No matter whether you’re stuck in a rut at work or lost in a lull at home, feeling guilty about plans or New Years resolutions that you’ve failed or put off, or even if you just have too much going on, September is the perfect time of year to take a breath and re-boot before the year speeds up again!
It’s easy to get caught in the passage of days. Very soon, our social media feeds will start prodding us with the “only X Fridays until Xmas” memes (hint: it’s 18), and we’ll remark with jittery, astonished almost-dismay about where on earth did the time go! I mean, how are we just over 4 months away from 2020? It’s easy for the panic and confusion to set in – "I was going to do so much this year! Where did it all go? How am I going to get it all done now??!!"
And then the guilt and “shoulds” and procrastination and Netflix-binging all hook themselves in just that little bit deeper, right?
So let’s take a fresh look at this. Think about it – for our brothers and sisters in the northern hemisphere, in September the smell of new school books and freshly sharpened pencils fills the air as school goes back. Summer distractions end and new routines start, while nature hunkers down to recover from the season gone and prepare for the cold ahead. The trees shed their leaves and get to work on themselves from the inside out. And after months of hibernation, spring comes and the trees blossom and bloom and come back to life, vibrant and new. Down here down under, that’s the season we’re heading for! Winter will go, spring will begin, life will renew everywhere before our eyes, and we’ll eagerly anticipate the long warm days, balmy nights, casual summer BBQs and the test cricket season stretching out ahead of us. (Or so I'm told. Is it unAustralian to still have no idea how cricket matches get scored??)
I think that wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, September is a great time for us to pause, reflect, and renew; to celebrate a new day, create a new opportunity, find a way to bounce back after the hard cold season before. Like the trees, if we take time to work on ourselves on the inside, then in a little while beauty and new life will pour out.
Like the ancient Hebrew poet observed: “For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the dove is heard in our land.”
So - what are you grateful for?
What would you like to celebrate and see more of in your life?
What new change or chance do you want to create?
What part of yourself, your health, your resilience, do you want to build up a bit more?
We can use that to start cutting your stress, because when we’re focusing on that stuff, we’re starting to show your mind that you can put the stressor in its place rather than it (whatever it is) dominating your focus. Get clear about what you want in August, and come September you’ll be absolutely ready to get it underway!
Here’s three crucial things to do.
1. Write down what it is you want to do – then look deeper.
For whatever you write down, whether it be “lose weight”, “be happy,” “be more patient”, “be a better mum/dad/wife/partner/friend/kid etc”- what are you really saying?
Let’s be real here. Something else is going on in your life to make you want that. So what is it? What’s making you say that? If you achieve that, what happens then? What do you want to shift or transform in your life? Who will you become if you can do that? Who might you be comparing yourself to and what might you need to let go of?
Dig deeper and discover what you’re really struggling with and yearning for – because when you discover that, then you’ve got the keys for change in your hand. (And if you need a hand figuring that out, then book in a once-off Dashboard session with me to get some clarity.)
2. Simplify something.
You can zero in on one important thing every day (or one really important thing every week if your to-do list is chock-full of “importants” and “urgents”) and do that. Pause for a moment and intentionally notice yourself doing it and completing it. Notice how that feels! Breathe it in - then keep going.
You can ask yourself “What three things can I streamline? Can I take them off my to-do list entirely? Can I delegate them to someone else? Who can I ask to help?” You really can cut your stress levels and improve your sleep with this kind of streamlining.
If you’ve got kids, what’s one chore you can hand over (and keep your hands off)? If you’ve got a housemate or partner, what’s something you can ask them to do regularly to get it off your plate? (Just remember, the best example of delegation is when those you entrust with the task are allowed to perform it and take responsibility for the results. No take-backs!)
And if you need help, ask for it from someone who loves you or who has offered to help before. They will likely say “yes”, and if they’re part of your family or team, they may in fact view helping you as helping all of you (them included) – but they won’t be able to do that unless you’re willing to let go and ask them the question first.
3. Think big but start small.
Imagine having to build a sky scraper or someone’s dream house. If you just think about all the stuff involved all at once… your brain will shut down from too much stuff. Too hard. Not worth it. Can’t do it. What’s the point? Your mind chatter will take over and get in the way, and you’ll feel like you’ve hit a brick wall.
But you know what? Brick walls are made of individual bricks. Focus on just lifting one brick at a time. One task at a time. One idea at a time. It doesn’t matter how small a step you take or how many you take at once – as long as they are all taking you in the right direction, building you up towards the things that really matter and are really important to you, then that’s what counts.
I love what Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in 1882. He gets it.
For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, it is a succession of little things that are brought together.
What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? — since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently.
And behold, how can one remain dedicated to such a task without allowing oneself to be lured from it or distracted, unless one reflects and organizes one’s life according to principles?
And it’s the same with other things as it is with artistic matters. The great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed.
(Vincent Van Gogh, Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889. From the Metropolitan Museum's Open Access archive.)
Your work, your life, is like this painting. Many different strokes, colours, textures and shadows spread out across the canvas. What principles, what important things, can you reflect on? What picture do you want to create when people look at your actions? What matters to you so much that you can organise your life around it? Who matters to you?
Start with one tiny step in that direction. One stroke. Then follow it up with another. And another. And keep it up, and where do you end up? Somewhere beautifully different, beautiful not because you took a step, but because you took every step with the people who matter in mind.
So what do you will? What will you do?
If you want to get some more help on this, here’s some suggestions:
Once you’ve decided what you’d like to do, work through my short little New Years Resolutions videos and get some tips about how to make those changes really stick. We talk about things like how to use language that lifts you, why you need to make yourself a measuring stick, and the secret sauce you need to give you 95% chance to succeed. (I even sing!) So please do pop over, check them out and leave a comment or two.
Join me for a 4 week small group coaching course on Sundays in September – Essential Stress Mastery at 4pm in Engadine Community Services. This is for folks who are tired of having to manage everything and everyone, getting overwhelmed with all the stuff they have to do, or who've been blind-sided and don't know what to do or how to cope! It’s about sorting out how you can start turning the dial down on stress and up on the rest of your life, with essential practical tools to deal with the demands, problems and chaos, and create health, peace and balance. The class is capped at 10 so book soon to secure a spot!
And for my ministry friends and colleagues, I’d love you to come to Fill My Cup, a beach-side day retreat in southern Sydney on September 21. It’s a day to relax, refresh and revive as you pick up some practical, effective, faith-sensitive tools to cope with the overwhelm of life, work and ministry while dealing with the stuff that gets us stuck (e.g. feeling guilty, fear of failure, procrastination), and exploring what the cross-over between resilience, sacrificial giving, and emotionally-sustainable living looks like for you.