I loved this article last year from Lauren Laverne in the Pool, expressing what I have felt for a very long time; September is the real start of the new year. Ingrained from over 20 years of education the sense of excitement about new opportunities I experience as the weather starts to turn far outstrips the often forced January process of setting 'resolutions' for improvement.
So, having polished some shoes (yes, really, a very therapeutic if somewhat old-fashioned activity), acquired a new autumn dress and purchased some obligatory new stationery I've turned my attention to how to make the best I can of this wonderful, annual window, learning what I can from all those school and university years.
1. Take a step back
Having had a great summer flexing my muscles, quite literally, with the physicality of my boat renovation and cycling in Scotland my instinctive thought on 1st September was to write a list. A list of things that need doing and I want to achieve. Thankfully at this point a wise intervention from my co-coach stopped me in my tracks; that list would have been endless, with no means of navigating priority and leave me feeling vastly overwhelmed.
Instead, look first to the horizon you are aiming at and think about the big things that will bring you closer to that.
For me, this meant returning to look at my life plan - in the form of the Draw Your Future picture from Patti Dobrowolski - and drawing 6 smaller pictures of the sorts of things that need to happen for me to progress there in the next 9 months. I'm a big fan of using drawing, not because I'm particularly good at it but because it enables me to break out from a lifetime of being a list-maker and allow in some more creativity and reflection. These pictures were quick, 3 minute sketches, having 6 areas to group my activities is far too many - have less - and 9 months works for me because of various things I am planning.
2. Know what's important
You may want to just sit down and make a 'new year plan' for your work, or perhaps your health and well-being or sorting your financial health. I would really recommend looking across your life as a whole and thinking about what is most important to you across the board. Our lives are a mass of integrated systems so we are likely to thrive at our best when we know where we want to focus our energies and how areas relate to each other. My plans for a big trip next year require both financial health tasks to be undertaken and for me to be thriving in the work that is the source of that income.
3. Introduce some new things
Doing more of the same can often be an overlooked way of operating; when something is important and working for us we should make sure we continue to do it. But as humans we are learners, we need to develop to continue to thrive so we should think of either new opportunities or challenges we want to grasp or new ways we could do existing activities, and skill-up at the same time. Big or small, embrace something new; amongst other things my neighbours will be glad to hear that my long-held desires on learning the trumpet have risen to the top of my new skills list!
Conversely, introducing new things is likely to require jettisoning some existing activities to make time, energy and even physical space. Knowing what's important will help with this. If you're unsure if something is the right thing to stop doing you could consider a period of 'putting it on hold' or set yourself a period of testing out if you still really want it anymore. A languishing, unused gym membership could provide funds for trying a new well-being activity, if you're not sure whether to stop why not set yourself a challenge of going 'x' number of times in September and then making the decision?
4. Timetable specifics
When you've done big picture you do need to get to a comfortable level of detail, after all a big part of the new school year is knowing where you are supposed to be, for what and whether you need your PE kit or science textbook. While at school you had no option as to what horror of a lesson awaited you on Friday afternoons the joy of this plan is that while other people and other external factors will influence your timetable you are much more in control.
At this point I'm still drawing little sketches along a timeline, with added words and spaces for information or knowledge I need to gather to progress with certain activities. But you may want to move to a more detailed list or use a paper or electronic diary to capture what needs to happen. Its likely the level of detail will be greater for the next month to 3 months than it will be for 9 months time; ultimately you need to be happy with the level of detail while being realistic that it means you will get things done.
5. Think about help you need
It is highly unlikely that there is much in this plan that you can complete alone, you'll need knowledge, skills, support and a host of other things from others. You should also have a pretty good idea of what has and hasn't worked for you in the past that will help you think about where you might need some additional help or advice. Work out what you might need - from family, friends, colleagues or others - and start to ask people for help. If you're not sure who might be able to help you consider a process such as Working Out Loud to build a new network of help and support. Consider whether you need a new kind of support - would trying coaching or some form of peer support network like a collaborative circle be of use?
6. Reward and appreciate
At school you probably had various versions of merit systems and certificates to reward you for achieving goals. We all need to know we are achieving change and be able to reward ourselves. Big ticks off my picture list are one thing that works for me but I'll also be building in some other rewards as I go to keep me motivated. So think about what works for you. It could be financial savings from a habit that you are ditching providing you with the means of buying something new. Remember to build in some fun to your timetable and rewards if you want to keep going as the nights start to draw in!