455. Are You Ready for a Fresh Start?Freakonomics Radio
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- 18 Mar 2021
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?
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I'm so excited. That's Katie Milkman. I'm a professor at the Wharton School and I'm also the author of the book How to Change, and I'm the co-director of the Behavior Change for Good Initiative with Angela Duckworth as a behavior change specialist.
Milkman sees January 1st is something of a high holy day.
Every year, roughly half of all Americans make a New Year's resolution to break some habit, fix some flaw, pick up some new activity at the top of these wish lists.
And yes, I am calling them wish lists. You'll see why later. At the top are eating better, drinking less, exercising more.
We asked Freakonomics Radio listeners to tell us their resolutions for this year.
Some of you set the bar pretty low.
My New Year's resolution is to give myself a frickin break. I realized I haven't been showering enough, so I made a New Year's resolution to shower every 36 hours.
So far, so good visiting the tide pools. That's it. That's the only New Year's resolution that I set. And I figured it'd be really awesome if it happened and also totally OK if it didn't. And some of you were more ambitious.
My New Year's resolution was to read 25 books. So far, I'm on target.
Last year, my New Year's resolution was to stop drinking during the week and that was a complete failure. I made a resolution to try one new food every week because I used to be an incredibly picky eater.
Hi there, Freakonomics. My one resolution in twenty twenty one is that at least four days every month. I do not drive my car, nor do I feel any kind of ride, share or taxi or anything. It's my little way to try and reduce my fossil fuel consumption.
Why is January 1st the day that we burden with so much hope, so much resolve?
That's a fresh start. It's the big fresh start. But there are others too, it turns out. So it could be a birthday, the start of a new week even, or the start of a new month. There are other things that start cycles like going to a new job or having a child or moving to a new community. All of these things are fresh starts and give us that same sense that we have a new beginning, a new chapter opening in our lives.
Katie Milkman and some colleagues have named this motivation the fresh start effect. She says fresh starts can shift our psychology in at least two ways.
The first, they feel like new beginnings. So they give us a sense that anything that preceded them, that was the old me, this is the new me.
And so we can wipe that slate clean and the second shift, they make us step back and think big picture about our lives and our goals because they're sort of disruptive. It's like this different moment. You're entering a new era.
Did the phrase the fresh start effect really not exist?
It really didn't.
Oh, we had to do was add effects to this very catchy, well-known phrase. And it became like we had invented something brilliant, a new.
Humans have indeed long been captivated by the notion of the fresh start, think about the book of Genesis and the story of Joseph.
Joseph's older brothers are so jealous of him and his fancy coat of many colors that first they toss him in a pit and later sell him into slavery.
But ultimately, he gets a fresh start in Egypt, where none less than Pharaoh makes Joseph his adviser, his oracle. During the Enlightenment.
The Fresh Start idea was given a philosophical boost when John Locke argued that each person begins life with a tabula rasa. What we think of today as a blank slate and in the modern era, just think of all the literature and film where the protagonist sheds their skin, their identity, even their family. America itself was one big fresh start for a bunch of disgruntled Europeans.
And it remains so today for people from every continent and every level of Gruntal Mint.
But in academia, as Katie Milkman found, the fresh start concept hadn't received all that much attention.
It feels really important and real, like, of course, it's real to me.
Those are the most exciting things to study as a social scientist because, you know, it's big and it just hasn't been understood fully yet. And we were like, let's probe it. Let's see how we can use it. Let's really make sense of what are the moments that are fresh starts, what do they look like? What are their characteristics? How can we help people use the mark?
Today on Freakonomics Radio, the promise and limits of the fresh start effect. This is all a mind game. We hear about an accidental fresh start.
I actually flew over here with a view to changing the visa and ended up being trapped by the travel ban.
An unwanted fresh start. It's almost like when your mum and dad said, hey, by the way, we don't want you anymore.
You're going to go live with the Smiths and fresh starts that spoil fast.
This is Freakonomics Radio, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host, Stephen Dubner. Last week on Episode 54, we looked into why the traffic roundabout, which is known to be safer than an intersection with traffic lights, is relatively uncommon in the US. One convincing theory was that many people are simply averse to change. They are naturally suspicious of anything. It's a bit different.
