For most of us, Fall is spent enjoying everything pumpkin and prepping for the holidays. We won't think about new workout routines—or a dating life overhaul—until after New Years. But resolution-making is gaining traction at the start of the “School Year,” rather than the “New Year.” Why? Because your mind is primed to take on new challenges right now.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Katie Jackson describes fall as a time when priorities shift. Summer is a season of hectic schedules, vacations, and social gatherings, especially in regions that experience all four seasons. Add to that the typical fall-start academic system, where most of us have spent 10 to 15 years being trained that fall is the time to start anew, and it's no wonder that this season would become the new New Years.
Jackson explains, “When you combine the ingrained pattern of school calendars with living in an area with distinct seasons, you're drawn even more to a new pace. Your body notices the cooler temperatures, the time for decorations in your house, the changing of your wardrobe. All of these activities act as transitions, and we are reminded of how we can also grow and change our lives.”
Another interesting feature about fall that makes it appropriate for resolutions is its proximity to the holidays. Jackson explains that preparing for the holidays “prompts people to think about fitness and health goals.” It also reminds us of relationships—relationships with the family members we're about to see at the holidays, as well as relationships in general—old friendships, old loves, the possibility of a new romance.
Of course, this all still begs the question: why do we feel the need to make resolutions at all? According to Jackson, resolutions “organize our thoughts and help us feel like we’re improving ourselves. [Resolutions] help us stay mindful of where we are in the present and where we want to be.” Basically, it's is a time to consider who we are and who we want to be.
Creating resolutions, no matter what time of year, isn’t an easy task. Jackson warns, sometimes people tend to make goals based on “what society or others want them to do. [Some people] don’t take the time to examine their goals and can be influenced.” It is also a prevalent mistake to make “goals that are too difficult to achieve.” When people can’t achieve their objectives, they feel discouraged. It may lead them to feel worse than they did in the first place.
Set small, measurable, and achievable goals.
When working with her patients to create resolutions, Jackson has them set “small, measurable, and achievable goals.” She explains that we should stop ourselves from saying, “I want to be happy.” Instead, Jackson recommends, “evaluate what in your life is adding and taking away from your happiness.” Then, after we know what makes us happy, we can make a measurable goal.
For example, if reading makes you happy, a resolution can be to read two books per month. Reading two books per month is something we can measure, therefore we know if we are achieving that goal. Make sure it's a reasonable goal though—if two books per month is too much with your schedule, figure out a goal that feels achievable.
Gradually move on to bigger goals.
It is also recommended that resolutions start small then gradually increase. Jackson warns if “goals get too big too fast, we’re likely to give up.” Let’s return to the book example. If you are reading one book per year, deciding to jump to two books per month is a giant leap. Instead, say you will read ten chapters per month then increase the number of chapters over time. Jackson says it’s a good idea to track your goals. “Even adults love sticker charts!” She pointed out.
Don't choose goals you feel you "should" set for yourself.
Her patients often get bogged down by what society wants them to do, like lose weight. So she helps them do what she would do herself. “I help my clients be mindful of their needs and wants to help them make unique, specific goals to their life.” Jackson, herself, likes to “take stock” of her life. Taking a step back helps her identify “what has been going well and how [she] would like things to be different.” She explains, “I like to pick some short term goals with quick solutions, like starting a Roth IRA which I did last year. I also choose a few long term resolutions.”
Kids may still be growing up, but adults also think about ways that they can better their lives—and themselves. This desire to evolve comes naturally (and apparently in the fall!). Actually implementing those changes is where the real challenge lies. Thanks to Katie Jackson and the advice she gives her patients, we can use her tools to develop achievable, measurable goals. Each time we reach a step in the right direction, we have the opportunity to thrive.