Many of us return from the summer holidays with a "start of term" feeling as we head back into the office. Some of us may see our children off to a new year in school with a similar feeling ourselves of excitement and perhaps a little trepidation as we step again into the workplace. I'll admit to being a sucker for purchasing new stationery to brighten up "la rentrée", as the French call it, and to sweeten the end of summer feeling. But revamping your pen and pencil collection isn't the only thing you might think about doing this time of year. It's the ideal time to reassess and reset your goals for the months ahead.
January, the traditional time of evaluation and new resolutions, is in fact quite a tough gig - cold, dark, short days and even colder, darker, longer nights. With the best will in the world, the New Year isn't necessarily the easiest time to decide to change your life. September, with its feel of productivity, the whiff of an Indian summer still lingering in the air and that start of term vibe is far more conducive to making positive changes.
It's no coincidence that gyms often see their highest increase in membership in September, not January. Life coaches and other such personal development gurus regularly observe more uptake of their services during this month. The reasons are pretty clear; people have had a holiday, which has acted as a catalyst for them to take stock; they've perhaps realised their life isn't quite where they want it to be and they return from the summer break not only invigorated but ready to make a change.
So whether it's your career, your fitness, your personal life, your travel plans or all or none of these, it's a great time to make an action plan and set some goals. But this in itself can be daunting. If you make your goals too lofty or ambitious, you may find yourself overwhelmed. If you don't set a definite timeline you may find yourself frustrated or lost. But help is at hand. There's a clear process to goal setting (and goal achieving) that can help you progress towards those dreams and objectives.
Firstly create a "big picture" of what you'd like to achieve from your life over, for example, the next five years. These are your large scale, long-term goals that will be moved towards incrementally. They could fall into many areas; for example, career, family, financial, education & training, health & fitness, cultural & artistic, spiritual, community & public service, travel, social. By working through these different "segments" of your life you can identify one or two goals in each that you'd like to achieve over time.
Then you need to break these down into smaller, more measurable goals which you can potentially achieve over the next year. You want to run your own company? Firstly, you need to come up with an idea, develop a business plan, and test the market. You want to get married? Then perhaps you need to socialise more, join clubs with like-minded people, and sign up with a dating agency. These shorter term goals are more tangible and attainable steps on the road to achieving your major aims.
It's important to work out what may have prevented you from achieving your goals in the past. Is it a lack of skills? In which case, why not look into a course to develop your skillset? Is it a lack of time or energy? In which case, take a serious look at your lifestyle; find out either where you can buy time back (getting up earlier, establishing more effective time management skills, learning to say no) or where you can improve your energy levels (better diet, focus on nutrition, more sleep, a more holistic routine).
At the start of each week, make a clear "to do" list which will help you move along the path to your short and long term goals. That might include something like "book in for gym initiation session", "call the local education college re. French course", "write first page of new company website". Alongside your daily, essential tasks, it's vital to include tasks that will see you towards your longer term goals. Otherwise, you're simply firefighting daily rather than moving forward in life.
It's important to remember the SMART approach to goal setting. Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. If you follow these basic rules when setting your goals, and keep them positive and realistic, then you have far more chance of success.
Jim Rohn, the American self-help guru who talked Ab significant amount of sense, said that: "Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment". He's right. By putting some basic structures in place when setting your goals, and following them through with a disciplined approach, you stand a far greater chance of success. So get your new pens and pencils out and start working on your September life plan.