Indeed, there is a large body of research showing that aversion to change is real and large. And yet humans being the funny animals we are, we also want change, sometimes desperately. At least that's what you'd conclude when you think about New Year's resolutions and the zeal with which so many people make them. So how successful are New Year's resolutions? A recent study by University of Stockholm psychologist named Perre Carl Bring along with three coauthors found that fifty five percent of these resolutions essentially worked.
That sounds amazing.
So I'm going to be a grouch about it.
That, again, is Katie Milkman, whose research on the Fresh Start effect is cited approvingly in this new study.
So the study is correlational. It's also, you know, based on self report that is, the study wasn't a randomized or controlled experiment.
Most every study that is done to see how many people achieve their New Year's resolutions is based on self report. It's really hard to get objective data on this unless you're, you know, stalking people in some incredibly bizarre way.
But also milkman's own experience tells her that a 55 percent success rate for New Year's resolutions is just incredibly high.
It's out of whack with any other study I've ever heard of. It's possible they recruited a really unusual sample. But it's also possible that there was something about the way they were asking the questions that led people to report success when they weren't really achieving it. You can ask the same question very different ways, like, are you still working on your goal?
We reached out to Carl bring for some clarification. He told us that his research sample was indeed unusual, that it wasn't random, that he'd recruited volunteers who were on average, more motivated to make a change. He also said that the way he posed this question, you did not have to be 100 percent successful as long as you are moving in the right direction, he said that is enough to be counted as a success. So, yes, that 55 percent success rate isn't what you might objectively consider success to.
Katie Milkman's Point. Other studies trying to measure New Year's resolutions have shown a success rate as low as eight percent to her.
That is closer to the reality. So it's a funny thing.
And general goal pursued mostly ends in failure. Tell me about it.
Yes. I'm always a little defensive when people say, oh, why should we even bother pursuing our goals, most of it ends in failure because obviously you can't really get anywhere if you don't try as they like to say, you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
You got it.
So we're pretty confident that it is a beneficial thing to have more people going for it, going for it, meaning pursuing goals that require behavior change and using whatever tools are available, like the fresh start to accomplish those goals, Milkman and her colleagues published their first research on the Fresh Start effect in 2014. The data came from Google search results.
So if you just grab a data set, like when people search for the term diet on Google, you see a natural tendency to create goals more at these fresh start moments, meaning the beginning of a New Year birthday is the start of a new week or a new month.
They also ran some experiments.
It turns out, if you just point out to someone, hey, did you notice March 20th is the first day of spring that all of a sudden increases their likelihood of wanting to start pursuing a goal on that date.
But they also found, as shown by New Year's resolutions, that a fresh start is only a start. It is by no means a guarantee that the new behavior will stick.
It's not a one and done solution. You don't just need a little more motivation. There's all these obstacles to change and we need a set of tools that tackle all of them, not just that momentary motivation if we want to change daily decisions.
But what about situations where a behavior doesn't have to be repeated, like enrolling in a retirement savings program?
We teamed up with several universities that wanted to encourage their employees who weren't yet saving for retirement to save more.
Milkman and her team sent out mailers to more than 8000 people, randomly dividing them into two treatment groups.
So imagine there was Stephen Dubner, one and Stephen Dubner, two in our study. And you're identical twins with the same name except for one and two Dr. Seuss name to me plainly.
So Stephen Dubner one is randomly assigned to the control group. He gets a mailing inviting him to start saving either now or in three months. And let's say Stephen Dubner, two is birthday and Stephen one's birthday. Both happened to be in three months. Stephen Dubner, two, gets randomly assigned to the fresh start condition. He's invited not to start saving now or in three months, but to start saving now or after his next birthday. Now it's an identical offer, but in one case it's highlighting the moment that might feel appropriate for saving.
The researchers also sprinkled in a few placebo dates throughout the sample, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Valentine's Day, we found that the dates that really worked were birthdays and the beginning of spring, whereas the other dates we looked at, actually New Year's didn't have a big effect, which was surprising. We would have expected it to. And then, of course, as you would expect, the placebo dates, nothing happening there.
Milkman was convinced that the fresh start effect is substantial enough that it can transcend the calendar, that it can be manipulated to suit one's needs. And this is all a mind game.
So certainly if you want to, you can remind yourself every Monday, you know, every time there's a holiday, it's a new beginning.
