Longer daylight hours, warming temperatures, and mornings punctuated by hopeful chirping sounds herald the onset of spring. At last! The air is redolent of flowering trees. A joyous explosion of pinks, purples, greens, and yellows is erupting from the thawing earth. The world exudes regeneration.
These signs of spring invite us to consider the possibilities for new growth inside ourselves, too. The season that inspired the term “spring-cleaning” inspires many of us to set to work clearing out old personal habits and introducing patterns that move us toward enhanced health, clean living, and personal satisfaction.
The onset of spring is not the only time of year in which we seem to naturally contemplate personal change. The traditional favorite is of course the first of January, a month that derives its name from the god Janus, to whom the Romans made yearly promises. But plenty of other dates pose equally opportune occasions to sync good intentions with actions: “big” birthdays, religious holidays – even the start of a new school year with its crisp new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils.
There may be good reason for this, according to research that supports the effectiveness of tying our intentions to meaningful times of the year. A 2014 study, The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that by linking the onset of action toward a goal to salient temporal landmarks, people are more likely to tackle them immediately. Tracking the frequency of Google searches about diet, gym visits, and goal-specific commitments against noteworthy calendar times and events, they identified predictable activity spikes. In other words, choosing a meaningful start date is an effective way to reinforce the process of taking action on good intentions.
If it’s time for you to get off the couch and get moving, eat more vegetables, or tackle that pile of paperwork, this is news you can use. And your start date need only hold significance for you. Yes, it could be a big birthday, the start of the Lunar New Year, or D-Day that tips off your personal renovation project. But you could just as easily designate next Monday, the first of the month, or your dog’s birthday. All are equally effective.
As someone who finds fascination in studying the change process, I’m interested in these scientific findings. But what really struck me about the study was the effect the title had on me–that word “fresh” coupled with the notion of beginning anew. The very words “The Fresh Start Effect” convey a sense of optimism and restoration, and in a way that is so very different from the way we usually describe lifestyle adjustments.
We talk about needing to lose that spare tire, or hit the gym, or tackle that long overdue task. Who hasn’t uttered words to this effect: “I really need to [insert heinous sounding task here] before I [insert dreaded consequence here]”? Regardless of the benefits we might derive, how we frame our intended actions can be inspiring or a real downer. And that’s pertinent, because when it comes to managing personal change, we need all the psychological help we can get.
The fact is, we humans are change-resistant. As much as we’d like to reduce our weight, start running, or get to bed earlier, breaking up with old habits is hard. Like a scuffed pair of shoes that is worn down, stretched out, and possibly causing backaches, we know we ought to go through the discomfort of breaking in new ones, but these old patterns are familiar and just so darned comfortable at this point.
Achieving meaningful progress toward lifestyle goals requires planning, preparation, and a strategy for overcoming inevitable setbacks, all before we begin taking action. The more clearly we identify the components our ideal “after” picture and understand how forming a healthier habit will support the values we hold dear, the better our chances at success. Factoring in our own quirks, learning style, and avoidance tactics will also support a more successful outcome.
Besides choosing a good date and inspiring project name, making a change is easier when you have help. An Integrative Health Coach can support you in defining your ideal vision, breaking a big change down into doable steps, and strategizing around inevitable setbacks. Just as important, a coach can act as an accountability partner and help you identify ways to reinforce, maintain, and acknowledge your successes big and small. (When you’re ready, let’s talk!)
Where might a fresh start serve you? What if we brought a sense of renewal and total presence to every single day? With a clear vision of the what’s, how’s, and why’s, every day can herald a new beginning. That gives us 365 perfect opportunities to begin anew in any given year.
Happy Spring. Here’s to Fresh Starts!