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How to Begin Again

Transformations and starting over.

Key points

  • The main reasons why people start over include: relationships, careers, where they live, and new interests.
  • Starting over is not the same thing as "doing over."
  • Some keys to starting over are to learn from the past, create future goals, and have self-confidence.
  • Ordinary Magic in Action: Write a list of 20 things you love and circle what is currently in your life.

Mercury is in retrograde. Continuing COVID-19 outbreaks. Another wave of natural and unnatural disasters. There are many reasons why the best intentions can lead us astray. Often, it feels as if it is enough to keep our heads above water. We can also feel like we are finished before we start.

We've all felt it, especially in the last few years as we come out of the pandemic; there have been many stories of loss, disruption, and, yes, starting over. People do it all the time in various areas of their lives, but we tend to start over when it comes to relationships (romantic and platonic), careers, where we live, and even what we are interested in. Sometimes, starting over is necessary, like having to adjust to an illness, returning citizens from incarceration, or the death of a loved one.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines "starting over" as "to begin to do something again, sometimes in a different way." In a different way is the key factor of this definition. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant's book Think Again proposes that we must re-think the way we think and approach our assumptions and habits in a different way. It's not only OK to change our minds, but it is something that we can benefit from and should encourage others to do.

We can do this by shifting our mindset. For instance, instead of feeling defeated, we could actually "embrace the joy of being wrong." This is because being wrong or failing can open up the opportunity to learn, re-learn, and try something new. In fact, his research found that mental flexibility helps us recover and actually learn from adversity. This, in turn, helps us evolve our actions. In short, we act in different ways. We start over.

How can we start over?

While there are many good resources on how to begin again, here are some key actions that anyone can put into practice immediately.

  1. Get to know yourself. Reflect on your past experiences like a scientist. Revisit your values.
  2. Start with small steps.
  3. Be open and curious.
  4. Trust yourself (and the process).

Who are you... now?

Despite classic psychological theories, we do not stay the same people that we were at 7, 27, or even 47. We are constantly evolving. Research by Specht and colleagues found that our personalities are likely to change due to major life events. This is why getting to know who you are now happens by understanding who you were in your past.

In fact, McAdams and McLean found that people who engaged in narrative identity interventions and found meaning in their adversity and struggle enjoyed higher levels of well-being and had positive psychological adaptions that are important to change. Knowing your values is also extremely important because it will help you understand what your priorities have been and what they might be now. Start with identifying 3-5 values that are the most important to you. Remember, values are tenets that are central to who you want to be in the world. The Harvard Graduate School of Education's Good Project has created this easy assessment to help you identify your core values. The identification of your values is critical because one of the biggest challenges to success in any space (work, educational, personal, etc.) is conflicting values.

Start Small. Stay Consistent.

Your values will help you also identify your goals. Write a list of the things you want to accomplish. Writing them down is essential because the act of putting pen to paper (literally or figuratively) makes your goals visible. Engage in some blue sky thinking here, and let yourself dream big. This can be a bucket list, life goals, resolutions, or maybe directions you want to work towards. For each item, try to keep in mind your "why" and the reason this is a goal for you.

According to Hope Theory, you have to identify the pathway to your goals, and you are more likely to succeed by making small behavioral changes to help get you closer to accomplishing your goals rather than big leaps of action. If possible, break down each goal into things you can do daily. Research indicates that small, consistent activities predict successful behavior. You are less likely to have significant failures or setbacks and more likely to experience incremental progress that adds up.

Have a Beginner's Mindset.

A beginner's mindset is a concept from Zen Buddhism and is an attitude of being open and curious, enthusiastic about learning new things and trying to let go of assumptions and preconceptions. Leadership literature states that the power of a beginner's mindset is what allows people to look at old problems in a new way and, therefore, discover new solutions. Also, this is what provides flexibility to be willing to learn new things in new ways and from new people—perspectives that we might have missed. Not only are we open to new things, but research also finds that there is a connection between openness, self-efficacy (believing we can do something), self-awareness, and change.

Trust Yourself.

Research during the pandemic showed that self-trust was critical to the success of students in virtual educational spaces. The more they trusted in their own instincts and behaviors, the more motivated they were to succeed academically. However, perhaps one of the hardest things about starting over is trusting your instincts. It's easy to doubt ourselves, especially when things become challenging, or we have little outside support. Actually, this is when you have to trust yourself more than ever.

The good news is that you've already done a lot of the hard work that goes into trusting yourself—being self-aware, learning from past experiences, understanding your values, and setting reasonable goals. Here are some things not to do: Don't ruminate or overthink situations, don't feel like you need everyone's opinion or every piece of data, and don't make decisions because you feel cornered or because there is a false sense of urgency. The ability to trust yourself grows when you can be mindful and rooted in the present when you give yourself time to think things through, when you begin to see some wins (i.e., self-mastery), and most importantly, when you can give yourself some grace and compassion.

If we keep doing things in the same way, sticking to the status quo of what we are used to, then we can almost guarantee that we will stay stuck (at the very least) or unfulfilled instead of doing what we are really meant to. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, "What is it that you want to do with your one wild and precious life?" Whether it's a shift at work or a new relationship, letting go of bad habits, or creating better ones, all transformation starts with you.

Here is a bit of ordinary magic for everyone: Everyone has the power to change their life. It won't be easy or comfortable, and you might not even be sure—but you can do it. It is possible. The Artist's Way author, Julia Cameron, reminds us that it is never too late to begin again. She says, "No matter our age, the thrill of beginning something new is universal."


Specht, J., Egloff, B., & Schmukle, S. C. (2011). Stability and change of personality across the life course: the impact of age and major life events on mean-level and rank-order stability of the Big Five. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(4), 862.

McAdams, D. P., & McLean, K. C. (2013). Narrative identity. Current directions in psychological science, 22(3), 233-238.

Robbins, K. M. (2021). Bold Moves Of A Reluctant Mid-Life Career Change Heroine.

Murphy, D., Joseph, S., Demetriou, E., & Karimi-Mofrad, P. (2017). Unconditional positive self-regard, intrinsic aspirations, and authenticity: Pathways to psychological well-being. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 60(2), 258-279. 0022167816688314

Grant, A. (2021). Think again: The power of knowing what you don't know. Penguin.

Cameron, J., & Lively, E. (2016). It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. TarcherPerigee.

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