Do New Year's resolutions really work?

January might be a good time to set a new goal.

Do New Year's resolutions really work?

With the holiday season underway, thoughts may soon turn to New Year's resolutions as many seek to eradicate bad habits and establish new and healthier ones. But do New Year's resolutions actually work — and is Jan. 1 the best time for a new goal? 

One phenomenon, dubbed the "fresh start effect," suggests that the new year may be a good moment to make resolutions and changes, because it can act as a "temporal landmark" that gives people a renewed commitment to goals. 

But other factors can also influence the ability to stick to a New Year's resolution, experts told Live Science.

The "fresh start effect," proposed in a 2014 study in the journal Management Science(opens in new tab), suggests that events like New Year's, birthdays, holidays or even the beginning of a week or month are associated with an increase in aspirational behavior. These "temporal landmarks" enable people to split their perception of time into "before" and "after," and write off previous failures as the responsibility of a past-self, the researchers posited. 

Temporal landmarks may also encourage "big picture thinking," the researchers wrote, making people more likely to invest in long-term goals over instant gratification. 

However, the theory has never been tested, and many New Year's resolutions are not followed. 

Robert West(opens in new tab), an emeritus professor of behavioral science and health at University College London (UCL) in England, told Live Science that the key to understanding behavior — and therefore why New Year's resolutions can be unsuccessful — is to realize that desires only exist "in the moment."