, there is an explanation to this phenomenon: temporal landmarks.

What are temporal landmarks?

Temporal landmarks are points in time that stand out as significant, representing new beginnings, transitions or separations from the past. These landmarks can be categorized into various forms, ranging from culturally significant dates like New Year’s Day or birthdays to more personal milestones, like the start of a new job, moving to a different city, or even the beginning of a week or month. They serve as opportunities for reflection and self- evaluation, encouraging people to assess their progress toward a certain goal, reevaluate their priorities and set new aspirations.

The concept of temporal landmarks goes well beyond the chronological division of time, however. It delves into the psychological impact these moments have on our mindset and behavior.

Research in behavioral science suggests that these landmarks act as catalysts for motivation and behavior change. According to researchers Researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman and Jason Riis, “Temporal landmarks psychologically disconnect us from our inferior, past self and make us feel superior. This motivates us to behave better than we have in the past and strive with enhanced fervor to achieve our aspirations.” This state of mind is what ultimately leads us to the fresh start effect.

The fresh start

The “fresh start effect” refers to the increased motivation and commitment individuals experience towards their goals surrounding these temporal landmarks. Studies have shown that people are more inclined to set new goals or pursue behavioral changes during or after these milestones. For instance, individuals are more likely to commit to exercise routines, dietary changes, or even financial plans at the start of a new week, month or year.

The ever-popular New Year’s resolution is the most common example of this effect in action. In fact, according to Statista’s Global Consumer Survey, nearly 40% of adults in the United States set a New Year’s resolution each year.

Don’t ignore your fresh start

This phenomenon is nothing but positive. Understanding the implications of temporal landmarks and the fresh start effect should only be empowering. Recognizing these psychological phenomena enables individuals to leverage important moments like a new year, new month, new week, etc. to kickstart positive changes in their lives.

Of course, we should not always rely solely on temporal landmarks as our source of motivation for self-growth. While they do serve as important reminders to better ourselves, our greatest resource for improvement is our ability to continuously set goals for ourselves and have the resolve to see them through from start to finish. The initial surge in motivation following temporal landmarks may wane over time, which means we must persevere and remain resilient to maintain momentum towards achieving our long-term goals.

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