Why New Year’s resolutions actually work astoundingly well

Sunday, January 2nd, 2022

David Epstein explains why New Year’s resolutions actually work astoundingly well, by referencing behavioral scientist Katy Milkman’s How to Change:

Milkman’s team found that college students were more likely to hit the gym at the beginning of a new year, at the beginning of a week, at the beginning of a semester, and after their own birthdays. They also saw that students set more self-improvement goals in January, on Mondays, after school breaks, and (again) after birthdays. They called it the “fresh start effect.” The idea is that the sense of a new beginning makes it easier to turn an identity page, to feel like a new person who has new habits, and who is less burdened by past failures.

You certainly wouldn’t intuit this from pessimistic New Year’s headlines.


A 2007 survey, which found that about 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail to take hold, feels disappointing — until you consider that it leaves 20 percent of goal-setters who made a successful change thanks to a flip of the calendar.

A 2019 study found that people were more motivated to work toward a personal goal when a calendar they were shown depicted whatever the current day was (either Sunday or Monday) as the first day of a new week.

At Penn, where Milkman works, students were more likely to sign up for email reminders about new habits if the nudges were offered on “the first day of spring” as opposed to “the third Thursday in March,” even though it was the same day. And when Milkman’s team sent postcards to employees at four universities urging them to start saving (or start saving more) for retirement, the cards that invited employees to launch the new behavior after their next birthday were the most effective.


  1. Contaminated NEET says:

    Nudge me harder, daddy!

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