455. Are You Ready for a Fresh Start?

    A reset, while not a guarantee for success, can have significant psychological effects on a player's performance. Starting fresh in a supportive environment can make a difference in sports and life.

    en-usMarch 18, 2021

    About this Episode

    Behavioral scientists have been exploring if — and when — a psychological reset can lead to lasting change. We survey evidence from the London Underground, Major League Baseball, and New Year’s resolutions; we look at accidental fresh starts, forced fresh starts, and fresh starts that backfire. And we wonder: will the pandemic’s end provide the biggest fresh start ever?

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Identifying moments of fresh starts can provide the psychological shift needed to set new goals and make positive changes. January 1st is just one example, but birthdays, new weeks, and major life events can also serve as opportunities for fresh starts.
    • The idea of starting anew can help individuals make behavioral changes and achieve their goals. Leveraging the fresh-start effect can be a powerful mind game for enabling positive transformations.
    • Pursuing goals that require behavior change is beneficial, and a fresh start can help increase the likelihood of achieving them. However, persistence and commitment are necessary for long-term success.
    • Choosing a significant moment, such as a birthday or the beginning of the week, can help jumpstart a new behavior. Using the fresh-start effect can provide a mental boost to achieving our goals.
    • Moving to a new place or traveling can be a great opportunity to break out of routine, build better habits, and develop personally and professionally. It provides continuous fresh starts that facilitate growth.
    • Andy Byford was successful in turning around New York City's subway system with his Fast Forward plan, increasing on-time performance and gaining popularity as "Train Daddy." However, facing exclusion and restructuring, he ultimately resigned in 2020 and returned to England without a clear next step.
    • Covid-induced ridership decline could be an opportunity to reflect on traditional transportation methods and adapt new practices. Adversity presents opportunities to refresh old practices and find better routes.
    • Being flexible and adaptable, as well as implementing fresh starts and fallback plans, can help form new, lasting habits. Paying people for flexibility and timing can also lead to success in habit-forming.
    • Everyone can benefit from using the fresh start effect and routine to overcome self-control issues and maintain good habits. Disruptions can be negative, but a reset can have a positive effect on achieving goals.
    • When a player is traded across leagues, their season-to-date statistics are reset, potentially affecting their performance. This study examines the impact of reset on player performance in MLB.
    • Trades can have a positive or negative impact on player performance, depending on their prior performance and the league they are traded to. Understanding individual behavior change in baseball is complex but important for the industry.
    • A reset, while not a guarantee for success, can have significant psychological effects on a player's performance. Starting fresh in a supportive environment can make a difference in sports and life.
    • Taking advantage of a fresh start can lead to better performance and well-being. Don't be afraid to give yourself a do-over like a mulligan in golf or set new goals for a fresh start. Remember to cut yourself slack and take inspiration from others.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Power of Fresh Starts for Behavior Change

    Behavior-change specialist Katy Milkman believes that January 1st, also known as a “fresh start effect,” is a day that people set goals or make New Year’s resolutions with a sense of hope and a desire for a new beginning. Milkman explains that fresh starts can shift our psychology in two ways: they make us feel like anything that preceded them was the old version of ourselves, and they make us step back and think about our lives and goals more deeply. While fresh starts are often associated with the start of a new year, they can also occur on birthdays, the start of a new week or month, or during any major life-changing event such as moving to a new community or having a child.

    The Power of Fresh Start for Positive Transformations

    The concept of a fresh start has fascinated humans for centuries and has been given different philosophical and cultural interpretations. The idea of starting anew is embedded in different aspects of our lives, from literature to real-life crises and changes. However, academics have not given much attention to studying the potential of the fresh-start effect, which Katy Milkman has found exciting and significant. She and her team are exploring how individuals can leverage fresh starts as an effective strategy for making behavioral changes and achieving goals. While humans generally tend to be averse to change, the fresh-start concept holds promise as a mind game for enabling positive transformations.

    The Truth About New Year's Resolutions and Success Rates

    Research shows that New Year's resolutions have a success rate of only 8 percent to 55 percent, depending on how success is defined. The success rate is also based on self-report, which is not always a reliable measure. However, pursuing goals that require behavior change is still a beneficial thing to do. Using a fresh start, such as the start of a new year, can increase the likelihood of achieving the goal. But it's important to remember that a fresh start is only a start, and it's not a one-and-done solution. Persistence and commitment are key to achieving long-term success in pursuing goals.

    Leveraging the Fresh-Start Effect for Behavioural Change

    Making use of the fresh-start effect can help in achieving a behavioural change. This effect can be manipulated by highlighting a moment that feels appropriate for a change, such as birthdays or the beginning of spring. When researchers sent out mailers inviting people to enroll in a retirement-saving program, those who were offered a fresh start were more likely to enroll than those who were offered a fixed start date. The day of the week effect is also important in triggering the fresh-start effect, with Mondays being a popular choice for starting anew. It's a mind game and we can use it to our advantage, reminding ourselves of new beginnings whenever we need to restart our goals.

