Staying on track, and away from the winter blues
If September became the new January, maybe resolutions would be easier to keep. Why we resolve to change anything during the depths of winter is beyond comprehension. Maybe it’s time to fall for change.
With regard to life’s better things, September has a lousy reputation. September continues to extract minutes from daylight, as well as sugar from leaves and warmth from the breeze. Fall is summer’s end. The end of lake swims; the end of sleep being nudged aside by early sunrises; and the end of playtime being signalled by glowing streetlights. There are reluctant beginnings coaxed across September’s threshold. They sport gang names of the working human such as Routine, School, Work, Rake, and Gutters. However, a couple of ideas—far more camouflaged this time of year—are ones that I embrace: change and opportunity.
By and large, many people peg January 1st as the high watermark (however frozen solid that water may be) of resolve and new beginnings.
January? January?? In my hometown of Montreal, the average daytime high temperature throughout the year’s first month is -5.7 C (22 F). That’s the warmest part of the day. The January 1st sunset this year was at 4:21 pm.
It’s dark enough before suppertime that after-school specials could be shown at a drive-in, and cold enough that one would have to scrape their windshield during commercial breaks.
This close to the Arctic Circle, January may not be the best month for goal-setting.
Metathesiophobia: the fear of change. It exists in all of us to some degree.
Why we resolve to change anything during our annual ice age is beyond comprehension.
What if we aim for Labour Day as a target date for the real work to begin? Fall is a season of change. It’s a season that embraces routine. School-age children return to the classroom; many businesses expect employees to return to more regimented schedules; and allies for vocational or physical renewal are easier to find.
Changing careers, or working toward physical or psychological self-improvement can, at a minimum, be daunting. But not all changes have to be all-encompassing or immediate.
Cindy Schwartz is a professional career coach. She cites September as one of her busy seasons. She says that one of the reasons people have more success with initiating change in September is because they can build momentum before winter shuts us in.
“I think that even though people have graduated from school in their late teens, there is still a mentality of fall bringing new beginnings and new changes. It’s back to school, so it’s back to ‘summer’s over; I can’t drink sangrias anymore. I need to get back into a routine,’ and with the fall comes that kind of mental change as well.
“People like to nest more in the winter, so ultimately, [though] they may have the best of intentions, they often fail in their pursuit of change. People who start in September are generally more successful because by the time January comes around, they may have been working on goals since September, so they’ve built a foundation.”
“More easily said than done” is a common—and understandable—refrain, especially when it comes to a career change. Leaving the security of a job is not necessarily something that can be done easily or gradually. However, probing personal and professional possibilities is a step that can be shoehorned into an existing routine.
Schwartz explains it can be a simple conversation that may help an individual understand why they’re seeking change to begin with. She’ll ask a client, “Tell me about your current situation … your current status. When you go home at night, are you relieved to be home? Are you sad to be home? What’s going on in your life?”
She adds, “Someone unhappy at work can also be unhappy at home because, holistically, a person is not just their job; they’re also their family life. And then it’s asking them to visualize themselves in the future. If you could create that job, that perfect career, that perfect life, what would that look like?”
I know I’m often afraid to even talk to someone about what makes me unhappy, or in what way I want to feel better, either physically or mentally. I have no trouble internalizing those feelings; when it comes to ruminating I can give the fattest cow in the richest pasture a run for its money.
But sometimes achieving even the smallest step seems like scaling the peak of Machu Picchu. This can be especially true for many people who would like to make improvements to their physical health and workout routines (which may include actually beginning a routine).
Jennifer Pryce has been a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor for more than 20 years. She says that many people become discouraged from beginning any kind of fitness routine because their targets are unrealistic.
“The end goal of working out is not necessarily to get six-pack abs. You have this gift of this machine; you have this body. You only have the one body—you have to take care of it. You have to do basic maintenance: oil changes, rotate the tires, that type of thing. We’re living longer, but is the quality going to be as good if we’re not healthy and we’re not strong?”
Pryce notes her students have more long-term success if they begin in September versus beginning with an infamous New Year’s resolution.
“If you get into a nice routine—if you can do something for six weeks in a row—then it becomes ingrained. So if you can [start] before it becomes dark and dreary [outside], and it’s something that you enjoy, [you] tend to sign up more.”
Many people already struggle during the winter months. Seasonal affective disorder, often referred to as the winter blues, can make even an existing routine difficult.
Perhaps, like icebergs themselves, we should give ourselves the gift of merely floating slowly during the first months of the year.
Maybe it’s called Labour Day for a reason. Maybe fall gives us the best chance to stay on the wagon. Success can never be guaranteed, but don’t we deserve to give ourselves the best chance to achieve it?
Hiking on leaves laced with shades of orange and deep red can be the invigorating first steps en route to a healthier self. Marching toward a new goal is unquestionably easier without snowshoes and a flashlight.