Freakonomics, which I read many years ago, remains one of the most entertaining books I have read. Stephen Dubner, one of the book’s authors, hosts the Freakonomics Radio podcast, which I don’t regularly listen to (because I listen to too many others). The podcast’s web site describes it this way: “Stephen J. Dubner has surprising conversations that explore the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature — from cheating and crime to parenting and sports. Dubner talks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists and entrepreneurs — and his Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt.”

I recently listened to one episode I found very interesting. Its title, When Willpower Isn’t Enough, is what drew me to the episode. I have written often about the way willpower impacts our ability to make changes that stick—simply, we have a limited amount of willpower (it’s been studied), which is why we fail when we try to make too many changes at once, or changes that are too big (think New Year’s resolutions).

I regularly write about the way to make changes that actually stick: break down your goals into small pieces and work on them one at a time for the 21 days it takes to create a habit. Once you have created that habit, you can work on another for the next 21 days, and so on. A couple of years later, you will have adopted numerous small habits, adding up to significant change (as opposed to years going by with the same New Year’s resolutions).

There were two interesting concepts discussed in the When Willpower Isn’t Enough episode: the “fresh start effect” and Temptation Bundling. I’ll write about Temptation Bundling at a later date.

The fresh start effect points to evidence that people are more likely to attempt to tackle goals immediately following “temporal landmarks,” meaning the start of a new week, month, year, semester, or birthday—New Year’s is, no surprise, the most popular landmark. Dubner suggested these demarcations of time could be popular because it feels like your past is behind you and your future is ahead of you.

I’m writing her about the fresh start effect so you can be aware of it. If you tend to begin new habits at the start of new weeks, months, or years, that is not a bad thing. I am not against New Year’s resolutions (or new month resolutions, or new semester resolutions). I just want to be sure you break down your resolutions into small pieces you work on one at a time to create habits that stick.

What is your feeling about the fresh start effect? Join the conversation with your comments…

All the best,

David

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