    The Benefits of Starting Fresh in New Places and Traveling

    Moving to a new place with a new environment and social circle gives people a chance to break out of their routines and build better habits. This is because they haven't built up bad habits yet. This can be invigorating for some and a chance to develop personally and professionally. Fresh starts can also give people a chance to create a compelling case for change in their passions, work, and home life. Even though there are challenges, such as learning new systems and personalities, it can keep people energized and focused. Travel is similar to moving in that it exposes people to new experiences, new people, and new ways to see the world — providing a constant barrage of fresh starts that can facilitate growth.

    Andy Byford's Subway Turnaround and Departure

    Andy Byford's leadership helped turn New York City's subway system around with his rehab plan, Fast Forward, gathering support and funding. His efforts increased the subway's on-time performance from 58% to 80%, making him a folk hero with the nickname Train Daddy. However, Byford faced exclusion from meetings and a sudden restructuring of his parent agency, leading to his resignation in 2020. Despite feeling guilty for leaving the wonderful 50,000 employees of New York City Transit to bear the COVID-19 pandemic without his guidance, Byford flew home to England where he remains uncertain of his next move.

    Transport Commissioner sees Covid-induced ridership decline as an opportunity for fresh starts

    Andy Byford, the Commissioner of Transport for London, sees the Covid-induced ridership decline as an opportunity to reflect on the traditional ways of transportation and to make a fresh start. He states that there is an expected increase in medium-term ridership levels of up to 90% instead of a doomsday scenario where ridership never recovers or a highly optimistic view that it will return to normal within a short time. Byford is optimistic and believes adversity presents opportunities to reflect on new practices and alter traditional methods. Research shows that during a 2014 strike, about 5% of commuters found new routes that were better and stuck with them, highlighting the benefit of forced fresh starts.

    Creating Lasting Habits During and After the Covid Shutdown

    The Covid shutdown has led people to break old habits and form new ones, and it's important to be flexible and adaptable to create lasting habits. Research shows that paying people to be flexible and do things at different times can lead to more lasting habits than forcing a strict routine. The pandemic has tested our habits rigorously, and many people may find that their new habits formed during this time may not be compatible with their old routines once things go back to normal. Fresh starts and fallback plans can help in creating new, stickier habits.

    Successful People's Tricks for Achieving Goals

    Successful people use various tricks, including fresh starts and routine, to achieve their goals. No one is perfect, and everyone has self-control issues or forgetfulness. Furthermore, disruptions can sometimes be negative and reset can have a positive effect. Understanding the fresh start effect can help in achieving goals and maintaining good habits.

    The Power of Resets in Major League Baseball Trades

    Trades in Major League Baseball create a natural experiment to test the power of resets in a real-world setting. When a player is traded across leagues during the regular season, his season-to-date statistics are reset. However, if that same player is traded within the same league, his batting average doesn't get reset. Hengchen Dai conducted a study on 700 trades from 1975 to 2014, covering 250,000 individual at-bats. To control for factors such as regression to the mean, ballparks, and batter-pitcher familiarity, Dai looked at a control condition of people who were also traded but within the same league. This study provides insights into the impact of reset and how it affects player performance in Major League Baseball.

    The Impact of Trades on Baseball Player Performance

    Controlling for factors such as team performance, batting average, league differences, and date of the trade, a study conducted by Hengchen Dai revealed that for players who were not performing well prior to a trade, a reset was helpful for their performance, especially if they were traded across leagues. However, for players who were performing well, a trade with a batting-average reset had a negative impact on their performance. This research highlights that individual behavior change is complex and difficult to measure, especially in a sport like baseball where multiple variables come into play. Nonetheless, Dai's findings have the ring of truth and provide valuable insights for the baseball industry.

    The Psychological Impact of a Player Reset in Baseball and Beyond

    Bob Tewksbury's experience as a pitcher and mental-skills coach shows that a reset can have real psychological effects on a player, especially when it involves being traded to a new team and city. The comfort level of the new environment and community can have a significant impact on a player's performance and psyche. While a reset alone may not guarantee success, starting fresh with a supportive organization and community can make all the difference. This insight is relevant not only in baseball but also in other sports and even in life.

    The Fresh-Start Effect and Mulligans in Golf

    Turning 50 in golf offers a fresh-start possibility as players can qualify for the P.G.A.'s senior tour where they may win tournaments right away. This scenario presents an opportunity for academic researchers to test the fresh-start effect on age and performance. Another takeaway from golf is the mulligan - a free, do-over shot - which can be applied to real life as a way to give oneself a break from the stresses of the world. As we move into a new year, taking inspiration from others and setting resolutions can be a way to embrace a fresh start and achieve new goals. It's important to cut ourselves some slack and jump on the fresh-start bandwagon when things start looking up, especially after the challenges faced in 2020 and the first half of 2021.

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