A fresh start

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Seneca

I’ve been battling a bit about what to talk about this month. Those who know me well, will know I am not often lost for words or ideas!  My confused state reflects the kind of unsettled time we’re in as we slowly and tentatively step out of the pandemic way of life into something new and a tad wobbly. 

Now more than ever I want (and need) to embrace the coming autumn, my favourite season. This is after all a time of new beginnings, the new academic year, the start of chillier weather clearing away the heat and dreaminess of Summer. A time to wake up, to wipe the psychic slate clean. Time for a fresh start. 

It reminds me of one of my favourite films, the wonderfully endearing “You’ve Got Mail” where Tom Hank’s character (Joe Fox) writes, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” (Yes, please Tom!)

So newly sharpened pencils in hand, how do we start afresh? 

Psychologists have coined the phrase “the Fresh Start Effect” to describe specific points of time (be it a change in seasons, the end of the year, our birthdays etc.) where we reflect on our lives and set goals for an improved way of living.  We often achieve this by splitting ourselves into the old and the new.  We allocate our old self who made mistakes, had vices etc. to the past thereby allowing for our new self to be a better version.  An example could be someone’s attempt to become vegan, and so they belittle their diary guzzling past selves in order to create distance between who they were and who they are now. 

A 2017 study into fresh starts suggested that they can prove more effective if they follow a previous failing. The study recommends not to attempt a fresh start if you’re coming out of a period of success, (am guessing most likely a fresh start might not be at the forefront of your mind if that is the case anyway). But it definitely seems that fresh starts work best when it’s following a bit of a slump in our lives, be it in general maybe or about a specific part (say work or physical wellbeing). So, for me a fresh start isn’t about separating ourselves from our past but about learning from it. Not distancing our past selves, but actually getting to know our previous mistakes and shortcomings more, not less. 

And as the wise words of Roman philosopher Seneca explains above, we may have to let go of something first, so that our metaphorical blank slate can be wiped clean of previous scribblings. A fresh start often begins with the end of something else. We have to let go of our old whims and ways to allow space for the new. 

Our starting point needs to be who we are now. What elements of our life are not in flow? What bits makes us grimace, squirm and generally feel uneasy?  What keeps us awake at night knowing that our lives need to change? Letting go of things which aren’t serving us any longer can be easier said than done. It can cause all sorts of fears and worries to rise to the surface. Our fear of regret and making the wrong decision for starters. But if we don’t let go, we won’t create space for our new beginning. For a true fresh start, we need to take a leap of faith. A leap into the unknown. 

To quote (yet again) the fabulous Nora Ephron’s movie “You’ve Got Mail”, Meg Ryan’s Kathleen is asked post-break up, “What about you? Is there someone else?” “No… no. But there’s the dream of someone else”.  A dream isn’t a bad place to start. So grab your newly sharpened pencils and let’s begin!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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