Let’s get one thing out of the way: I have mixed feelings about resolutions in general. When January rolls around, I prefer to choose a theme to guide me throughout the year, rather than singling out one particular bad habit (and inevitably failing to kick it). But there is one time of year that I feel especially inspired to set goals and make changes, and it’s not the dead of winter. It’s early fall. Here’s why right now is actually the best time to set an intention—before the new year.
1. It’s back-to-school season
September never fails to bring out my studious side—never mind that I haven’t been officially enrolled in a class in a decade. “It’s the start of the school year and this often feels more like a new beginning than the new year actually does,” says Lauren Cook, a therapist who specializes in positive psychology, among other things. It makes sense: Because we spend our formative years correlating the change of season with new notebooks and syllabi, that association never really goes away. (Neither do the nightmares where we’re late for a final and we somehow forgot to study all semester, unfortunately.) Lean into those academic impulses by challenging yourself to create your own self-improvement curriculum and schedule, whether that’s a nightly appointment with Duolingo, a weekly dance class or a stack of new biographies.
2. It’s a manageable amount of time to work with
Fact: It’s a lot easier to sprint when you can see the finish line. If conventional resolutions tend to leave you feeling overwhelmed—a full year stretching out ahead is somehow both nebulous and stressful—a fourth-quarter goal is more like a bite-size, clearly defined task that’s much easier to wrap your head around. Pick something you know you can stick to for three months (say, trying a new recipe twice a week or putting an extra $100 in your savings account every paycheck). When the year is up, that mini-accomplishment might motivate you to keep the momentum going—even if not, you’ve ended the year on a high note. Cook agrees: “As you create and build new habits in the fall, it makes the new year feel less like a stark change and more like a continuation of the progress you’ve already made.”
3. It lets you build on what you’ve already done
OK, maybe you made a resolution back in January and stuck to it…sort of. Since we’ve established that a full year is a daunting commitment, it’s understandable if you haven’t been as disciplined as your New Year’s Day self initially hoped. But the intervening months haven’t been in vain: There’s a good chance they’ve brought some clarity to which parts of your goals are the most important to you. Maybe you realized hitting the gym at 6 a.m. daily wasn’t for you, but you did start making an effort to be more active throughout the day. Or you vowed to finally become a morning person, and while that didn’t exactly come true, you did learn to turn off your electronics at least an hour before bed. Think of this season as an opportunity to reevaluate and refine any goals that may have changed during the year.
4. It usually has a built-in support system
If everyone’s running around to vacations and weddings during summer, and winter brings out our cocooning instincts, fall is when we’re most inclined to ground ourselves through our relationships. “Fall is a season where we tend to connect and spend more time with one another,” says Cook. “Gathering this extra support from our loved ones while we pursue personal growth helps us be that much more successful in our endeavors.” Sure, a big part of that, for many people, is seeing family for various holidays, but you can also extend the togetherness vibes to mean planning a restorative girls’ weekend, starting a new group text for book recommendations or reconnecting with an old mentor. However you do it, sharing your aspirations with other people helps hold you accountable—and might even encourage them to make a few goals of their own.