How to Begin Again…and Again

door in red brick wall, words_ how to begin again and again, blog post by Patty Bechtold therapist in Santa Rosa, wiselifetherapy.com

We’re well into January and I’m feeling surprisingly optimistic. Here’s why: I believe more and more women are finally turning toward the possibility of learning how to begin again.

In other words, we know that the the old way of proclaiming “New Year, New You” just doesn’t work. We’ve also gotten wise to the false promises of New Year’s resolutions.

At the same time we’re opening up to a deeper truth: that every moment is an opportunity to learn how to begin again…and again.

words, wisdom is granting yourself a thousand opportunities to begin again from wiselifetherapy.com

What does beginning again actually mean?

There are several meanings, so let’s do a quick review.

First, it’s a commonly used metaphor that signifies a period of starting over. Examples of this could be:

Perhaps you’ve made your way through the more difficult parts of the journey and are beginning to move forward. This could apply to any area of your life: relationships, work, family, and mental health, to name a few.

Second, beginning again can also signify a fresh start, and this is where New Year’s resolutions come in. They’ve been around for a long time and for some reason there’s nothing like a new year to motivate change. (Except, not really.) Only about 9% of people see their resolutions through to completion.

The Buddhist concept of mindfulness offers another definition of how to begin again.

In meditation practice, it’s the moment when you realize that even though you’ve strayed from focusing on your breathing, you can simply begin again, repeating the phrase quietly to yourself.

But you don’t need to practice meditation to embrace this definition. In fact, these few uncomplicated words have the power to halt your ruminations, calm your inner critic’s fears, and help you find the good whenever you believe you’ve stumbled on the way forward.

Personally, I can vouch for their effectiveness. Because of them, I wake up each day feeling more hopeful, with a sense possibility. Also, I now have both a journaling practice and a meditation practice. To be sure, they are imperfect. But even though I’ve struggled lately with meditation, I know I will be able to get into the rhythm again.

I’m still a novice, but learning how to begin again by holding the ever present possibility that I truly can start fresh anytime has given me a belief in myself and a sense of self-compassion I’ve never quite had before.

It helps that there are other women role-modeling how to begin again in real life, showing us that we can set our own pace, honor our own rhythms, and grant ourselves unlimited opportunities to begin again.

Remember: no matter how often you need to begin again, it in no way diminishes your worth or goodness.

Still, it doesn’t necessarily come easily for many of us. The experience of beginning again might be hard to grasp since we’ve been conditioned to expect that we should:

  • go all in and rapidly make progress
  • align with theories about the stages of change
  • easily move through linear habit change formation models

Of course, there’s nothing inherently bad about established theories and models of change if they work for you. However, if you struggle with or don’t measure up to expected outcomes, you might believe there’s something wrong with you. (There isn’t; in fact you’re not alone and you’re doing the best you can.)

Many women who long to feel better or move forward are unsure about how to begin again.

Perhaps that’s because the linear, stage-based models of change that we’re presented with don’t necessarily fit with women’s more intuitive, quiet knowing about personal change. While some part of us understands that it’s normal to wobble a bit along the way and need to begin again, the images and stories around us say otherwise.

On the one hand you may expect yourself to get with the program and get on with it, while on the other hand what you really need is to give yourself the grace to step back, regroup, and practice beginning again.

By honoring your inner voice of guidance and support, you may discover your perfect approach: a mix of both worlds, creating your own unique blend of intuitive and systematic strategies for change.

Still, the message about going all in is hard to get away from.

January really brings it out and it’s important to be aware of how subtle it can be.

For instance, a few years ago I read an article about a woman who had spent many years feeling isolated and alone. Something was shifting for her, though, and she deeply yearned for experiences of belonging: particularly shared meals and more human connection.

At the same time her goal was very linear: For the entire month of January, I will eat only when sitting down, at a table, with a human.

I had to read it several times to catch all the absolutes in that sentence:

  • every meal
  • the entire month
  • must be sitting down
  • must be at the table
  • must be with a human

Wow. I realized that if she had been my client I would have gently wanted her to know that’s a lot to expect of herself and she could take her time, especially considering that she was exploring a deep change.

Yet there she was, assuming she should be able to go from struggling to having it altogether in a flash.

Can you relate to her experience?

I certainly can. Plenty of times I’ve expected myself to operate on a fast timeline–to do better and feel better–without realizing it.

When you think about it, it doesn’t leave much room to begin again. And when you dive a little deeper, you may discover you’ve been taught to believe that if you don’t succeed fast enough or well enough, why bother? In fact, why not just quit altogether?

Ouch! No wonder it’s hard to give ourselves space to begin again.

This kind of self-defeating narrative can affect any part of your life.

It can show up wherever you’re trying to move forward, whether it’s about your inner journey or your outer journey, or both.

It tends to come up for my clients when we’re working through anxiety and depression, or exploring and creating loving self-care practices.

But you know what?

Although a restrictive and extreme approach to healing and self improvement is often normalized to the point where we barely notice it anymore, my heart tells me you’re not built to function this way.

And when you begin to turn toward the truth that you don’t have to buy in to this approach, things can change quickly.

In many ways, the essence of how to begin again starts with holding the both/and of your life.

What do I mean by both/and?

According to Psychology Today, both/and is a psychological concept that may help with both anxiety and depression, promote healing, and encourage relationship growth:

The basis of both/and is that multiple things can be true at the same time and that everybody has a right to their experience, regardless of what somebody else is experiencing.

While it may not seem possible, you can both give in to the pace of your journey (even if you expected to be farther along) and still hold your intentions closely.

You can both have a clear sense of where you’re headed and also be unsure how you’ll get there.

You can both step back and surrender to what you’re experiencing now and realize everything is important—facts, feelings, and the all that lives in between.

Five questions to hold the both/and to help you begin again.

You can journal with these questions, ponder or meditate on them, or simply have them available whenever you need to remember that it’s not only okay to begin again, but that you can start right now.

  • Is there another way to look at your thoughts and feelings about being stuck or stalled? What shifts when you consider that thoughts and feelings can be strong one minute and then quickly shift the next?
  • Could you trust something larger than yourself right now…your inner wisdom, the universe, a higher power? What would that feel like?
  • What do your senses and intuition tell you about the movement that’s going on inside of you even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re moving forward on the outside?
  • What place within you is flowing most freely right now? How might you turn toward that momentum?
  • If a magical being waved her wand while you slept, ensuring that you woke up each day knowing you can begin again immediately (with no shame or blame), how would you know she’d been there? What would be different?

In closing, what I most wish for you going forward is to be kind and gentle with yourself.

  • Set your own pace
  • Honor your own rhythms
  • Grant yourself a thousand (or more) opportunities to begin again

And know I’ll be right there with you!

*****

If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself.
-John O’Donahue
Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

I help women find their way back to their deepest wisdom when they feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. On my blog I write about the stories, insights, ideas, and wise words I’ve picked up along the way. Thank you for being here.