How to Harness Fresh Start Moments to Boost your Motivation

by Mike Clayton  - December 10, 2014

Sunrise - Fresh Start


Do you find you get up and get to work with a little more enthusiasm on a Monday morning than on any other day? I know I do. Do you find you are raring to go on your first day back after a vacation – or even a public holiday.

If you think this might be due simply to being better rested, then here is another hypothesis to try out, courtesy of a team of researchers at The Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania: Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, Jason Riis.

Their research shows that there is a ‘fresh start effect’ – a boost in self-motivation on days where we perceive a fresh start, like the start of the year, the month or a week.

We all know that most gyms make their money at the start of the year when a load of people take out memberships. In fact, many gyms could not run with the level of membership they attract: it is far too high. But what they know is that, by February, many enthusiastic new joiners will hardly ever come back. The fresh start effect has worn off.

The authors hypothesise two reasons for the fresh start effect. The first is that the fresh start moment allows them, mentally, to wipe the slate clean on past failings and procrastination. The second is that fresh start moments represent a temporal landmark that encourages people to step back and get their lives in perspective, rather than focus on the detailed little tasks.

I certainly feel that this second hypothesis best fits my enthusiasm and productivity on a Monday morning.

But how can you use Fresh Start Moments deliberately to motivate yourself and others?

Fresh start moments are just a matter of framing. If you look hard you can find plenty: the first day of the month, the first of the week, the first day of summer, the first day of term, the first day of the quarter. But you can go further than that to.

What Milkman and colleagues label a ‘temporal landmark’, we can also call a milestone. And it is easy to set milestones in our work, our projects and our initiatives. By establishing key points where you can finish one thing and start another, or where you can review progress and re-start, you can use theses fresh start moments to renew your commitment to your goals and, more important, give your motivation to work on them a real boost.


Management Science. 60(10): 2563–2582 (2014)
The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior
Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis


You can read the original paper (under Articles/Journal Articles), an excellent interview with Strategy & Business (under Press) and watch a great video (under Multimedia) on Katherine Milkman’s website: There are also a number of other research papers there that are bound to draw you in. It doesn’t seem surprising to me that she has been named one of the ‘top 40 under 40’ business school professors.
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Powerhouse, by Mike clayton


My newest book is Powerhouse.

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