This is one of the things that's made the coronavirus era so hard, which is that the way we lead our lives, they're really constructed to give us opportunities to restart all the time. It feels like we're all living this very long week that started in March of twenty twenty.
Is the average Monday more powerful than the average first of the month, even though there are four times or five times as many Mondays? That's my sense.
The day of the week effect seems stronger, like we all noticed the weekends. They're really different now, last coronavirus and other times. But there's some distinction that's very real between the weekends on the week Monday. You haven't been at your desk in a while. Hopefully if you had a good weekend and you managed to set everything aside, that juice runs out a little bit. Seventeenth Zoome Call of the week. But I feel excited at the beginning of week.
One thing I've observed is how often a new location can trigger a fresh start.
Like if you rent a little house for a family vacation and there's a chair in the corner and a bunch of books on the shelf, I will spend days reading books I'd never think about reading at home.
Why your routines have been broken. Also, these aren't the same old books you have at home. The novelty is inspiring. Isn't that why so many of us love to travel? It exposes you to new experiences, new people, new ways to see the world and think about your place in it. Travel is a constant barrage of fresh starts. That's why travel can also be disorienting, even overwhelming. This past year, we have all taken a disorienting and.
Unscheduled trip to the land of covid-19. So what will our collective return feel like? Just think about how many fresh starts will be looking at new relationships, new jobs, new living circumstances.
You've got all the goodies in there, right? You've got the new environment and the psychological break. What we know is that when people move and their circumstances change, their environments change, their social circles change. It gives them an opportunity to change along with those things. And if they want to take advantage of that opportunity and structure their lives in a way that will facilitate better outcomes, they're better set up to do that. When you move because you haven't built routines, you haven't built bad habits.
This made me want to talk to someone who has moved several times for his work to three continents. Stephen A. Byford here. How are you and how are you? Good to hear from you, my friend. I'm really well, thank you.
Andy Byford is one of the world's best known public transit officials. A few years ago, he worked on an overhaul of the New York City subway system. Before that, Toronto and previously Sydney, Australia.
Certainly I'm used to fresh starts. I find it invigorating. I don't want to flit around, but I've enjoyed the diversity of the various cities I've lived in.
Byford grew up in Plymouth, England, the son of a transit worker, and he began his career as a station foreman in London.
Each job I've gone to, there's been a little bit of me that's developed, someone describing the other day as a veteran and you never think of yourself as a veteran. You think, hang on a minute, this has been 32 years now, three continents, maybe.
I'm a veteran with his accumulated expertize, Byford became the person that people call when their entire system needs a fresh start.
Obviously, you have to learn a whole new system. You have to learn the new personalities, the politics, the detail, if you will, of that system. But I don't really see that as a downside. It keeps you focused. It energizes you.
He uses that fresh start to persuade the powers. It be that the reason their transport system needs an overhaul is because they've been underfunding maintenance and innovation and that they need to find a big pot of money right away.
You have to develop, create right and present a compelling case as to what could be different and what could be better were you to have adequate funding. So let's take some examples. New York City Transit is a classic example. I could have gone there and held the fort. I could have turned up and made marginal improvements, a few tweaks here and there. But I felt that New Yorkers deserve better than that.
The year before, before it arrived in New York City, twenty seventeen was a banner year for subway awfulness. The governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, was Bedford's ultimate boss. He had declared a state of emergency at the MTA, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. andI Byford put together a rehab plan called Fast Forward with a price tag of 40 billion dollars. He was able to sell the plan and secure the funding. The subway rehab quickly got underway.
When Byford got to New York, the subways on time performance was 58 percent. Under him, it rose to eighty percent. He became a folk hero. His nickname Train Daddy Train Daddy stickers began showing up around the city.
The whole train teddy thing was amusing. It appeared from nowhere. And suddenly there was that associated fuss that went with the moniker.
If there's one thing politicians dislike. And this seems especially true for New York politicians, including Governor Cuomo, it is when their subordinates become too popular, andI Byford begin to find himself excluded from certain meetings. His parent agency, the MTA, underwent a sudden reorganization as a result of the reorganization.
My job was basically cut in half. It wasn't the job that I was brought into New York to do.
