Why are “landmark” dates so motivating?

Next year, we’ll celebrate heartspark’s 20th anniversary and I’m already thinking about new programs and parties to mark the occasion. That’s what inspired me to talk about “landmark dates” at the last heartspark Connections.

It’s common to use significant dates as a way of getting yourself motivated to do something new.  Culturally, New Year’s Day is when we resolve to make changes or a fresh start. Similarly, people often use their birthday as a way of getting pumped up to do something new.

Research suggests that “landmark dates” prompt people to think about who they want to be in the future versus who they are now.

In one study, researchers used New Year’s Day to demonstrate this phenomenon.  About 6½ weeks before New Year’s, a group of people were asked to rate how confident, extraverted, motivated, and content they were.  They were also asked to rate themselves projecting 7 weeks in the future.

  • Group 1 was given the date of January 4.
  • Group 2 was reminded that this was right after New Year’s Day.
  • Group 3 was told to rate themselves as of the end of December.


Everyone rated their future-self more positively than their current-self, but the difference was much larger for the people who specifically thought about themselves right after New Year’s Day.

There are two things to learn from this.

  • We all want our future self to be more positive than our current self. 
  • This desire to be better is more pronounced when there’s a landmark as a target.

So holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other landmark dates can help motivate us to engage in activities to improve our future self. Of course, the motivation to change is only the first step. At heartspark, we focus on creating and maintaining the momentum to actually accomplish whatever you goal you set for yourself.

If this sounds like the type of conversation you would like to join into, and you live in the greater Portland metropolitan area, come on over to a heartspark Connections. Consider yourself personally invited!