August is my December, and September is my January. For the first three decades of my life, my stops and starts were dictated by the academic year–as a student, a teacher, and then a student again–and I’ve never gotten out of that groove. I’ve always thought of August as the time to assess how I’m doing on my goals and September as the time to start fresh and set new targets.
I know I’m not alone in ebbing and flowing with the cycles of the academic year. Many of us are coming to the end: of summer, of vacation, of reminiscing about our favorite Olympic moments. Soon (if not already) we’ll get back to work or school, hopefully with some renewed energy and resolve.
But how can you go about taking advantage of the opportunity for a fresh start? I always loved the Bible verse that states, “God’s mercies are new every morning.” What a wonderful sentiment that each day is a fresh opportunity–to shine, to live out loud, to pour ourselves into our passions and dreams, and to be committed to our values. As the summer comes to a close (sigh…) and the leaves begin to turn colors, think about making a commitment to the following five actions:
1. Forgive yourself for past failures. “You can’t go back in time” is a cliché precisely because it’s true. Whatever you’ve done in the past months (or years) that has taken you off course cannot be undone. Grieve your losses with all of your heart, but then let them go. Write them down on a piece of paper to be burned on your barbeque or buried in your back yard if you need to. Whatever you do to help yourself move on, recognize that the best way to “pay” for your mistakes is to learn the lessons they have to teach you and to go forward with new insight and wisdom.
2. Change your relationship with guilt and regret. This is related to what I said above, of course. Imagine Guilt as a large gorilla that has jumped on your back. You carry it around to remind yourself of what has gone wrong and that you shouldn’t make the same mistakes again. The problem is that, since Guilt is so heavy, it prevents you from living into your best values and principles. Shuck it off your back, turn around and point your finger at it and tell it to get lost (if you’d like an exercise to help you with this, shoot me a personal email and I’ll send you one).
3. Write down your values. If you know what you value and what you believe, you have a much better chance of aiming for the mark you’d like to hit, don’t you think? As September creeps up on us, why not take a minute to articulate what you value? Start the sentence with “I value….” or “I believe….” See what emerges. Once you’ve got it on paper, paste it on your bathroom mirror so you can read it as a mission statement every morning when you brush your teeth.
4. Develop a personal Bill of Rights. Many of us have never thought about our non-negotiables, as I call them. What if you were sure you had the right to… cry when you were sad? Leave the laundry undone? Talk about your feelings–out loud? Wear clothes that represent your personality? Read three hours a week? Take some time to write out a Bill of Rights for yourself. Write, “I have the right…” and make a list. Write down one “right” after the other. Don’t stop until your mind is blank.
5. Know the benchmarks you’ll celebrate. With all of the above done, you’re ready to push the reset button on your goals and dreams. Your last step is to decide what constitutes progress in the following months. How will you know that you’re living into your values? How will you know that you’re moving in the direction of your dreams? If I were a fly on the wall of your life, what would I see that would convince me you were making progress toward your goals? You have to know what progress looks like in order to know if you’re making it. Set some small objectives for the next weeks and months. And decide how you’ll celebrate when you reach those benchmarks.
The end of summer is the perfect time to re-start and refresh your resolve. As the kids head back to school and the cool air rolls in, take a deep breath and make a new commitment to yourself, your well-being and your dreams. I’m cheering for you!