It could seem strange to wish everyone a happy new year so long after the official changeover of the calendar to the New Year; however it is the start of a new academic year and an important beginning, whether for students starting at the Academy this year, or for students progressing to the next year level. Resolutions are often made at the start of a year. Few resolutions are actually implemented for very long; most are forgotten before memories of New Year celebrations fade.
Research, conducted by Wharton professor Katherine Milkman and colleagues, has identified the importance of ‘temporal milestones’ or ‘landmarks’ when making resolutions. This research indicates that we want to distance ourselves from our past, imperfect, selves and will use any ‘marker’ along our journey to signify a fresh start. This marker becomes the impetus for focusing upon a distant goal, for changing direction if necessary, to create an improved self. New Year’s Eve is the most significant marker recognised in our society; however the start of a new academic year, a new term, a birthday or even a new week, can act as an adequate marker for initiating change.
Ancient Romans placed stone markers at specific intervals along their roads to show the distances between settlements as people walked or rode horses along the route. The action of stopping at a milestone marker to review the past (where have I come from?); to turn attention away from the current point in a journey (where am I now?), towards more significant but distant goal (where do I want to go?) in order to determine the best direction (how do I get there?) and how much further there is to travel (what still needs to be done?) helped thoughtful travelers reach destinations. Modern road signs continue to provide information, with distance and direction signs to help motorists reach destinations; however drivers speed along modern highways, unable to stop and barely registering relevant information. Life can seem similarly hurried but individuals who take the time to stop at markers can make important decisions about the course of their journey.
Temporal markers serve to distinguish the old from the new. They are described by Milkman and her colleagues as signifying the start of a new ‘mental accounting period’ – just as a new calendar year, a new financial year or other markers set the parameters of a financial accounting period. It is during these periods that we take account of ourselves; effectively weighing up our plusses and minuses. A new accounting period provides an opportunity to review past performance, to begin afresh with initiatives that are expected to improve results at the end of the current accounting period. So it is with reviewing our own progress: a marker, such as the beginning of a new academic year, provides an opportunity to decide upon initiatives and undertake actions that will enable the achievement of personally meaningful goals.
© Michele Juratowitch