September Resolutions: Setting Goals for the Other “New Year”

It’s been five years since I completed graduate school, and I have no plans to re-enter student life anytime soon, but I can’t seem to kick the habit of buying academic-year planners. So, when I read an article a few years ago describing September 1st as the real new year, I found myself nodding vigorously and startling my sleeping dog with a loud “yes!” Whether it’s the sight of kids boarding the school bus or an eagerness to get organized, active, and productive after a long and lazy summer, September beckons me to become a better version of myself. Often, this starts with a goal list in the notes section of my fresh new planner.  

Regardless of your planner preferences, the beginning of fall is a great time to revisit and perhaps tweak your New Year’s resolutions or to craft some new goals for the upcoming season. Consider these five categories to develop a well-rounded and motivating list of fall goals.

1. Self-improvement

Though the term self-improvement often gets a bad rap, summoning images of fad diets and cheesy motivational speakers, attempts to better our physical, emotional, and spiritual health should figure prominently on any goal list, as far as I’m concerned.  Is there a book you’ve been itching to read? A fitness class you’re interested in trying? A language you’d like to start learning? Make a goal of it. This fall, I’m resolving to walking 10,000 steps every (or almost-every) day. Having a concrete number to work towards will help me keep moving even as the days grow colder and shorter, and it will get me outside to enjoy the beautiful, changing leaves of fall.  

2. Work or school

Work and school, depending on where you are in life, come with inherent objectives (think, the tasks on your job description or the assignments on your syllabi). The start of the fall semester or the return to regular work after a summer interrupted by vacations, is a great time to craft a few goals that can contribute to your success with the tasks and requirements of your job or degree. Think of these goals as a compass on the journey. They aren’t the journey itself, or even the ship taking the journey, but they are a useful navigational tool. For an example, you might set a goal of spending two hours on a Friday afternoon achieving “inbox zero,” or waking up an hour early to study while your dorm is at its quietest. One of my work goals this fall is to research and integrate new pieces of curriculum into the faith formation classes that I teach. It’s not absolutely necessary that I do this, but it will improve my overall effectiveness at a large component of my job and will keep me learning and engaged within the work.

What area of your life do you want to pay more attention to this fall?

3. Just for fun

I doubt that I’m the only person who has wasted a Friday evening scrolling through Instagram or binge-watching reruns of “Friends.” These forms of mindless relaxation are satisfying in the moment, but they often leave me feeling like I’ve wasted precious time off. Developing “just for fun” goals — i.e. try every doughnut shop in my city, or make an elaborate halloween costume to wear while handing out candy to the neighborhood kids— reminds me to spend my free time doing things that will leave me with happy memories.

4. “Meaning-to-do” 

Accompanying my daily “to do” list is a much more nagging and amorphous “meaning-to-do” list that lingers in the back of my mind, just out of action’s reach, most of the time. It includes items like “repaint my desk chair,” “frame and hang artwork in the guest room,” and “make photo books from last summer’s vacation.” (Who am I kidding? “Make photo books from every vacation ever” is more like it.) Items are on my “meaning-to-do” list because despite my desire to accomplish them, I haven’t prioritized the tasks; moving a project or two onto my goal list helps me prioritize them. 

5. Family and friends    

Positive relationships are one of the strongest predictors of life happiness, and we strengthen our relationships by investing time and energy into them. It’s worth having a few specific relationship-related actions on any goal list, and I try to include a variety of them. For example, some of my goals last fall included writing a thank you letter to a former professor who still crossed my mind often, making the short trip into a nearby city to spend the day with a friend who lives there, and calling each of my four siblings at least once a month.

Whether January 1 or September 1 marks the beginning of your mental year, it’s never a bad time to set goals that help you make the most of your hours. With a little planning and some creativity, you can lay the foundation for a fun and fruitful fall.  

Originally published on September 3, 2019. 

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Teresa Coda is a writer and psychotherapist in southern Pennsylvania. Find more of her writing at