I had no idea what to write this week. Everything that came to mind felt like I would be either too overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts about a topic, or not fully inspired, and as a result, would sound too forced. I cycled through topic after topic without arriving at any one in particular— nothing really stuck out.
My anxiety has been building throughout the week, feeling like I needed to pick something to write about and still give myself enough time to actually write. Finally, on Thursday, I reached out to my sister with a simple text; her response was just the spark I needed:
Me: “I’m schvitzing a little bit about what to write this week.”
Sister: “What about starting over? Getting back into something (running), one day at a time.”
It probably goes without saying that there pros and cons to most things in life, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway— there are pros and cons to most things in life. Starting over is one of those things.
There’s a lot that can be said about starting over. There are times when starting over feels daunting. There are other times when it actually feels refreshing. Which one it is, often depends on the context of the situation.
By nature, “starting over” essentially means “beginning again.” This implies two things: change, and/or loss. To begin again means that there was originally something, and now there is not. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that something was literally lost, but at the very least, you can be assured that something is changing.
Either way, loss and change are both difficult for a lot of people to navigate, myself included, and there are several things to consider when dealing with starting over:
Are you starting over voluntarily or involuntarily?
This is an important question mainly because of what the answer can tell us. When we start over by choice, it’s likely to be easier for us to handle because we had the freedom to choose whatever path it may be. That doesn’t necessarily mean the adjustment will be seamless or without some difficulty, but generally speaking, this is preferable to being forced to make a change.
One obvious example here is work. There’s a feeling-- maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s accomplishment or pride-- that comes when you start a new job because you’ve chosen to. You’ve taken initiative, assessed your needs and desires, and made decisions to advocate for yourself. In this case, a fresh start can be a wonderful thing.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have or will lose a job by being “let go,” “excessed,” “fired,” or whatever other term they’d like to call it. Granted, if you hated your job, this may not be the worst news and can actually be a blessing in disguise. Even if that is the case, it’s natural to have that moment of panic (by moment I mean it could be a minute, or a month) about finding a new job, because job searching is typically not the most fun process.
How far had you come in reaching your previous goal before starting over?
This relates well to things that can be measured, like writing a paper or building a structure. These types of things have, for the most part, a definitive endpoint or specific goal, where starting over would mean losing the progress you had made.
Think: Your computer crashes after writing 19 pages of your 20-page assignment. Or maybe you just realize that what you’ve written isn’t any good, or you change your topic and start from scratch. scrap the whole thing. Either way, whatever progress you had made is more or less wiped out by starting over. My stomach turns just thinking about it.
In other cases, maybe your goal was more open-ended and wasn’t as easy to measure. This may make it harder to gauge your progress. Setting measurable goals may give you a way to see how far you’ve come, and even if you have to start over, you can do so with some kind of benchmark. If last time you made it halfway to your goal, this time around you can aim to get three-quarters of the way there, or more.
Was the thing that is being replaced a source of positivity or negativity, enjoyment or angst, distress or eustress?
Obviously, starting over by replacing something that pained you may very well be a good thing, provided that the new thing is less painful or agonizing. On the other hand, having to fill a void left by something that you enjoyed may be much more challenging for us to do.
There are many different ways to measure cost, but in this case, I’m focusing more on finances. Basically, does starting over cost you money?
We all know that money can be a source of stress, especially when what we need costs more than the money we have. Whether it’s moving into a new apartment, buying a new car, or going back to school, the cost that comes with starting over can definitely influence how you handle it.
As a side note, I once read a book called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. In this book was a chapter that examined the concept of “free,” and how this word can have a powerful psychological effect on our actions. This was one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read, and I would highly recommend it. More on that another time, perhaps.
Another term often used in terms of money, but in this case I’m actually talking about emotions and time. Simply put, how much heartfelt emotion and feeling did you expend on the thing you’re replacing? Over what length of time did you make that emotional investment?
In many cases, the more time and emotion we invest in ourselves or other people, the harder it is for us to start over when those people are no longer there. The no-brainer analogy here is relationships. This is what makes grieving so difficult and breakups so upsetting. Again, if you’re starting over after an abusive relationship with a family member or friend, this may be a more welcome start than being dumped by a long-term love. The strength of our emotions and the length of time we held them certainly affects how we handle a new beginning.
So clearly, starting over can be easy or difficult, positive or negative, or somewhere in between. But what does this all mean?
To me, the way we experience the prospect of starting over has a lot to do with the perspective we have when we approach the situation. If we have the expectation that the new beginning will be something worth dreading, this can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m probably the millionth person to have said this, but our mindset has a big role in the way we experience our lives. “Positivity breeds positivity,” and all of that warm, fuzzy, cliche stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that staying positive is easier said than done, but it’s kind of true, isn’t it?
We’ve all been there at some point or another-- that day when the alarm clock goes off (earlier than we want it to) to alert us that we have to go to that thing we don’t really want to go do. The anxiety starts brewing even before you get out of bed, if it hasn’t started the night before when you set the alarm to begin with. That doesn’t mean that waking up with a positive attitude and a smile on our face is going to guarantee that we actually enjoy whatever it is we do that day, but at the very least it’s starting on a better note than if we were to waking up swearing at the world.
If you’re prone to anxiety like I am, your mind may very well take you to some negative thought processes, irrational fears, or intrusive thoughts about starting over. I’ve had many inner struggles with my OCD as it has planted its seeds of worry and self-doubt. The feeling of anxiety can be suffocating (literally, anxiety can cause shortness of breath), so reducing that anxiety is extremely important. When faced with starting over, the goal itself may seem insurmountable, especially if it’s a goal you’ve attempted and failed to reach repeatedly.
