Ah, September – the month of crisp leaves, cosy jumpers, and the glorious ‘back to school’ feeling that has the power to rekindle our enthusiasm and zest for self-improvement. While it might remind you of school days gone by, that feeling isn’t just for kids heading back to class. It’s a golden opportunity for adults, too, especially if you’re considering a new career, goal or hobby.
So, grab your metaphorical new pencil case, and see how taking a leaf out of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) can help make the most out of this inspiring time of year.
Step 1: Embrace the Fresh Start
Remember that feeling of excitement as you walked into a new classroom on the first day of school? Well, good news – you can recreate that in your adult life! September is like a clean slate waiting for your masterpiece. As in many things, therapy included, motivation is key. Being open to and hopefully even excited by the possibility of change is important to doing the hardest part of this journey – making a start.
Take a moment to think about why you want to make this change, and all the different areas of your life that could be better if you did.
Step 2: Set Specific Goals
Just like in school, where you had subjects to conquer, set clear goals for yourself. Use the SMART criteria – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound – to craft your objectives.
Let’s say you want to move into a new career. Instead of a vague “find a new job,” try “secure a marketing position in a creative agency within six-twelve months.” You might even want to become a therapist (it’s great), and we can help you there too…
Or if you want to learn a new language, set a goal of ‘To learn enough in French to get by on our holiday next March’. Specific and realistic goals give you direction and make it easier to track your progress.
Step 3: Identify and challenge your irrational, unhelpful beliefs
Ever heard that nagging voice in your head saying you’re not good enough? Or that if you try to achieve something but fail that would be awful, and prove you are a failure? These are our irrational, unhelpful beliefs. REBT states that it is these unhealthy beliefs that provoke our unhelpful feelings of disturbance and get in the way of achieving our goals.
By learning to identify and challenge these beliefs, and replace them with more rational, flexible preferences, we suddenly take a lot of pressure off ourselves and actually start to perform better, and even enjoy the challenge.
Instead of saying ‘I must get that new job in six months. If I don’t it would be awful, unbearable and it would mean I’m useless’, try saying ‘I’d really like to get a new job in six months, but I accept there’s no rule that says I have to. It wouldn’t be great, but not the worst thing in the world, I’m sure I could tolerate the discomfort. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure, only that I’ve not found a job yet. I’m a fallible human being just like everyone else.’
Step 4: Break It Down
Just like tackling a big assignment, break your goals into smaller, manageable tasks. This prevents you feeling overwhelmed and makes your ambitions feel more achievable. If your goal is to start a business, start by researching your market, creating a business plan, and setting up a basic website. Celebrate each mini-milestone; it’s like earning gold stars on your wallchart. Read more about goal setting here.
Step 5: Embrace the Learning Curve
Remember when you faced challenging subjects in school? You didn’t become a maths wizard overnight, did you? The same goes for your new career or goal. Learning to accept setbacks is part of growth. If you stumble, it’s not a reflection of who you are; it’s an opportunity to learn and adapt.
In REBT, we tell our clients that change is possible but uneven. The hard work of switching to healthy, rational beliefs and behaviours does not always go smoothly, and understanding that some days will be harder than others helps you see the process through.
So, if your first interview doesn’t go well, or the French for ‘Why yes, I would like another croissant’ just won’t go in, remember: everyone struggles sometimes.
Step 6: Practice Self-Care
And following on from No. 6, a little self-compassion and care can go a long way. Just as you needed breaks during school, you need them now. Pursuing a new goal can be tiring, so self-care isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. Do things that rejuvenate your mind and body. Whether it’s yoga, reading, or simply binge-watching your favourite show, these moments of relaxation enhance your resilience.
When working with anxious or perfectionist clients, we often encourage them to ‘do more by doing less’. This paradoxical approach to productivity ensures you are relaxed and rested enough to work efficiently when you have to, and can enjoy well-earned downtime when you don’t.
Step 7: Seek Support
Remember group projects? They were more fun when you had classmates by your side. Similarly, seeking support during this journey is vital. Share your goals with friends, family, or even a therapist. Their feedback, insights and encouragement can be invaluable. And if you’re facing a tough challenge, don’t hesitate to ask for help – it’s a sign of strength, not weakness.
As you embark on this September fresh start, remember that the ‘back to school’ feeling isn’t just nostalgia – it’s a mindset that can propel you toward your dreams. Using some principles from CBT and REBT, you can navigate the challenges, manage your thoughts, beliefs and behaviours, and achieve your goals.
So, sharpen your pencils, pack your bag, and let September be the season you take the first steps to how you want your life to be. You’ve got this!
REBT / CBT Therapist