Starting Fresh in the New Year

time-for-changeToday is January 1, 2014.

Time to start another ride around the Sun, folks.

You can actually “start fresh” anytime, but New Year’s Day is as good a time as any.  The calendar is making a new beginning, so you might as well do the same. You can make big changes or small ones; it’s your choice.  In my humble opinion, it’s a good idea to make changes regularly in our lives, to keep things fresh and avoid getting into a rut.  When we make our changes mindfully, they can be quite powerful, even if they seem small.  That’s because when we do things consciously and mindfully, our actions can serve as catalysts for more and farther-reaching changes in our lives. In this sense, one little change can serve as a key to unlock a door to a whole different future from the one you’ve been programmed into.

Change happens whether we are aware of it or not, and whether we instigate it ourselves or not.  Change is the signature of life itself.  The key is to be proactive and to create change for yourself, rather than simply reacting to changes going on around you.  If you take an honest look at yourself, you will have to admit that even though you are married to or going with the same person, and even though you live in the same place, work for the same employer, go to the same church, or have the same friends that you did last year, or even five years ago, you, yourself, have changed.  You’re a bit older, and some more water has passed under the bridge.  You are dealing with different challenges now.  You may not be interested in or attracted to the same things anymore.  You may be getting tired of listening to the same old music, or going to the same old social events.  Maybe you’re getting tired of watching so much TV or being online so much.  Maybe you’ve got a hobby or talent that you are itching to spend more time on.  Maybe you’d like to find a more fulfilling way to live your life or earn your money.   You might be getting weary of your current job, or feeling that your old friends just don’t understand you anymore.  Maybe it’s your parents and siblings that don’t understand you.  Or your significant other.  Perhaps the religion of your  youth no longer answers your deepest questions.  Whatever it is, you are feeling restless and unsatisfied.

Some people who are feeling like this know exactly what change they’d like to make, but they are afraid to make that big break with their current situation for any number of reasons, including economic uncertainty, fear of what people will think, fear of reprisal, or fear of the unknown, in general. These people need to figure out what’s holding them back, find the courage to let go, and detach from their fears. Others are just not sure what needs to be done.  In that case, just deciding on one small arbitrary change and doing it may give them an insight into whatever else needs to change in their lives.

Here are some suggestions.  Choose just one that you would like to try.  I’d like to suggest that you might wish to limit yourself to one change at a time, because you are going to do this mindfully, remember?  And you need to complete one change before you start another.   Not all of the following sections will apply to you. Find the ones that do and don’t worry about the others.

Sometimes your first change needs to be an inner one: acceptance.  Some of us just need to go through the process of accepting our situation as it exists right now. Perhaps one of these scenarios fits:  You are not the same person you were before.  You failed (at work, at school, in a relationship).  You won (at work, at school, in a relationship.)  You achieved something special.  Something awful happened to you.  You have a bad habit that is limiting you or wrecking your life.  You are addicted to something.  Someone has left your world (gone to college, left a relationship with you, divorced you, or died).  You are living a life that your old friends  (school friends, hometown friends, colleagues from a previous job) no longer share.   The key to accepting these things as a precursor to further change is to realize that you need to move on.  Things will never be the same again, so you might as well create a change you can live with rather than running from a change dictated by others.

Sometimes you just have to figure out who you are in order to see more clearly how you want to change.  One good idea that I read about is to design an interview with yourself as if you are trying to learn all about a famous person.  Ask all sorts of probing questions.  Write them down or type them up.  Then take some time over the next day or two to answer the questions, fully, in writing.  Be honest.  Go into detail.  Then let the finished interview sit for a while and come back to it.  Read the questions and answers as if the interview were about someone else.  Do you like the person being interviewed?  Do you want to be that person?  If not, what don’t you like, and how would you like to change?

Another idea is to write out a timeline of your life, focusing on the decisions you made or the events that established or altered your course in life.  Where did you make your mistakes?  What went wrong, and why?  Rather than focusing on what others did to you, focus on what you did and how you handled the situation at the time.  What would you have done differently, and how would you have acted?   What do you wish you had done, and how might it have changed the situation?  Realize that there are some things in your life you might not have been able to change.

