Setting ‘New Year’ resolutions in September: How to seize that post-summer energy to help yourself and help change the world
After a busy summer kept me away from the blog, I’ve just spent 10 days on holiday by the sea in south-west France, on what feels like my annual DIY retreat. Like all good retreats, I am now feeling infinitely refreshed and topped up with new-found motivation to tackle life! I spent 8 of those days on a digital detox, without mobile data, news or notifications from the outside world, and that break undoubtedly helped restore me to my former, energised self.
June and July were particularly busy as I started not one but two new roles! One was a change in my full-time job, moving to an exciting new role in the UK Government’s Department for International Trade; and the other was starting my very first charity trustee role, joining the board of Raleigh International. On top of those two new learning curves, I spent all my spare energy celebrating everything: friends’ weddings and hen parties; various birthdays (including my own!); freedom from Covid restrictions; the ability to socialise again; and events like Henley Regatta, Wilderness Festival in the Cotswolds, and Wimbledon. Before that I explored Kefalonia for a month, so it has felt pretty non-stop – in just the way I like it! But my annual trip to detox in France was well-timed and much-needed after so much excitement (and so little sleep!).
As I always do in September, feeling reinvigorated and excited after the summer, I’ve reviewed my 50+ New Year’s Resolutions that I set every 1st January and satisfyingly ticked off the ones I’ve completed. I realise that number sounds a bit excessive – I have a lot of goals! I try to review them every month but often don’t have the time or energy to actively tackle the outstanding ones. I included 10 significant goals and projects for 2021 here.
This month however, I finally have that precious energy and drive to tackle them head-on. In considering which remaining resolutions to tackle, I realised that they eerily closely resemble the September resolutions I first wrote about in 2015! Plus ça change! Many of them have an altruistic angle as well as a self-development angle, giving your goals purpose and meaning. I stand by those resolutions from 2015 as still relevant and worthwhile pursuing with the zest of your September energy, so they bear repeating and updating:
1. Sign up for a course or evening class on a subject or hobby you love
Choose anything you enjoy that provides creativity or distraction from work and life, as a proven way to boost mental wellbeing and keep your brain healthy and active. This autumn I’m going to resume my weekly French classes, as I need that scheduled rigour to keep my language level progressing. I also plan to dedicate certain days to painting: to improve my technique, to paint commissions, and to build my portfolio. Find out more here about my tips for learning a language, and here to see my paintings.
2. Volunteer by giving careers talks in schools or by mentoring students
Share your own experiences by contacting your old school, university, or a local school/college/university near you to ask if they need volunteers, either for careers talks, mentoring, mock interviews, and more. Or sign up to Inspiring the Future to be paired with relevant opportunities – for example I’ll be speaking to a school in a few weeks that I was matched to through ItF, and I’ve mentored 5 university students since writing that article in 2015. For an example, here’s a career talk I recorded for National Careers Week in March, and an interview I gave about mentoring.
3. Get fit by attempting a challenge and fundraising for charity
Channel all that summer energy into healthy exercise habits, and why not fundraise at the same time. While the UK may be getting back onto its feet since the pandemic, most of the world’s countries are still struggling and need support from NGOs, particularly since the UK aid budget was cut from 0.7% to just 0.5% of GDP – so fundraising is more important now than ever. Back in 2015 I was fundraising for the charity Plan International while training for the Athens Marathon. Sign up to a sponsored walk, hiking challenge like the Three Peaks or the Yorkshire Three Peaks, a triathlon or just a run – thankfully lots of these organised events are finally back in action after the lockdowns. I’ll be running the Kew Gardens 10km next weekend and am eyeing up a half-marathon further afield for the autumn, all to give me time-bound targets to work towards with my running and fitness.
4. Get involved with a cause you’re passionate about on an ongoing basis
Whether that’s volunteering in-person with a local charity, sponsoring a child, volunteering remotely via a helpline (such as charities like Age UK or Samaritans, where you help people via phone), or becoming a charity trustee. I’ve sponsored a girl in Honduras through Plan International since 2015, involving a £15/month direct debit and a few two-way letters each year, and I’d highly recommend it. I also recently became a trustee for Raleigh International for a 3-year term (hopefully longer) and I’m really enjoying it so far. Read more about child sponsorship and look out for my upcoming article about becoming a trustee.
5. Offset your carbon emissions
While our carbon footprints from international travel have plummeted since the pandemic (I’ve only taken 7 flights in 18 months, when I used to rack up that many in 2-3 months!), there’s no doubt we’ve made up for it in the deluge of online deliveries and endless packaging we all receive nowadays instead. I donate annually to The Woodland Trust to plant the equivalent number of trees to counteract my emissions, and you can now also join Raleigh’s Tree Planting Action Challenge to plant between 30 and 105 free trees from The Woodland Trust (Nov-Dec 2021). Find out more here.
6. Keep a daily gratitude or good deed journal
Another good habit I’m pleased to say I’ve stuck to since 2015. After various annual diaries, I’m now 18 months into my ‘One Line a Day’ book where I record the memorable parts and achievements of each day – a great way to remind myself of the positives in my life and be grateful for the small things that keep me happy, safe and healthy. Recording your good deeds also prompts you to be more altruistic, even if only in small doses, which is proven to boost mental wellbeing.
7. Re-purpose your existing New Year’s Resolutions
Look back at January’s goals and do an autumn-clean: strike out the goals that are no longer relevant or important to you; tick off the ones you’ve already completed; consolidate and focus on the outstanding goals you still care about. I tend to group mine into categories such as finances, social life, family and relationships, career, work, volunteering, sport, physical and mental health, learning, hobbies and creativity, home improvements, etc. I find that the September list is normally more successful than the January one. It’s a shorter and more focused list; a 4-month deadline is mentally more tangible than a 12-month one; and I’m brimming with energy compared to my mid-winter self.
And two new resolutions to add:
8. Review (or write) your 5-year, 10-year or 20-year long-term goals
Hopefully you have dreams for the future that stretch beyond the end of this year – we all do, even if that takes the form of multiple completely different dreams. Get them down on paper and review them 2 or 3 times a year, not more, and ask yourself whether they still resonate, or tweak them to reflect how your goals change and evolve. These longer-term goals set the overarching context and frame the annual resolutions you pursue each year, which should all contribute somehow to reaching those longer-term goals. Reviewing those long-term goals from time-to-time helps the annual resolutions feel intrinsically more relevant, purposeful, and motivating.
9. Refresh your work-life balance to improve your wellbeing
Take an audit of your working hours and the way you spend your days, weeks, months. Try envisaging and designing your ideal life, ask yourself how you would prefer to spend your time. Consider what you could cut out (time-wasting, bad habits, energy drains); improve (could you shift your working hours to suit your chronotype, or block out your lunch hour to actually take a break); or outsource (cleaning, cooking, life admin). The aim is to create more time and headspace for things that fulfil you and enrich your life, and now is a great time to make any changes. For example, in the autumn/winter I shift my working hours to start at 9:45am each day, giving me 3+ hours each weekday morning to exercise and pursue other goals before work starts.
Good luck with your September resolutions and I hope you make the most of that post-summer buzz and energy, and keep it topped up right through the autumn towards the end of the year. I’d really advocate adding some altruism into your resolutions as it’s good for others, for the planet, and for yourself also. Win-win-win!