The last warm days. The first crunch of brown leaves. The curious urge to buy a new pencil case. We may have finished school years ago, but for many adults the rhythm of the academic year never quite leaves us. Discover how we can all benefit from a back-to-school mindset
When it comes to making positive changes in our life, the crisp blank page of September can feel like a more fitting ‘new year’ than the grey gloom of January ever does. Especially given that 80% of New Year’s resolutions are said to fail by the second week of February, when low light levels (in the northern hemisphere) and depleted energy levels can see our best intentions doomed to fail.
“Most of us have an emotional anchor linked to the beginning of the academic year,” explains Harley Street therapist and coach Lisa Wood. “If it’s a positive anchor and brings a sense of uplift or spark, that energy can be used to create new habits or begin a new venture. Particularly this year, with all the instability and sudden change we’ve experienced, the fresh energy of a back-to-school mindset could provide the perfect springboard.”
From new hobbies and exercise routines to more time spent with our families and away from our screens, this is our chance to crystallise positive new habits formed during lockdown before we fall back into our old ways. We might use this month as a prompt to set better boundaries, whether that means sticking more strictly to our set working hours or practising saying ‘no’ when those post-lockdown social invites start to roll back in. We could use it to take our passion projects to the next level, enrolling in online courses or even taking the first steps towards a career change. Likewise, for those of us feeling beleaguered and lacking in direction after so many weeks of enforced downtime, an autumn reset could be the perfect way to get things back on track.
Which isn’t to say that we should be pressuring ourselves into a new-season transformation for the sake of it. “Just because you could make a change doesn’t mean you should. Check where the motivation is coming from,” says Lisa. “It’s all too easy to get swept along with societal, parental or peer group expectations and forget to recognise our true wants and needs, which may not seem valid or worthy. If your motivation is coming from external influences there is more chance of losing momentum – and failure to achieve the goal can then feed into negative beliefs about the self. Take time to explore what you really want.”
So how can we harness the power of an autumn refresh without setting ourselves up for failure? Firstly, be realistic. “Don’t set yourself a monumental task if you have the tendency to feel overwhelmed, or discouraged,” says Lisa. “Be kind to yourself and start small. That way, if you meet or exceed your expectations, it’ll feel good, and the goal will seem manageable.”
For small, repetitive resolutions it can be helpful to create a trigger. “Link the new behaviour to one that’s already established,” explains Lisa. “That could mean five press-ups after you brush your teeth, or 10 minutes writing whenever you find yourself alone. Make sure the trigger event is something that happens regularly.” A 2016 study published in the journal Neuron found that a region of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for converting hopeful goals into solid, automatic habits – and that the best way to make that happen is consistency.
At the same time, new surroundings can boost our motivation, the way a new classroom or school uniform did in years gone by. One oft-cited study found that students transferring to a new university were more likely to form new habits with positive intentions than students remaining at the same institution. While the view of our home office might not be changing any time soon, we can still shake things up and induce that sense of novelty. A new chair or rug could help reignite your work ethic (take a look at Butterfly Mark Certified Iota Projects for beautiful designs handcrafted by artisan women with sustainable yarns), while new bedding could set the scene for healthier sleep hygiene. Butterfly Mark Certified Penrose Products’ transparent supply chain is an invitation for sweet dreams.
Incentivising your fresh start can help too, in much the same way your new stationery helped sweeten the sting of returning to school. The trick is to make lifestyle changes feel positive, rather than punishing. Mindless shopping isn’t the answer, but treating yourself to something beautiful, useful and thoughtful can be a good way to remind yourself that your time and happiness is worth investing in. Butterfly Mark Certified Lumira creates sense-stirring soy candles, room sprays and perfume oils inspired by different destinations, ideal for lifting your mood when morale is low.
Finally, remember to stay in tune with your mind and body and be flexible if needed. Unlike school, autumn resolutions aren’t compulsory. As Lisa Wood reminds us, “A fresh start is only useful if it feels good. If it doesn’t, let it go.”