I‘m a big fan of any reminder to stop to consider what changes could make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative—whether that prompt comes from the New Year, a birthday, Valentine’s Day, a significant anniversary, or official “days” like “Earth Day.”
Some people (Questioners!) often object to using a date like January 1, because they consider the date arbitrary. It’s true, it is arbitrary—and why wait? Now is always the best time to begin.
Some people object to a day like Mother’s Day, because they consider it a consumerist holiday celebrated just because it prompts us to buy stuff.
Nevertheless, I do think that external dates can be valuable reminders to reflect. In the tumult of everyday life, it’s hard to remember to step back, reflect, and think about what changes we’d like to make.
For that reason, I’m creating a Calendar of Catalysts—a menu of dates to use as reminders to stop, evaluate, and plan. I want to offer a range of choices, because different dates will appeal to different people.
Dates below are for 2022; some will change slightly for different years. Reverse the solstices and change the seasons to suit your hemisphere.
There are several months that lack a catalyst day—have any suggestions?
January 1—New Year’s Day is one of the most popular time to reflect. It’s also the start of the first quarter of the year, Q1
February 15—this day might be called this “Discouragement Day,” because research suggests that by this point, most people have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions.
But if you’re wisely using this date as a catalyst to take stock at your progress (or lack of progress) on a new habit, call it “Determination Day.” Much better!
March 4—“March Forth” to new, better habits.
March 20—First day of spring and spring equinox (day and night are of most equal length)
April 1—first day of Q2
June 21—First day of summer and summer solstice (day with the most sunlight for the year)
July 2—Halfway Day—it’s the 183rd day of the year, so it marks the halfway point. Also, July 1 is the start of Q3
In Chuck Palahniuk’s essay “The People Can,” in the collection Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories (Amazon, Bookshop) Palahniuk wrote about time he spent on a submarine. He noted: “Before departure, the family of each man on board gives Chief of Boat Ken Biller a shoe-box-sized package, and on the night that marks the halfway point in the patrol, called Halfway Night, Biller distributes the boxes.” I loved learning about this custom, and think it’s a great idea to celebrate the halfway point of any major undertaking.
September 6—La Rentrée Day — In the United States, Labor Day (in 2022, September 5) the official end of the summer season, and the day after Labor Day signals the start of the new season.
In France, people use la rentrée to refer to the “re-entry” to school and work after the summer holidays. They don’t have an exact date for la rentrée, but in the United States, the day after Labor Day is the traditional re-entry day. That’s why September is the other January.
September 22—First day of fall and fall equinox (day and night are of most equal length)
October 1—start of Q4
December 21—First day of winter and winter solstice (day with the most darkness for the year)
A few notes about the Calendar of Catalysts:
These dates are valuable as reminders for reflection. For the action of actually starting a new habit, most people prefer to start on a Monday.
The dates aren’t spaced out equally, but that’s okay, because people will choose the dates that resonate most. For instance,
- if nature is very important to you, you might want to use the summer solstice as your catalyst, because that natural cycle is appealing
- if you have a whimsical bent, you might embrace the pun of “March Fourth”
- if you’re business-inclined, using Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4 might feel right
- Questioners resist anything that feels arbitrary, and a date like January 1 often feels arbitrary to them. They do better when they pick a date that feels justified—or they may just start right away, which is always an excellent time to start!
- Rebels want to live up to their identity, so might benefit from starting on a date that feels particularly suited to a particular identity
(Don’t know if you’re a Questioner, Rebel—or Upholder or Obliger? Take the free, quick quiz here.)
You can adapt the catalysts to your aims. For instance, the first day of spring might inspire you to reflect on the aim of “spring-cleaning” and think about how to create more outer order in your life. For most of us, outer order contributes to inner calm.
Each year on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, we discuss the Try-This-at-Home suggestion to “Design your summer“—i.e., consider the approaching season and figure out how to design the experience you want. But you can choose the date and season that most appeals to you.
On the day that you’ve chosen as your catalyst for change, you might also consider adding some ritual to mark your determination. Maybe you write down the habit you want to break and burn the paper. Maybe you empty a shelf to hold all books you’re going to read, going forward. Maybe you keep your calendar free for the entire morning of your catalyst day, so you can reflect and plan.
If you want to learn more about using the Calendar of Catalysts to start a new habit, check out Better Than Before, my book about habit change, and in particular, the chapters on the Strategy of First Steps , the Strategy of the Clean Slate, and the Strategy of Identity.
I need your help! The Calendar of Catalysts has gaps. What dates should I add?