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Starting Over

If you want to make lasting change in your life, practice starting over.

By Phillip Moffitt

Shift Your Focus. So just how do you practice starting over? You shift your attention away from controlling the outcome, and you abandon your usual reactions to getting off track (criticizing, judging, complaining, and lamenting). You don't deny your thoughts and feelings, and you don't try to make them go away. Instead, you acknowledge them without making any judgments about them but with compassion for how difficult this moment is.

You then follow the acknowledgment with what I call "and" practice, in which you say to yourself, "Yes, I just got lost, and now I'll just start over." For example, "I feel alienated and think my peers don't like me, and I am going to go speak to that guy over there who I usually get along with." Or, "My body feels weak and sickly right now, and I am going to focus on making my child some tea, which at this moment is all I have sufficient energy to do." You acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, but then you move on through the "and" practice to return to the present moment. You don't forget your goal of making a change, but the focus is on changing the moment, over and over again.

Naturally, you periodically check in with yourself to see if the way you are going about seeking change is working or whether you should try something different. Likewise, you occasionally ask yourself whether you still care about the goal or whether it has changed in some way. But mostly you just persevere. You develop the strength to start over because you're committed to moving toward your goal, not to being there.

This is why I call it an attitudinal shift. Your goals matter because they give direction to your life, but your actual life happens in the endless stream of moments that occur between now and when, if ever, you reach your goal. Because your focus is on the journey and not the goal, you find the willpower and the inspiration to start over. When you're able to relate to life just as it is, rather than insisting that it be the way you would have it, you stand a far better chance of affecting how things are, because you're not caught in fear or desire.

Practice Patience. Ironically, the practice of starting over is a more effective way to achieve your goal than constantly fixating on it. That's because most of us are not very good at simply delivering results. For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, curb your temper, or stop being a workaholic, you know what to do to stop the undesirable behavior, but you don't. Discouragement from your past and imaginings about how bad the future will be drain your energy and cause you to fail. When you embrace starting over as a practice, you focus instead on what you are doing right now and what you need to do or are failing to do. Thus, if you discover you are overeating in this moment, you simply stop eating. If you have agreed to take on yet another work project, you reverse yourself as soon as it dawns on you that it is too much. If you sense that you're losing your temper, you just stop. No drama; you just get right back on your path and start over.

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