The modernization of the subway system was no longer part of Andy. Before its portfolio, he had been downsized to running the day to day operations.
Even what was left the residual element, namely of running the day to day. I found that I was being excluded from key decisions. I was finding that other people were taking what I felt were operational decisions and that was an untenable position.
Byford had loved this New York job. He and his wife loved living in New York, but train daddy had had enough.
I chose to resign.
It was my choice so I could have stayed before his resignation landed in January twenty twenty, just as a certain pernicious virus was starting to circulate the globe, the once the true horror of covid emerged, I did feel somewhat guilty because had I known what?
Is only a couple of months away, I may still have resigned, but I would think I would have put it in abeyance because I felt desperately sad for the wonderful 50000 employees of New York City Transit who put on a terrible price for covid. That's a leader I would like to have been there to at least lead them through it, even if the end result would have been ultimately, I'd have still gone.
But Byford had quit and he didn't know what he was going to do next. He and his wife did plan to stay in New York, but first he had to fly home to England.
I actually came over from New York to change my visa and ended up being trapped by their travel ban.
So the covid shut down had Byford stuck in England and his wife in New York sitting in my home in Plymouth.
It struck me that this was a golden opportunity to do my bit for Britain, to do my bit for London to throw my hat in the ring.
That's right. At the very moment that the former New York City transit chief happened to be detained in his native country, a vacancy had arisen for the commissioner's post at the massive agency known as Transport for London. Byford applied, got the job and is now responsible not only for London's subways, also known as the Tube or the underground, but the entire transport system above ground, trains and ferries, roads and busses, even bicycles and pedestrians. It was a covid induced fresh start for Byford in a system that will need to make its own covid induced fresh start.
Bus ridership at the moment is around 40 percent. The tube around 20 percent of normal levels. At one point, the tube was five percent of its normal ridership levels not seen since Victorian times.
And it's hard to predict what ridership levels will return to and when.
We've modeled five scenarios ranging from a doomsday scenario where pretty much the ridership never recovers through to probably an overly optimistic one, where we get back to normal within a couple of months of lockdown ending. I don't think either of those are likely, but something in the middle ground where maybe we get to 90 percent of ridership in the medium term, that's more likely.
Byford is choosing to look at this moment as an opportunity.
One of my mantras in life is there's always opportunity and adversity. And I'd certainly say that's the case for the pandemic because you can take the opportunity to reflect upon the way you've always done things.
Reflecting on the way you've always done things is, as Katie Milkman explained earlier, one of the key benefits of a fresh start and one of the most interesting pieces of fresh start evidence happens to come from the very same London Underground. The Andy Byford now runs. In 2014, there was a two day transit strike that shut down some stations across the London subway system. Many commuters had their normal routes disrupted. You could look at this as simply a temporary inconvenience or you could look at it as a forced fresh start, especially if you were an economist in search of a research project.
So my name is Ferdinando. I'm an economist at Oxford University.
When the strike was over and some colleagues gathered data that showed how commuters had adjusted their routes, the researchers could see what share of commuters responded to this forced experiment by changing their behavior and sticking with the new route.
About five percent of commuters in the London system changed their behavior.
If confronted with forced experimentation or, as Katie Milkman puts it, about five percent of commuters found something new in that two day experiment that was better for them.
They stuck to it thereafter.
So it might be a more pleasant walk or there might be a convenient shop along the way. You discover when you take a different route, could be to the stations are more pleasant to wait in. So it could be all sorts of things that make one commute better than another one.
So the fresh start provided by a two day interruption of their routine, led a significant share of commuters five percent to try something that they wound up liking better and sticking with, even though they hadn't sought out the change. The covid shutdown has been a change that none of us sought out. So you do have to wonder what sort of old habits we have broken or new ones we formed.
Habits are tested very rigorously by covid. We have to question most things we do. We have to do many things differently. If the general theme of our paper is correct that people are stuck in habits excessively, then covid has lasted for so long now that people could just be that they are now stuck in a new habit.
I changed my exercise routines around this pandemic because my schedule changed, my childcare situation changed. I wasn't going to the office. But the new habits I felt aren't going to be consistent with and compatible with going back to my old routines. So I'm going to need to create a new exercise habit. And that means I need to sort of start again in creating that routine. And that's tricky.