A third idea is to think about the qualities present in your life right now, and which qualities you’d like to change.  For example, do you feel safe and secure or are you in danger?  Do you feel loved?  Do you feel cherished or maligned?  Do you feel wanted or unwanted?  Do you feel powerful or powerless?  Are you happy or depressed?  Is there too much fear, worry, anger, or bitterness in your life?   Are you regretful or are you mostly OK with the way things have happened so far?  If you’re in danger, what would make you feel safe? If you feel powerless, what would give you a sense of power or control over your life?  If you are unhappy, what would make you truly happy?   Your changes will be suggested by the qualities you wish to bring into your life.

Another thing you may wish to do, especially if you have had an especially unpleasant or traumatic experience, or if you made a mess of your life with a foolish decision, is to get some counseling.  Beyond that, though, you will have to do some inner work on your own.  Here’s a suggestion: What have you learned about yourself, about other people, or about the world from the experience?  What beneficial qualities have you gained from having to deal with the situation?  For example, did you get a lesson in patience?  humility?  perseverance?  Treasure those lessons and qualities that you have manifested within yourself.  They will stand you in good stead the next time you encounter a tough situation.

Accept your mistakes as opportunities for learning and move on.  Make peace with your past.  One powerful exercise that I have done is to go into contemplation and recall a time when I was feeling angry, lonely, unlovable, scared, etc., except that I looked at my former self as another person.  It helps when you do this to remember exactly where you were at the time you were having those negative feelings.  What house were you in?  What room?  What did the room look like?  What were you wearing?  What were you doing?  Talk to that younger person in the guise of an older, wiser guide.  Tell your younger self that you understand completely, that the situation will work itself out, and that you love your younger self unconditionally.  Tell your younger self that everything will be OK.  Encourage your younger self to do as best he or she can.   This exercise was so powerful for me that when I came out of contemplation, I was crying, but I was able to lay to rest some of the angers and fears that I had carried forward from that time in my life.

Sometimes your first change needs to be symbolic.  Clean out your closets, for example, or your refrigerator.  Clean out the trunk of your car, or the cabinet under your sink.  Clean out your basement, your attic, or your garage.  Be ruthless.  If it isn’t seasonal or too expensive to replace later, and if you haven’t used it in the last three months, get rid of it.   If it’s seasonal and you didn’t use it last time it was in season, get rid of it.  (Throw it away or give it to charity.  Local homeless shelters are often in need of gently used clothing.)  The act of cleaning out something physical, especially if you do it mindfully, is a very powerful symbolic gesture that can be “read” energetically by the Universe.  By doing this mindfully, what I mean is this: Keep it lightly in mind that you are eliminating things that are useless or things that take up time, space, money and energy in your life.  (Have you ever considered how much space your “stuff” is taking up, or how much money, time and energy you spend maintaining your “stuff”?  What could you do with extra space, more money, more time, or more energy?)   You are eliminating things you no longer need because you’ve changed.  You are making room for something better to come along.  You are creating space for something new.  You are eliminating things whose energy no longer matches yours.  When you do this mindfully, you find that new opportunities begin to come your way.  (That’s what I meant about the Universe “reading” you.)

Sometimes you just need to make a clean break.  Maybe you really need to leave your job, your marriage, or your church.  (I’ve done all three, at some point in my life.)  I’m not necessarily suggesting that you do this right away tomorrow.  Just start thinking about it.  Make some plans; get some information, first; don’t do anything hasty. You may not have a job, a new relationship or a new spiritual path waiting in the wings.  That’s OK.  You may have to deal with a period of uncertainty in your life.  So be it.  You can do it.

Let’s say you want to quit your job:  Do some research. Re-write your resume.  Look around for some training courses that might get you into a completely different field. Do some volunteer work in a field you think you might like to see if it’s a good fit.  Look at your current job and list the things you want to get away from.  You may find that you would be fine staying in the same career and just finding a different employer.  If you need to make a career change, what skills do you already have that will be useful?  How much training will you need, and how much money and time will this take?  Will your investment in retraining be offset by an increase in salary or more peace in your life?  Weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Talk to people who have made a similar change and ask them for their best advice.

