Ready, get set, reset

Why and how fresh starts work.
Published September 8, 2019

We’re probably all familiar with the concept of a “fresh start” or a “reset.” Sometimes we feel the need to start anew with a clean slate. Often temporal markers are our almost subconscious cues for resets – think New Year’s resolutions or spring cleaning.

But what’s the science behind these resets, and how can we create them for ourselves whenever we want to?

The ‘fresh start effect’

The ‘fresh start effect,’ as it’s become known, is often triggered by temporal markers such as a birthday or holiday, or a new week, month, year or semester. After studying the concept, researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman and Jason Riis suggested that “these landmarks demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year, which relegate past imperfections to a previous period, induce people to take a big-picture view of their lives, and thus motivate aspirational behaviours.”

Interestingly, another study suggests that fresh starts are actually most effective when a person has experienced failure before the reset.

“The hardest thing is realizing you’re in need of a reset,” says Adina Mahalli, a mental health consultant and family care specialist with Maple Holistics. “No one wants to admit they are in a slump or in need of change.”


She says anything new and healthy can help you to reset your life, such as a slight variation in your diet or taking up a new activity – “anything that can help you to look at life differently and change your perspective on yourself and the world around you.


“At the centre of any reset is renewal,” Mahalli explains, “something new, and/or change. Not something temporary, but something that you will do regularly.”


Powerlifter and training director at Nick Rizzo knows firsthand how fresh starts can be helpful.


“Being someone who struggled with weight the majority of their adolescent life, this ‘fresh start effect’ is something that I unknowingly began to utilize. It is what led to me finally overcoming my issue with weight and to me becoming a competitive powerlifter,” he says.


Why do fresh starts help us?


“We all can probably speak to the negative feelings, judgment and negative self-talk that happens when we failed to stick to that new habit or follow through on a goal,” says Rizzo. “Fresh starts are us coming to terms with has happened, recognizing that it doesn’t determine what happens today, tomorrow or any other day in the future. It is us giving ourselves permission to move forward past all this negative energy.”


Most importantly, he adds, a fresh start is “us re-recognizing that we are capable, we are worth it and that we are worth the investment in time and energy to achieve the things that will enhance our health and life.”

How can we create resets for ourselves?

More than anything, fresh starts are about perspective.


Rizzo says the issue isn’t that we need more fresh starts, it’s in “classifying our efforts, or lack of effort, and the results that came with them as a failure.”

“Instead,” he says, “every time we don’t achieve a goal, look at [these situations] as learning opportunities. These are perfect times for reflection to ask yourself, what happened, what did you do, what did you not do, what worked, what didn’t, and how will you adapt what you are doing moving forward to continue to progress?”


If you want to take one of these learning opportunities and create a reset for yourself so you can keep progressing toward your goals, Rizzo says the key is to focus on one objective at a time. Then you can determine how often you are going to take the time to stop to analyze your progress and reflect on what’s led you to where you are.


“For me, I do this weekly, monthly and quarterly,” he says. “Each time [provides] me with more and more information about how to continue to succeed rather than seeing it as a failure. Each time I sit down and do this, it provides me with a renewed sense of motivation and drive, even if I wasn’t lacking in that department.”