Coming up after the break, a more systematic approach to behavior change. And when should you avoid a fresh start? It's coming up right after this. Freakonomics Radio is sponsored by total wine and more flowing into spring at total wine and more where fresh flavors are in full bloom. We are talking Rieslings and rain boots, Bubley and brunch peno on the porch. Anyone. And no matter which way you rosé, they have a shade to match with more than 8000 wines, four thousand spirits and twenty five hundred beers to choose from.
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Visit G.T., MBA dotcom slash Freakonomics. Freakonomics Radio is sponsored by Progressive Insurance, where customers save an average of more than seven hundred fifty dollars when they switch and save, visit progressive dotcom to get your car insurance, quote, it only takes about seven minutes. National annual average auto insurance savings by new customers surveyed in 2019. Potential Savings Wilbury. Kitty Milkman has a joint Ph.D. in computer science and business, but what she really studies is behavior change, how to make bad habits less attractive and good habits a bit stickier.
It's much easier said than done. And when it comes to behavior change, theory doesn't always predict reality.
We have this theory that the best way to help people build lasting habits would be if we got them into a really stable routine. So if we could convince you, like every day at the same time to go to the gym, we said if we basically pay you enough to do it at the same time, consistently over and over again for a month, we're going to see this skyrocket in terms of habit formation. So we ran this test. We paid some people to be really routine, like really the same time every day.
And other people we paid to be less routine, if you will. And we were sure the routine folks, when we let go and watch what happened, they would rise.
But what she and her fellow researchers actually saw, it was the opposite.
The people who we paid to be flexible and to do things at different times, they built more lasting habits. And I think fresh starts are like that, too, like life is a mess. So we need to have flexibility. And there's all these little tricks like trying to train habits that have fallback plans, trying to build in a buffer in case we fail.
So when you talk about helping people follow through and achieve more, it sounds like you're talking about a portion of the population, but certainly not the whole population, because, you know, life is not a mess for everyone.
And there is some people for whom routine is not only desirable, but they're really good at it and they have discipline that doesn't require them to have these fresh starts. If I'm, let's say, a military officer listening to you, I say, well, OK, you sound like you're trying to fix a problem that I've fixed in a different way by actually having routine and discipline where I am able to accomplish the goals I need to without relying on some mental trickery.
So is what you're describing really universal and really generalizable, or is it more for the kind of people who tend toward a certain kind of messiness in your phraseology?
I actually think the most successful people use all these tricks. So that's why they're successful. You're saying, yeah, I've yet to meet the perfect person like this military officer of whom you speak? I feel like I interact with a lot of really, really successful, incredible people between my students at the Wharton School and my colleagues and the people I've had the opportunity to work with. A company is on research projects and they're all a mess. You're saying?
Well, they're achieving a lot, but we all have struggles. There's nobody who isn't suffering from self-control issues or forgetfulness. At some level. The more you achieve, the more you need to get everything right, because the margin for error is smaller. But, yeah, I don't think there's a lot of people who have everything figured out. Everybody's striving to be better on some dimension.
There's also the fact that once you have established a good habit or routine, nowhere is it written that you are entitled to its everlasting continuation.
We've done this big intervention to try to get people to exercise more regularly and we have this very positive effect and it got wiped away at Thanksgiving break. So students have this disruption to their schedules and they went home. The gym was closed, they came back and all the benefits were washed away.
Milkman and her colleagues already knew that a fresh start can have a positive effect. But this Thanksgiving lapse got them to see a flip side.
We were really interested in the idea that disruptions could sometimes be negative. We were also really interested in the idea of resets.
I study a type of fresh storage that I call reset that is Hengjun Die.
A former student of Katie Milkman's DIW now teaches at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, where she studies motivation. She first started exploring the reset idea in a series of lab experiments. Participants would play a game in which they would be interrupted at the midpoint. At this interruption, some participants had their score reset to zero. Others would keep their score running.
I wanted to know whether a reset affected overall performance and if so, whether there was a difference. If, before the reset, the participant was doing well in the game or doing poorly. In other words, what's the fresh start effect look like if you're succeeding and what's it look like if you're struggling? Her lab results were interesting enough that she wanted to analyze the reset effect in the real world. She went looking for a real world scenario that mirrored the lab game she'd been running and she found it in Major League Baseball.
