It’s the beginning of September, my favorite month and the beginning of my favorite season. I love pretty much everything about fall — the smells, the colors, the lead-up to the holidays — and I really, REALLY love the end of the summer heat. I’m with F. Scott Fitzgerald when he said, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

Fall is the perfect time to set new goals — or at least evaluate the ones we set many moons ago in January. Some have started saying that September is the new January. One interesting stat I learned a few years ago was that every year, Pinterest experiences two spikes in searches related to “organization, routine … and goal-setting.” One, as expected, is around Jan. 1. The second spike is right before fall.

“Over the years, we’ve seen the end of summer become a distinct and significant moment on Pinterest when people want to make personal changes to refresh their routines, set goals, get organized and most importantly, stay positive,” wrote Enid Hwang in a 2019 article.

That pattern resonates with me because I’ve already seen it in myself. Apparently, many others do, too. September is officially “self-improvement” month in the United States. It’s a natural time of transition with a change in seasons and back-to-school, which also means back-to-routines.

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Embrace the fall boost

It could be the cooler weather that gives us a boost of energy or the natural transition that comes with autumn or the impending holiday season, but there is a distinct boost of energy and accomplishment for many this time of year.

For me, fall is the perfect time to dejunk. I seem to have even less emotional attachment to “stuff” when September and October roll around. Trash, thrift store, give away to someone who can use it — I don’t spend too much time thinking about it because I really want the cleaner space heading into the holidays. Tossing stuff is very freeing — metaphorically and literally.

Be OK with small steps

Improving ourselves usually involves stops and starts and many small steps. We can’t put a language book under our pillow and expect to speak a new language fluently in the morning or start a workout program and then quit the next week because we haven’t lost 30 pounds.

Make small, achievable, time-bound goals. I plan to clean out one bathroom drawer this week and then another one next week. By the end of the month, I’ll have deep-cleaned the entire bathroom.

We overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year. Or a decade. Fifteen minutes a day is 91 hours in a year and over 900 in a decade. That’s a lot of reading or journal writing or meditation or whatever it is you are working on.

When John Grisham wrote his first novel, he could barely carve out time to write one page per day. It took him two years to finish that novel, but by chipping away at it day by day by day, he brought that book to market.

I am not advocating that you quit your job and leave your family while you go to meditate in Nepal. I am advocating that you give yourself permission to dream and then start taking steps towards that dream. Who cares if it takes five years to reach that dream? Ten years? That time will go by whether you pursue your dream or not.

Celebrate small wins. Cleaning one bathroom drawer may not seem like much, but by golly, I will celebrate that one when it’s done. It’s been on my to-do list for way too long. According to Vancouver-based educator Mehrnaz Bassiri, we need to note and celebrate our small wins. Drawing on the work of organizational theorist and psychologist Karl Weick, Bassiri said in her TEDx talk, “Small wins have a transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favor another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins lead to larger and greater accomplishments.” Real progress, she says, “is the combination of slow, small, and steady steps, repeated over and over again.”

Self-improvement takes many forms

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Self-improvement, of course, isn’t just about dejunking the bathroom drawers. It can take on as many forms as there are people. Do you want to learn more about current events? That could look like listening to podcasts, signing up for webinars, reading (or listening to) book-length biographies, having a rich diet of news consumption (not just a single source), or it could even mean taking university classes and getting a degree. 

Maybe your goals for self-improvement will include being kinder online, or reading more, or spending more time connecting with grandchildren. Maybe it will look like teaching yourself to use a power tool or improving your skills in the kitchen. It could be spending 30 minutes a day walking in silence or mastering your yoga tree pose.

Whatever your self-improvement goals are, I’m cheering you on and celebrating your wins.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.

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