Local behavioral scientist explains the fresh start effect

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- We are now halfway through January and unfortunately, many people have already given up on their New Year's resolutions.

But a local behavioral scientist says you don't need a new year to make a change that lasts.

Professor Katherine Milkman at the Wharton School studies decision making. She says New Year's is definitely one of the most popular days to set new goals.

"You have this sense that the old year is behind you and your past failures are behind you as well so that gives you a clean slate," she said.

But she says you don't need a ball to drop to find that clean slate.

It's called the fresh start effect. Research shows it boosts motivation, but picking another date can work just as well.

Days like your birthday, the first day of spring, maybe a new job, or even just a random Monday.

"So you can find these other days that feel like fresh starts," said Milkman.

As for how to get your resolutions to stick, she says to set realistic goals and be specific.

"The goal shouldn't be something big and ambiguous that I hope by next year I will have lost 30 pounds," she said.

Instead, break it up into pieces and have a plan for how to get there. Also, keep track of your actions.

"Part of that is just self-awareness if you don't realize what you are doing how can you change for the better," said Milkman.

One of her colleagues there also did a study on the benefits of the so-called Mulligan effect. Basically, it means you set your goals but if you slip up once or twice, give yourself a pass and just get back to the plan.

Don't let it wipe out your entire goal.

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