This might lead you to assume that DI is a big baseball fan I based.
You know nothing about baseball. I often joke to my friends that life is too short to watch baseball, but baseball had a quirk that was perfect for what I wanted to know about resets.
So Major League Baseball consists of two leagues, the American League and the National League.
Quite routinely, players are traded during the season.
And when a player is traded across leagues during the regular season, he season two data statistics are reset. So, for example, say a player had a season to date batting average right before trades as two hundred seventy five to seventy five.
Batting average is pretty good above the league average. Anything in the neighborhood of 300 is considered excellent. So let's say that 275 hitter is traded from a team in the American League like the Boston Red Sox to a team in the National League like the Chicago Cubs.
If he's treated across the leagues, he's batting average well, starts from zero.
So that is a reset. But and here is the quirk that made baseball the perfect real world setting for him. Candye study. If that same 275 batter is traded from one American League team to another American League team or from one National League team to another National League team, his batting average doesn't get reset. Voila. A perfect natural experiment to test the power of the reset with a lot of data.
I looked at about 700 trades from nineteen seventy five to 2014, covering two hundred and fifty thousand individual at bats. Now there were a lot of factors that I had to consider. For instance, if a player happened to be doing very well when they were traded and did worse after or vice versa, I think some people were listening to this episode.
Well, naturally, I think we wouldn't just be regression to the mean. Right. And that's why it's critical for me to have a control condition, to look at it. People who are also treated but within the same league regression to the mean wasn't the only thing that I had to control for.
For instance, maybe it's just easier to get a high batting average once you were traded because now you often play in ballparks that are favorable to bettors.
Right? Some ballparks are considered hitters parks, while others favor pitchers.
And you play half your games in your home park. So you have to control for that. And also people may be wondering, OK, batters trade across the leagues may face pitchers whom they have not encountered.
Right. And in contrast, the batters traded within the same league may continue to bat against the same set of pitchers. So what I did is I try to capture batter a pitcher of familiarity by controlling for the number of times a batter encountered a given pitcher up to a given at bat during his career.
As you can tell, Hank, Shandi learned quite a bit about baseball for someone who finds that life is too short to watch it. What else did she have to control for?
So one potential concern is people were treated to teams with different qualities, potential and a performance. Right. So to address this possibility, each time another player come at a better control for the performance of the team. At that time, the player was at and specifically I control for the percentage of games the player's team had to one up to that date, as well as the team's batting average up to that date.
She also controlled for the difference in moving from the American League to the National League versus from the National League to the American League and finally die controlled for the date of the trade, the point in the season at which it took place.
If I'm traded at a later point, I may have a different reaction to research and I want to make sure this is not driving my effects.
So with all those bases covered, Dye ran her analysis across all those trades, all those years, all those at bats and what she find.
So I find that when a player's performance is weak, more precisely, their batting average prior to the trade is low, a risk that is helpful. Their performance after the trades is significantly better if they are traded across lakes, that if they are traded within the same league.
In other words, for players who had not been playing well, a trade with a batting average reset provided a fresh start that lifted their fortunes. And what about players who had been playing well before they were traded?
So their performance actually reduce after they were traded, both when they are traded on cross legs or when they are traded the winning league.
So for players who were doing well when they were traded, the reset proved to be a negative, more of an interruption than a fresh start. One example DIW points to in her data is Manny Ramirez, one of the best hitters in the modern era.
He played for five teams. Over nearly two decades, die points to the 2010 trade that brought him from the Los Angeles Dodgers of the National League to the Chicago White Sox of the American League and a newspaper article published at the time, and I quote The article says, Ramirez batting average has slipped all the way up to a decent start.
He has more strikeouts than hits.
I think in the case of Manny, age is a factor. That's Bob Tewksbury. The also, I believe, get suspended because of performance enhancing drugs. And I think he spent his time away or whatever the penalty was and then came back.
Tewkesbury is a former big league pitcher himself.
I personally don't think that that's a great person to focus on in this because of his variables.
Now, just because one player has a few extra variables to consider doesn't mean that Hank Wendi's findings don't hold up. But the case of Manny Ramirez does show how tricky it can be to measure behavior change at the individual level. In baseball, as in life, one change may be accompanied by many more. But Bob Tewksbury does believe that Hank and I's research in general has the ring of truth. After his pitching career, Tewkesbury became a mental skills coach and he has worked for a variety of teams.
