To say it’s been a chaotic year would be an understatement. But does that mean the last quarter of 2020 will be equally as tumultuous?
When September hits each year there’s often a natural ‘reset’, as people return from their summer holidays and children head back to school. We collectively stop, inhale and take a breath.
The new pencil case and uniform vibe doesn’t just apply to kids. We’ll often ring in the season with a new wardrobe, and take stock of our goals for the rest of the year. Heck, some people even crack on with their Christmas shopping.
But this year is different. “Because of everything we’ve been going through over the past six months or so, it doesn’t necessarily feel like a natural time to do a reset like we might’ve done,” explains life and career coach Chris Cooper.
“The structure that we take for granted – all the different milestones and landmarks that we have throughout the year – have all been completely disrupted for the vast majority of people across the country.”
If a reset doesn’t come naturally – which it might for some, especially parents readying their kids for the start of term or those heavily aware of the shifting season – is it possible, then, to force your own reset?
Yes, says Jessica Chivers, a psychologist and CEO of The Talent Keeper Specialists, who believes it’s a good idea, as the pandemic has left us with a prolonged feeling of lethargy, and a sense of ‘how much longer can I hang on?’.
The past few months may have been dampened by uncertainty – whether related to health, finances, jobs, or holidays. But there’s only so long you can ride that wave before you crave stability. “We all crave structure and certainty – it’s part of the human condition, it makes us feel safe,” says Chivers. “It’s really important people create their own bits of certainty.”
Enforcing your own reset can help get this back into your life. So, how can you manually hit that reboot button?
Reflect and set goals
One way to think about a reset is to mentally wind the clock forward to the end of the year, advises Cooper, who runs Life Complete Coaching. Picture yourself looking back over the last few months (September to December) and ask: in order to feel satisfied with the last part of 2020, what will I need to have done?
For some people, this may simply be: “I’m okay with just surviving”. For others, it might mean taking a moment to reflect and consider what they want to do in the next four months. Now, set some goals around achieving that.
With the stamp duty holiday, for example, that might be buying a house. But don’t set a goal that says “buy a house”. Break it down into manageable chunks. What do you actually need to do to buy a house? Research an area to live, figure out your budget, and speak to a mortgage advisor, for example.
Now’s also a good time to take stock of what’s happened in the past six months, says Chivers. You might not want to reflect on lockdown, but she urges you to look back on it in a positive light. What have been the wins? What have been the behaviours and habits that benefitted you, that you want to keep?
It’s good to assess the positives so you can keep them in place going forward. And if there haven’t been many, don’t worry too much. Cooper recommends reflecting back to this time last year and considering what was happening then to make you happy, compared to now. Or simply ask yourself: when life is as good as I want it to be, what am I doing? Now, make space to do those things.
“The most important thing is to pay attention to your own wellbeing,” says Cooper. “As a result of doing that, you’re going to put yourself in the best place mentally and emotionally to make decisions.”
Take time off
Another way to force a reset is to take a few days off – this is particularly advised for those who haven’t been able to have a decent holiday since the pandemic hit. Yes, you can still burnout if you’re working from home.
Chivers fiercely advocates having a change of scenery – either going away or planning days out. A good way of identifying what’s going to help you is to write on a piece of paper: if i had a magic wand, what would I do? Where would I go?
“Write it down so you get a sense of what is cathartic for you, what’s going to restore you,” she says. Some people might say: I’d really love a day to tidy my house, or a day to have a nice lunch and long walk with a friend.
If you’re unable to take a few days off, consider a work staycation: where you book accommodation somewhere other than your home for a few days and work from there, spending the evenings and weekends enjoying the local area.
Dr Gary Wood, a social psychologist and author of The Psychology of Wellbeing (out in October) says a well-earned break is crucial for us to reflect and plan.
“When we relax, we access the full range of higher-level functions such as problem-solving and planning,” he says. “But over the pandemic, we might have not had the time out to stock-take and plan.”
If you can’t take lots of time off, Wood recommends creating a mini-break or spa day at home. “Focus on what small things you can regain control of or change. And be creative and make-do rather than go for ultimate changes.”
Create structure in your life
There are small, manageable things you can do to take back control and certainty in your life. As Dr Wood explains: “What’s most important is focusing on things that create structure. We often tread that fine line between familiarity and novelty, and during the pandemic, there’s been too much novelty and not enough structure. But it’s helped us focus on the small stuff and how little things can restore our sense of control.”
Chivers recommends some “quick, soothing wins” you can do in your mission to reset. Write down what’s in your head to help de-stress. Meditate. Focus on your breathing. Go for a walk. Eat a wholesome breakfast. Focus on getting a good night’s sleep. Cook healthy meals. Spend time with friends and family. Exercise. These are all forms of self-care that can help build resilience.
To cope with an uncertain future, Wood urges people to reframe problems as creative challenges. “Maintain an attitude of curiosity about the world and practise gratitude, even for the small stuff,” he adds. “At the end of each day, write down three things you’re grateful for, and at the start of each day write down three things you’re looking forward to.
“A little structure to the day goes a long way.”