Let’s say you have exhausted your resources for keeping your relationship together and you need to leave the relationship: Don’t wait for another, better relationship to come along, first.  Just go.  Get to a safe place, if you need to.  Get some help, if necessary, to find out your exact legal rights and financial situation.  Think about how this change is going to affect your life in every area.  Find ways to make this change as safe, as gentle, and as positive as you can for yourself and others involved.  Find out who will support you in your changes and accept their help graciously.  Accept that not everyone will be there for you and forgive them for their lapse.  Let some material things go.

What about leaving your church?  That’s hard, too, because there will be people who are shocked and upset by your decision.  Find out if there is anything formal you need to do to leave, such as a letter of resignation.  Don’t let anyone threaten you.  Reassure your family and friends, if you can, that you still love them and value their presence in your life, but realize that there may be people who cannot accept your change. (Beware, however, of any group that asks you to leave your friends and family permanently, or a group that demands all your money!  If you are already in such a group and wish to leave, get some help from people who can support you in your changes.)  Leaving your church may mean leaving some loved ones behind, at least for now.  Do what you must; follow your gut.

Sometimes you just need to make a small change in your daily routine.  Start taking a different route to work.  Have lunch at some different places or change up your standard bag lunch.  Try adding a new color to your wardrobe.  Start a new morning routine.  Maybe you’d like to spend 20 minutes or so in the morning in meditation, contemplation, reflection or journaling.  Maybe you just need to spend a bit longer on breakfast.  Just finding ways to eliminate that rushed feeling in the morning can set you up for a better day.  For example, learn to lay out your clothes the night before, and train your kids to do the same.  This will eliminate a lot of hassle in the morning.  Set out the breakfast items the night before.  Have the kids line up their backpacks by the door before bedtime.  Find hats, mittens and scarves the night before.  Just have things in general ready to go, and make this part of your permanent evening routine.  If you’re the forgetful type, make out a list of things to do the next day and put it where you can see it so you won’t forget, or send an email to yourself at work.
Sometimes you need a new set of friends, acquaintance or people in your life, in general.  There’s nothing wrong with keeping old friends, but at some point, you may realize that you just don’t have anything in common with them anymore.  That’s the time to gently let the relationship lapse or formally say good-by and wish them well, whichever seems appropriate.  Make an effort to meet new people who share your current interests.  Join an interest group on Let’s say you enjoy opera but your friends just don’t “get it.”  This is what Meetup is good for.  Find a group of opera enthusiasts, and you will have a group of people who share that interest with you and who may be looking for someone to go with.  Get out as much as you can.  Go to the library, to the movies, to a museum, a sports event, or to a concert, even if you have to go alone.  If nothing else, it will give you something to talk about, should you meet someone new.  Another idea is to find a way to volunteer in your community, join a political campaign, or sign up to be a part of a local help exchange.  (In a help exchange, you may volunteer to give people a ride somewhere, for example, and someone else may volunteer to help you fix something in your home.)  Being part of a volunteer organization allows you to focus on others, rather than on yourself.  As well, it allows you to be a part of something greater than yourself.  Another idea is to offer to teach others something you know well, either at a local community college or community center.  You will meet many new people that way.
Sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone. Taking risks is scary, no doubt about it.  What’s keeping you from making the change.  Isolate that fear and do what you can to eliminate it, or at least manage it.  Look at the change you’re thinking of making and list your fears.  Write out a worst-case scenario.  What’s the worst thing that could happen, and how could you deal with it?  Realize that most of these fears never come to pass, and what does actually happen, while sometimes unpleasant or traumatic, is usually something that you can deal with somehow.  Maybe not gracefully, but you can aspire to that, too.   You may wish to find someone who has made this type of change before to coach you through it.  Very often, the people we think might laugh at us turn out to be our most ardent supporters.  Rather than laugh, many will be in awe of your courage.  Think about this: have you ever witnessed someone else go through a big change?  If so, and if they bungled it a bit, how did you feel about them?  Did you lose respect for them?  Did you laugh?  You probably didn’t.  So why do you think others will laugh at you?  And think about this: are you sure you really want these people in your life anymore?

