Resolutions for a ‘fresh start’

The latest from the Wharton School’s faculty research podcast, ‘Ripple Effect,’ looks into the business, psychology, and economy of resolutions in its ‘Fresh Start’ episodes.

The latest series of “Ripple Effect,” the Wharton School’s faculty research podcast, scrutinizes the January time-honored tradition of resolutions, why the new year is often a reset button, and the gaps between intention and success.

In “Is It Okay to Have a Cheat Day?” marketing assistant professor Marissa Sharif uses science-based evidence to explain why goal-setting is easier when there are built-in cheat days, which she calls “emergency reserves.”

“How do we help people persist after these small failures that are so common? That’s where we started thinking about emergency reserves, which is basically some type of slack, some type of flexibility within a goal that’s available if you need it, but at some type of psychological cost,” Sharif says. “For example, we are often encouraged to take, like, 10,000 steps per day. Imagine you set a goal of taking 10,000 steps every day, but you give yourself two emergency skip days, right? Two days that if something comes up, then you’ll just skip those days, and you’re still achieving your goal. What we found is basically that these goals with emergency reserves are better than those without.”

For those worried about money, Wharton finance professor Michael Roberts offers common-sense advice on mortgage debt, personal budgeting, and planning ahead in “Is Making Extra Mortgage Payments Worthwhile?

The year 2024 written in the snow with a heart for a zero.
Image: iStock/prospective56

“One of the issues with paying that mortgage down quickly is you’re basically investing in the house. You’re reallocating your investment from the stock market, bond market—whatever it may be—into real estate. And that can create problems,” Roberts says. “When you go back to the height of the pandemic, when we saw home prices rise as quickly as we did, I think people bought into the incredible value that was added to their properties and that it was going to be there forever. There’s never a guarantee that’s going to be the case.”

In-office, fully remote, and hybrid workers can all benefit from better time management, and Wharton marketing assistant professor Michael Parke looks at both workers and management who are setting boundaries in the post-pandemic era, where the traditional workday is being redefined. In “Time Management Hacks for Hybrid Workers,” Parke says, “I think when you have the freedom and flexibility, the key glue here is that trust, where employers trust their employees to get their work done, to not be slacking off, to contribute to the company. And then it’s like, ‘OK, if our goals are aligned, our priorities are aligned, then we trust you to structure your days the way that works best for you. If you need to work early before your kids get up, then take a couple of hours to get them to school, but then you’re going to make up that time and deliver the work—that works for us.’”

“Now there are coordination costs, because if you do need to integrate with people, schedules and diaries can be more challenging to align. But if it’s this individual level relationship with the individual employee in the organization, yes. That trust is that glue. We trust you to self-manage. We’re going to evaluate you on: Are you delivering the work at a high level? And that’s what matters to us.”

And in “The Psychology of Hoarding,” marketing professor Jonah Berger questions why it is so hard to clean out the attic or delete the extra photos on a phone, and delves into the psychology of hoarding and how we get attached to possessions we don’t use.

“Emotional attachment isn’t always bad, right? It’s nice to have cherished photos of our family members, or things that our kids made that we keep around the house, even though we don’t necessarily need them. It’s nice to have those emotional attachments. I think the challenge is when you have so many of those things that they get in the way of our well-being,” Berger says. “Our ability to find the things we do want. Our ability to overconsume and buy things we don’t need. And so in those situations, it’s important to figure out ways to mitigate it, and to increase our happiness as a result.”

For a full list of podcast episodes, visit the “Ripple Effect” website.