If you're below the league average and you get traded, I think psychologically you're having a bad year and you're thinking like, oh my God, I'm going to end up hitting two thirty this year. But then you get traded and you go, Hey, I can start over again and it's fresh and now you get out of the gate and you're three for your first ten and you're hitting three hundred. And psychologically you feel better. And conversely, when you get traded across leagues and you know you're batting 300 in one league, the psychological effect is now I got to keep this going.
I've lost my whole routine. I think the reset effect is real in that case on both ends.
As a pitcher, Bob Tewksbury won more than 100 games playing for six teams over more than a decade. He had the experience of being traded from his first team, the New York Yankees.
I was with my now wife. It was the all star break of eighty seven. She had come to visit me and went to the Catskills and the bellman at the hotel told me that I've been traded. You know, there was no cell phones. It was on the radio, he told me. And I'm like, holy cow. And it is a blow, almost like, you know, your mom and dad said, hey, by the way, we don't want you anymore.
You're going to go live with the Smiths, the Trade Center, Tewkesbury, to the Chicago Cubs.
And they didn't know me from Adam. I actually was hurt shortly after I got there. So I didn't perform well. And then the perception of, you know, we traded for this guy, the innuendos, the body language, the verbals, you know, you don't feel comfortable. You're learning a new city in a new everything. So that moved from New York. Chicago was not good, but the move from Chicago to St. Louis was wonderful.
That move was a year later, Tewkesbury. By now, a free agent chose to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals.
You know, I felt comfortable. The organization was very family friendly. I met some friends that, you know, we played together for a long time and that became very fun. And my son was born in St. Louis. I had my best seasons there. And I think a lot of it was because of the comfort level of playing in St. Louis and the people, you know, in the city and in the organization.
It'd be hard for any fresh start data set to reflect the variables that Bob Tewkesbury is talking about here, not just a new team, but a new community, a new environment, a growing family. So it's probably not the reset alone that messes with your psyche. Any number of things could make a fresh start, a good one or a bad one. There is another sport which Tewkesbury is also fond of. That may be a bit simpler to consider golf.
The golfers all live at home.
They're not on a particular team. They travel to the tournaments. The golf courses don't change, you know, the whole still same size when you get to the green.
And there's one particularly intriguing fresh start possibility in professional golf. Most of the best players on the PGA Tour are in their 20s and 30s. It is mostly a young man's game, but at age fifty there is a reset possibility. That's when you can qualify for the PGA Senior Tour.
And if you look at what happens to golfers as they turn 50 and join that tour, some of them win tournaments right away. Most recent examples being Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson. Now, granted, they are both still good enough to play on the regular PGA Tour, and the senior courses are easier, but. If I were an academic researcher looking for another scenario to test the fresh start effect, I'd be thinking about golfers and the age 50 reset.
I think that would be a good study on age and performance.
At the very least, Katie Milkman thinks there is one idea from golf that should carry over into real life. It's the mulligan, a free do over shop.
I think we should all take a mulligan for 2020 and probably the first half of twenty. Twenty one. Yes, it's a mess. You know, when you're stressed out and dealing with horrible things happening in the world, it's really hard to stay on track with your goals. So I think everybody should cut themselves some slack and jump on the fresh start bandwagon when things start looking up.
When you are ready. Feel free to take inspiration from these Freakonomics Radio listeners and their New Year's resolutions.
My resolution is to stay off of Facebook.
My New Year's resolution is to not do any personal online shopping.
My twenty twenty one New Year's resolution is to be more stoic this year.
My resolution is to avoid saying no when friends or family invite me to spend time with them.
My New Year's resolution is to get my kids to spend a thousand hours outside and to be with them doing that.
I'm seventy six years old and I've never made a New Year's resolution until now. I pledge to compose and perform a short melody less than a minute for every day of twenty twenty one and posted on Instagram. But honestly, it might have been easier to give up on the booze. Thanks to everyone who sent in resolutions. Thanks also to Katie milkman, Hank Shandi, Andy Byford, Ferdinand Rork and Bob Tewksbury for teaching us all about fresh starts.
We will be back next week. Until then, take care of yourself.
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