What is The Fresh Start Effect In Behavioral Science?

What is The Fresh Start Effect?

The Fresh Start Effect is a behavioral science finding that suggests individuals are more likely to engage in goal-directed behaviors and exhibit increased motivation towards achieving personal objectives when they perceive the beginning of a new time period. This phenomenon is attributed to the psychological association of new beginnings with a clean slate, providing an opportunity to leave past failures behind and start anew.

Key Features:

  1. Temporal landmarks: Specific dates or events that signify the start of a new time period, such as the beginning of a new year, month, or week, a birthday, or a significant life event (e.g., starting a new job or moving to a new city).
  2. Psychological reset: The perception of a fresh start often leads to a renewed sense of optimism and self-efficacy, which can boost motivation and commitment to personal goals.
  3. Goal setting: Individuals experiencing the fresh start effect may be more likely to set ambitious goals or resolutions, as they feel more capable of achieving them.
  4. Behavior change: The fresh start effect can increase the likelihood of initiating and maintaining positive behavior change, such as adopting healthier habits or improving personal finances.


Understanding the fresh start effect can inform the design of interventions and support systems for individuals seeking to make positive changes in their lives. Examples include:

Health and fitness

Encouraging individuals to start new exercise routines or adopt healthier eating habits at the beginning of a new time period, such as the start of a new year or after a vacation.

Personal finance

Leveraging the fresh start effect to help people set and stick to budgeting goals or commit to saving strategies.

Education and professional development

Aligning the start of new courses or training programs with temporal landmarks to maximize engagement and learning outcomes.

Addiction recovery

Timing interventions or support group meetings around significant life events or temporal landmarks to enhance the likelihood of successful recovery.


Businesses and organizations can utilize the fresh start effect in marketing campaigns or promotional offers, targeting individuals seeking to make positive changes or adopt new habits.

What is the benefit of a fresh start?

The benefit of a fresh start is that it can provide individuals with a sense of renewed motivation, self-efficacy, and optimism towards achieving their personal goals. By perceiving a new time period or event as a clean slate, individuals may be more likely to engage in goal-directed behaviors, set ambitious goals, and initiate positive behavior changes. This can lead to improved personal well-being, healthier habits, better financial management, and overall personal development.

What is the psychology behind fresh starts?

The psychology behind fresh starts is rooted in the idea that people often view new beginnings as an opportunity to distance themselves from past failures and shortcomings. This can lead to a psychological reset, with individuals experiencing a renewed sense of optimism, self-efficacy, and motivation. The fresh start effect is also associated with temporal landmarks, which serve as points of reference that people use to organize their lives and set goals for the future.

What is an example of a fresh start?

An example of a fresh start could be someone deciding to adopt a healthier lifestyle at the beginning of a new year. They might set goals for weight loss, increased physical activity, and better nutrition, leveraging the perceived clean slate of the new year to boost their motivation and commitment. By viewing the new year as a fresh start, the individual may feel more capable of achieving their goals and overcoming any previous setbacks or failures in their health journey.

Criticisms and shortcomings

While the fresh start effect has been hailed for its potential to motivate individuals to make positive changes in their lives, there are concerns that its impact might be too small to be meaningful in real-world situations. For instance, a much-discussed study on the fresh start effect’s influence on retirement savings found that, on average, people only saved an additional $11 a month. This modest increase is less than the cost of a Netflix subscription and may not be sufficient to significantly impact one’s long-term financial security. Critics argue that such minimal effects may limit the practical applications of the fresh start effect, calling into question its overall usefulness as a tool for promoting meaningful behavior change.

Related Articles

Default Nudges: Fake Behavior Change

Default Nudges: Fake Behavior Change

Read Article →
​Here's Why the Loop is Stupid

Here’s Why the Loop is Stupid

Read Article →
How behavioral science can be used to build the perfect brand

How behavioral science can be used to build the perfect brand

Read Article →
The death of behavioral economics

The Death Of Behavioral Economics

Read Article →