Do you still get that back-to-school feeling? Two experts explain how to use it to set yourself up for success

The days of long, sprawling summer holidays may be far behind us, but that feeling we get as we head into September certainly isn’t. 

Back in our school days, the end of the summer holidays signalled a fresh, new year. And, whether you liked or loathed that back-to-school feeling, it inevitably brought with it anticipation, a need to get organised, and a new start.

Cue the onset of adulthood, and with it a shift away from extended breaks to an annual leave allowance and a lot more responsibility. You might think that this transition into a new phase of life would mean leaving the back-to-school feeling behind. So why, then, do so many of us still feel the need hit the reset button as we head into the last few months of the year?

The answer lies in the change of season and our history with the school-years September start. The summer is still one of the busiest, most exciting times of the year for plenty of people. From holidays, either across the country or to hotter climes, to festivals, al fresco mealtimes to outdoor exercise, there’s plenty to fill our time with in the summer months. So for many, with the nights drawing in, September signals the beginning of the end of the year. Poised on the precipice of darker days and more time spent indoors (not to mention the fast-approaching prospect of Christmas) it’s only natural to get a little reflective.

Getting to grips with what the September reset is, what it means and why we feel the need to do it can help us make the most of it. With insights from life coach and psychotherapist Samantha Abraham and life coach Hannah Wills, you’ll have all the tools necessary to really hit refresh in this all-important month.

September: still back-to-school month? 

There’s no denying that all those years of getting geared up for the autumn term has had a lasting impact on a lot of us. As Hannah explains, “when we’re children, September marks the start of a new school year with a brand new pencil case, fresh new school shoes, and the excitement of seeing our friends again. So, it’s understandable that we carry those feelings with us into adulthood.”

“In September, we begin weighing up the rest of the year and getting ourselves ready for the autumn”

But, even though there’s no longer a new school year to look towards, September is still an important month in the calendar. After the fun and frivolity of summer, Samantha says, it can feel like September silently creeps in. “It’s as if little internal alarms start going off to signal that ‘it’s time for change!’ For some of us, we begin weighing up the rest of the year, packing away our summer clothing and getting ourselves ready for the autumn.

“In other words, as the summer season draws to a close, we change gears. Whereas in warmer weather people are busy doing, September is the time to have a brief pause and start thinking. That once (almost universal) carefree summer energy becomes more serious, slow and reflective, and with that comes a focus on the future.”

The result is that our old back-to-school mindset becomes a “back-to-reality” one.

Hitting refresh as we head into winter 

As a result, September is a great month for reviewing past and future progress, says Samantha. “We begin thinking about our health, finances, relationships and what we want to achieve by the end of the year. In this way, the so-called ‘back-to-school mindset’ can be fantastic for gearing us up to make impactful, holistic and positive changes in all of these areas.”

Hannah goes on to explain that, “after a fun-filled summer, it’s natural to want to channel some of that motivational energy into setting healthy goals.” These could include, for example, heading back to the gym after an activity-packed summer, setting a budget in time for Christmas, and even making bigger changes like looking elsewhere for work or moving house.

“After a fun-filled summer, it’s natural to want to channel some of that motivational energy into setting healthy goals.”

In many ways, September is the best time of year to set these sorts of goals – even better than January. “It’s a time we feel refreshed and revitalised and are fully charged with wellbeing-boosting vitamin D from the warmth of the sun. As a result, a lot of people will feel naturally more motivated than in the deepest darkest depths of winter,” says Hannah.

“I love a new year’s resolution,” she continues, “but in the past I’ve often struggled with them. I know a lot of people battle with the winter blues, myself included, so the added pressure of a new goal or challenge when you’re already not feeling motivated is why so many people struggle to accomplish what they set out to do.”

However, while September is very often charged with motivational energy, Hannah explains that it can be all too easy to go in the opposite direction. You see, with the colder, darker months up ahead, it’s tempting to go into hibernation mode. That’s why making positive changes at the start of the new season can be so impactful – doing so sets you up brilliantly for the months ahead, before your mind and body decide to really slow down.

