Fast Forward to 2018

Progress bar showing loading of the new year 2018. (Getty Images)
Make a fresh start in 2018! A UConn marketing researcher says the concept of a fresh start is key to transforming your life. (Getty Images)

If 2017 didn’t turn out exactly how you’d hoped or planned, don’t give up! The new year is an opportunity for a fresh start.

The fresh start mindset embraces the belief that people can change and are not defined by immutable character flaws or failed pasts. — Robin Coulter

Many Americans are strong believers in a ‘fresh start,’ reports Professor Robin Coulter, the head of UConn’s Marketing Department. Based on nine studies conducted in the U.S. between fall 2013 and spring 2017, Coulter and her colleagues find that the fresh start mindset is a key to transforming your life – whether improving your finances, adopting a healthy lifestyle, breaking bad habits, or simply charting a new course.

And even if you are on the ‘weaker’ end of the ‘fresh start’ mindset, certain key dates, like New Year’s Day and your birthday, can bolster your quest to fix whatever you’re dissatisfied with.

The study, “The Fresh Start Mindset: Transforming Consumers’ Lives,” will be published in a forthcoming (2018) issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Idea of Renewal Cherished Across Age, Gender, Income

“The ‘fresh start’ mindset is a belief that you can move on, let go of the past, and renew yourself if you’re in a rut,” says Coulter. “It’s a powerful concept, and one that is very pervasive in American culture.” While researchers have previously investigated the “growth mindset,” a belief in change through learning and education, the concept of a “fresh start” mindset is introduced in Coulter’s research.

“The fresh start mindset embraces the belief that people can change and are not defined by immutable character flaws or failed pasts,” she says. The fresh start theory downplays luck, circumstances of birth, ethnicity and social class, structural forces, and genetics as the determinants of life outcomes, instead emphasizing responsibility and perseverance amid difficulties.

The researchers found that the belief in a fresh start does not vary by age, gender, marital status, or household income or size. There is some evidence, however, of a connection between the fresh start mindset and religious beliefs that they say merits further study.

“Our research is really about the impetus to transform lives. I think our findings offer people tremendous hope that they can make life changes, both big and small. Sure, individuals can take a job across the country and make a fresh start, but there are also smaller, but important changes,” she suggests. “It isn’t just about getting a new job, marrying or having a child, but rather small changes – cleaning a closet or straightening your desk or buying a new brand of shampoo – can give you a new perspective. If you do things differently you can improve your life, well being, and outlook. A failure in your past doesn’t have to define you.’’

Even for people who do not have a strong belief in the ability to get a fresh start, the research documents that the concept of fresh start can be activated or enhanced.

Belief in a Fresh Start Extends to Others

“Our research reports that this core belief in a fresh start isn’t just individualistic,” Coulter says. “If individuals believe that fresh starts are possible, they are willing to help others in need of a fresh start.’’

Specifically, the researchers found that those who have a core belief in the idea of a fresh start are more likely to support programs that help vulnerable populations make new beginnings. For example, they are more likely to endorse programs that help veterans transitioning to civilian life; tax and mortgage programs that aid people who have shaky financial pasts get back on their feet; and programs for disadvantaged children and at-risk teens that assist them to start anew.

It is noteworthy that many companies, non-profit organizations, and even politicians have leveraged the fresh start metaphor in their marketing campaigns. Fresh start is a powerful metaphor with an element of constant self-reinvention. For retailers, the idea of a fresh start may sway consumer purchases, from clothes to home décor to new technology. For life coaches, therapists, and personal trainers, this research may be beneficial to their clients’ health and wellness.

“A central goal of transformative consumer research is to help consumers make positive changes in their lives, including quitting bad habits, embracing new goals, improving their well being, or seeking a better life,” Coulter notes. “Those with a strong fresh start mindset tend to be more optimistic, more future-focused, and willing to take control of their actions. Indeed, those with a fresh start mindset are likely to leave the travails of 2017 behind, and move on to 2018 looking through rose-colored glasses.”

The research was conducted by Coulter together with Linda Price of the University of Oregon, UConn alumna Yuliya Strizhakova ’05 Ph.D., now of Rutgers University, and Ainslie Schultz of Providence College.

The team currently has studies underway in China, Russia, and Mexico to investigate whether the fresh start mindset is a uniquely American trait or more global.