A Clean Slate for the Year 5778

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At sunset on Ocean Beach we huddled together with hundreds of Jews, non-Jews, bag pipers, and members of the Jazz Mafia and the Ministers of Sound of the Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church.

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Several attendees blew the shofar, an ancient instrument made of a ram’s horn, bringing back memories of endless childhood afternoons spent in synagogue, begging my parents to take us home.

With a final blast of “tekiah gedolah,” that long, deep, competitive final note, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

L’shana Tova. Happy New Year 5778.

On Rosh Hashanah it’s customary to participate in the ceremondy of Tashlich. You go to a body of water, say a prayer, and throw breadcrumbs into the water to symbolically cast away your sins. You leave your old shortcomings behind you, thus starting the new year with a clean slate.

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This all reminded me of some of my favorite behavioral economics research: a concept from Wharton Professor Katie Milkman called the “fresh-start effect.”

In her own words, it works like this “We’re all familiar with the New Year’s effect — the idea that people tend to make resolutions and pursue their goals with enhanced vigor at the start of every new year. But my research with Hengchen Dai and Jason Riis has shown that it’s not just about New Year’s; it’s about the start of many cycles. For example, at the beginning of a new week, the start of a new month, following a birthday, or after a holiday from work, people redouble their efforts to achieve their goals.

Why? Because in these fresh-start moments, people feel more distant from their past failures. Those failures are the old you, and this is the new you. The fresh-start effect hinges on the idea that we don’t feel as perfect about our past as we’d like. We’re always striving to be better. And when we can wipe out all those failures and look at a clean slate, it makes us feel more capable and drives us forward.”

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Whether or not you’re Jewish, if there are toxic habits, environments, people, or relationships you need to cast away, consider doing your own Tashlich ceremony this weekend.

I sometimes feel like the slogan of this Trumpian, pre-apocalyptic era is “now more than ever.”

But really. We could all use a clean slate, now more than ever.

So borrow Rosh Hashanah, and the beginning of the year 5778, as your fresh-start.

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Logan Ury