For me, the most current example of this has been my physical health. My struggles with binge eating, weight maintenance, body image, and sticking to a fitness regimen are well-documented. I’ve had several dietary and exercise “reboots” on Instagram with varying levels of success (I realize that I’m no different than millions of people in this way. I know I’m not alone, and so if you’re going through something similar, neither are you).
Over the past year I’ve experienced one of my most significant weight gains and disappointment with my body image. Despite my desire to turn things around and get my body back into a more comfortable state, I simply haven’t been able to put much into action.
I’ve historically gone through fluctuations in weight, and to this point I’ve felt reasonably confident that this period of struggle will eventually be followed by a period of success. I’ve known, though, that for this to happen, I have to make some lifestyle changes, which means I have to, in a sense, “start over,” both in the way I’ve been eating (poorly, and too much) and the amount I’ve been exercising (hardly at all).
One of the biggest obstacles I face is actually getting started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “I’ll start tomorrow.” It’s ok if you’ve said it, too, and again, you’re not alone.
The calendar just changed to October last weekend, and I’ve found this to be an effective way for me to designate a starting point. Being a huge baseball fan, this analogy is still fitting with the playoffs underway, but you don’t have to be a baseball fan to understand the gist of it:
There’s a lot of superstition in baseball about the changing of the calendar. A player who has had a bad month suddenly begins a hot streak on the first of the month, and everyone goes bananas over how that player “heats up in July.” In truth, what month it is probably has zero bearing on how well a player performs, but there have been so many instances of players doing an about-face with their production from one month to another.
To me, I believe that the calendar really can a psychological effect on our actions and success. Maybe it’s because starting on the 1st of the month makes it easy to count the days since I’ve made a change (remember, I'm a numbers guy). Maybe it’s something else that I can’t pinpoint. Whatever the reason, I feel comforted by the parallel of“October 1” and “Day 1,” and I offer it to you as one possible way to start over, whatever it is that you’re working on.
I’ve known for a while now that one of the things I want and need to get back to is exercising. Like so many people, I’ve fallen into the all too familiar trap of “not having enough time to go to the gym.” I’ve had the talk with myself about “getting back to the gym again” hundreds of times before, but this month, I’ve decided to embrace a different way to approach my physical health: I’m starting over.
I’m doing my best to ignore where I used to be physically, because the reality is, I’m not at that point right now, and expecting to jump back into my old workouts six months removed from them would be unrealistic. Instead, I’m looking at it as a clean slate. Instead of trying to convince myself to drag myself back to the gym, I picked 2 exercises that are harder for me to make excuses for not doing— running one mile, and doing 100 push-ups each day for the month of October.
Now, if you aren’t used to running or doing push-ups, a mile or 100 push-ups may sound like a lot. There was a time long ago when I had never run a mile, and a time not too long ago when running a mile was a breeze for me. I’m somewhere in the middle right now. I can’t run as much as I used to, which is super frustrating, but for exactly this reason, here’s where it helps to reframe your perspective.
Think of it this way: Running a mile may take you 10, 12, or upwards of 15 minutes. If your body isn’t accustomed to it, these 10-15 minutes may be less than pleasant. But think about how long it would take you to change into gym clothes, get in your car, drive to the gym, sign in, find your equipment of choice (that is, if no one is using it), and do a whole workout. Unless you live really close, chances are the drive to the gym will take you 10 minutes in itself.
In terms of push-ups, even if you can only do 5 at a time, 5 pushups isn’t something that takes a terribly long time to do. You may have to do 5 pushups 20 times throughout the day, but you can spread them out as you see fit without having to block of a chunk of your free time to do it.
As I finish writing this article, it’s Day 6 of my 1 mile/100 push-up experiment, and so far, so good. It has helped that the weather has been pretty amazing lately for my runs, but it also helps that I have fewer excuses not to go for a quick run in what effectively winds up being 10-15 minutes of my day.
I’ve already learned to spread the push-ups out, rather than doing them all at the end of the day. It’s been a while since I’ve done all of these things and my body is still adjusting, but they’re getting a little bit easier each time I do them. What’s most important is that I’m actually doing them, and that’s more than I was doing on September 30th.
I realize that my exercises are only one example of reframing the whole “starting over” experience and that yours may be totally different. There are many ways that starting over can present itself, to go into them all would make this article significantly longer, and it’s already probably long enough. What I will do, though, is leave you with a few more suggestions that I hope help you reframe your perspective and cope with the anxiety that may come with facing a new beginning:
Socially: If you’re coming out of a breakup, it may feel as though you’ll never find someone better. You will. You may be “starting over” with the next person you date, but you can learn from your past relationships— what worked, what didn’t work— and take those lessons with you.
Occupationally: If you just lost your job, take this as an opportunity to re-evaluate your checklist of priorities. Starting over with a new role at a new company can allow you to use your skills differently, be appreciated and recognized for your contributions that may have been overlooked in the past, and introduce you to a more positive work environment full of new, like-minded people. At the very least, you may discover a better commute, which is more important than you may think.
Physically: If you’re unhappy with the way you’ve been eating lately and how it’s affecting your body, make today a pivoting point in your eating habits. Figure out what you’ve been doing that is working, and what isn’t working. Keep what is working, and start over with what isn’t. If your weight or body image has been trending in the wrong direction, make today day 1 of a new trend in the right direction.
How do you feel about starting over? What about starting over is difficult for you?
What perspective can you take to bring a positive outlook to starting over?
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