Sometimes you need to make a really big change.  There are actually groups forming in certain cities where people who have made great changes in their lives will get together to share ideas.  For example, there are people who have moved to a completely different area of the country and people who have quit their 9 to 5 job and found ways to do consulting work, travel, or start their own business.  There are even people who have elected to spend their retirement aboard cruise ships or on the road with a travel trailer rather than maintaining a home in one location. Some people decided to travel around the world for a set period of time, such as a year or two.  There are people who decided to start over in a different country, and people who have found a comfortable way to live off the grid, at least part-time.  A great many people have gone online to write about their experiences or document them on YouTube.  Dream your dreams and make your plans. The time to start is now.

Sometimes you need to go back and reconnect.  Maybe you need to re-connect with an old friend or romantic partner, even if only for a brief time, in order to resolve some issues or assure yourself that, after all, the relationship wouldn’t have worked.   It may be that the person you’ve been carrying a torch for all these years is now free and you can resume a relationship now that may have been impossible or inappropriate in the past.  Maybe you need to look for an old teacher or mentor who can give you some great advice.  Maybe you need to go back to your hometown, not to live the same life that you lived before, but to reconnect with the sort of lifestyle or values that you resonate with.

Sometimes you have a specific choice, and you just can’t make a decision.   Eventually, you will have to make the decision for yourself, but there are all kinds of ways to get some help.  Ask anyone you consider an expert, or find someone who can mentor you.  Seek counseling with a social worker or religious leader.  Learn to meditate or contemplate and connect with your Inner Spiritual Guide.  Ask for help from your angels.  Flip a coin or ask God for a sign.

Sometimes you just have to prepare yourself in general for a future change that you may not be ready for just now.  Here are some ways to make yourself ready to accept change gracefully in the future.

Eliminate excess baggage from your life.  Pare down to the minimum in terms of “stuff” and long-term obligations such as house payments and car payments. Get out of debt.  Get down to basics, so that if you have a chance to travel or make a move, you will be ready.

Find ways to de-stress on a regular basis – music, laughter, or a hobby.  Re-arrange or re-prioritize your social life so that you have more time to focus on what you really enjoy doing or people you really enjoy being around.    Lighten up and learn to be silly once in a while.

Start taking responsibility for your decisions and keep your commitments.  Don’t commit to anything you don’t honestly think you can finish.

Stop focusing on the little things and start focusing on what’s really important.  Only you can decide what these are, but realize that you may have to do some “de-programming,” here.  What society thinks or what your friends think isn’t the issue.  It’s what you think is important that counts.   Be willing to jettison a few of the “rules” in order to get to the really important things in life.

Learn to say “yes” to opportunities and “no” to too many obligations.  Make sure that you have a few rewards now and then.  It’s OK to have obligations, but don’t let your commitments run your life.

Try seeing things the way they really are, rather than the way you wish they were.  Try banning words such as “should” and “should have” from your vocabulary.   Also, try to see things from the perspective of other people.  Not everything other people do is about you.  If someone is angry, it’s not usually about you; it’s about them.  You do your stuff and let other people take care of their stuff.   Be here, now.

Forgive yourself for not being perfect and stop trash-talking yourself.  Get rid of the little voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough, or that you can’t do something.  Chances are, that little voice is just a recording of something some adult told you when you were a child.  Replace the old tape with a more positive message.  In stubborn cases, this may mean undergoing some psychotherapy.

Be pro-active rather than reactive.  Create change.  Step back in difficult situations, take a deep breath and count to ten – or a hundred, contemplate the situation before taking an action based on fear or a desire for revenge.  Go within and ask which of your possible responses would be for everyone’s highest good.  Ask yourself: Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary?  Is it helpful?   Or ask, “What would love do?”   🙂


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