The benefits of a September reset 

As well as giving you the opportunity to make the best of the autumn/winter months, a September reset can promote productivity, resilience and success in the long-term. Especially when taken as part of a seasonal approach to wellbeing, hitting the refresh button in September can have benefits that last far beyond the end of the year.

Samantha tells us that “asking yourself questions like ‘what is working well and why?’ every three to four months gives you more opportunities to keep long-term goals on track.”

“By keeping a timeline of progress and taking time to review things frequently and productively, including career, health, holidays, financial planning, new opportunities and whatever else is important to you, you can decide if the ideas and plans you had are still working.”

Hannah’s approach is similar: “For me, personally, I like to hit reset at the start of each month. I like to look back at what I’ve accomplished and also at what didn’t work out so well, and then use what I find to set new small and actionable goals for the month ahead.”

“When we allow ourselves to make changes more regularly (and also fail more regularly),” says Hannah, “we push ourselves away from perfectionism. We start strengthening our muscles to handle mistakes and failures that may arise along the way. Remember that the most successful people in the world are also people that didn’t give up on themselves when they messed up. So, whether it’s in your relationship or career, start celebrating all the messiness that life has to offer.”

Setting aside the time to reflect and set new goals every month doesn’t always feel realistic. But that’s why that back-to-school mindset can be so important: it gives us a window of motivation that, if we learn to harness it, can teach us the power of resetting more regularly.

Can a September reset have downsides? 

As with anything else, there are downsides to the so-called September reset. For Hannah, the biggest issues arise when you start thinking of September as the only chance you have to make positive change. In reality, though, “we have the power within us to make a change at any given minute,” so it’s crucial that we view September as just one of many opportunities rather than piling on the pressure.

Putting that pressure on can also cause people to set unrealistic goals, according to Samantha. This can make them see the coming months through the guise of a never-ending to-do list and, consequently, start to focus on all the things they haven’t or feel unable to achieve. Such a negative mindset can be damaging, especially when heading into the months where people are more likely to struggle with low mood and seasonal affective disorder.

A positive thing in a number of ways, it’s still important to have a healthy approach to the September reset. To do that, you need to learn to take hold of that back-to-school mindset and find ways to make it work for you.

How to make the most of the September reset 

Not sure how to make the most of the September reset? No problem, because Samantha and Hannah each have a top tip that’s sure to help you out.

Productivity, resilience and success: how to get all the benefits from your September reset

Buddy up

Getting September-savvy can bring with it a whole heap of benefits, and it’s much easier to do it when you buddy up with a friend or loved one. So, Samantha’s top tip is to “plan with someone so you get things done together, but still take breaks, relax, and have fun too.”

Together, you can tackle your typical September tasks like deep cleaning, decluttering, and setting realistic challenges, all while having someone to cheer you on and tell you when you’re overdoing it. Plus, you’re more likely to stay motivated if you make a point of scheduling fun – that way, you’ll both have something to reward yourselves with and look forward to.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

For Hannah, the best way to set goals and ensure you achieve them is to use the S.M.A.R.T. framework. She explains that “a lot of people are familiar with this tool in their work environment, but don’t realise how useful it can be in their personal life too.”

So, when you’re thinking about goals for the upcoming weeks and months, make sure they are:

  • S – Specific: “Saying that your goal is to ‘be happier’ or ‘do better at work’ is too vague, and will therefore set you up for failure.”
  • M – Measurable: “What can you do to measure your progress and ensure you stay on track?”
  • A – Attainable: “If you set unrealistic goals, the chances are you won’t be able to achieve them and will lose motivation moving forwards.”
  • R – Realistic: “Be honest with yourself. It’s good to challenge yourself, but if you set more goals than you think you have the time and energy for, it won’t be possible to achieve them.”
  • T – Time-bound: “Give yourself a deadline to keep yourself on track.” 

Image credit: Getty, Unsplash

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