You know how to start over. You just…do it. No matter how long you’ve been living life a certain way, you always have the opportunity to change things. Easier said than done, though.
Everything in self-improvement is easier said than done. That’s why I talk about it so much. Pretty much every article I write boils down to a few core messages that I hammer on over and over again. That’s okay, though, because I know you only need to get a few things right to change your entire life.
I also know that repetition can work. Sometimes it takes hearing the same message over and over again to finally push you over the edge. So here I am, pushing. If you want to figure out how to start over and mean it this time, I have a few mental angles that might help.
I’ve had so many moments in my life where I realized I wasted huge chunks of my life. I blew the first half of my twenty’s getting drunk and doing drugs almost every single day. I spent six years in a relationship that was toxic from pretty much the very beginning of it.
I let the past go and started over because I understood the sunk cost fallacy: the idea that investing time, money, or effort into something means you have to keep investing in it because you need to ‘get the most’ out of it. Once you’ve spent what you spent, the additional investment doesn’t matter.
You see this in relationships where people who aren’t meant to be together end up staying just because they’ve been together for a long time. Or with people who’ve spent years or decades in a career or job that’s not their ideal and stay just because they’ve been doing the job for so long.
It feels like such a waste to let all of that go. You let it go by realizing that holding onto a losing strategy only makes you lose more. I think about this like investing. Sometimes you pick a stock you thought was good but the company tanks.
You’re better off selling and moving onto an investment that can make your money back quicker. Of course, you’re not meant to look at like so transactionally, but a degree of transactional thinking does help you make better decisions.
You’re going to die and you could die at any moment. The abyss is right around the corner. Also, though, statistically, you probably have a decent amount of runway left, use it.
I read an insightful quote, I forget where. But let me paraphrase it. Some people wake up at age 50 wondering how they wasted decades of their life. Instead of changing, they dwell on it and stay the same, only to look up at 80 realizing they wasted another handful of decades.
You’re the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be. As you age, you lose energy. Not trying to knock people starting late, but it’s true. Every passing year you’re losing steam, so retain the steam you still have left and push to live the life you want. I know a bunch of people who turned their lives around and made things so much better year over year, decade over decade.
Do they wish they would’ve started sooner? Sure. But they’re glad they finally turned things around, even if it took them longer than it should’ve. Often, this happens after a catastrophic moment in their life — divorce, health scare, financial collapse. Those moments tend to put life into a crystal clear lens. Maybe don’t wait on life to smack you in the face before you decide to change. Let your impending death do that for you.
Zero is scary. It’s frustrating. And it seems like it’s going to take you forever to build something new. But you have to get comfortable with zero because it’s the only way through.
Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I ever was a beginner writer, but I was. My Medium profile has 85,000 followers. I started with zero. Millions of people have read my work over the years. Started with zero. I’ve published three books. Started with zero words. Hell, when I first started writing, I had close to zero dollars in my bank account. Like, truly close to zero dollars.
I was 25 years old, sitting there with no prospects. And it sucked. But fortunately, I got comfortable with starting from scratch and I did it by focusing on whatever I could do in the moment to move the needle a little bit. I cracked open a book for the first time in years and started learning. I wrote one article. Every single day was a plot to win the day. Next thing you know I’d been at it for six months. Then a year. Then a few years in I was like “Wow, I’m really doing this.”‘
To get to that point, I had to go through the frustration and tedium to get there. In the beginning, when you’re trying to start a new path in your life, there’s just so many little things you have to learn, so many little tasks you have to figure out to do, so many small moments that feel like you’re trying to push a giant boulder up a hill. Boredom is a strangely painful feeling, but you can learn how to get used to it. Do it long enough and you’ll see the power of this next concept.
There are truly fewer magical concepts than compounding. When you’re investing money and you don’t have much of it, the gains you make barely seem worth it at all. But once your money compounds enough, all of a sudden you start to make a lot of money really fast.
A ten percent return on $100 is just $10, but with $100,000 it’s $10,000. With a million it’s $100,000. Once you have a certain amount of money invested, you’d only lose it if you were a total idiot. Compounding works the same way in other areas of life.
If I stopped writing entirely, people would still find my articles online and read them because I’ve published so much. Even if I lost all of my money, I’ve developed skills and knowledge to the point I could go out and make a new income stream instantly. I have a foundation of knowledge, income, and influence that makes it easier to be successful now with the same amount of effort I gave in the past.
You have to wait for that exponential growth curve to kick it. That beginning 20 percent of effort to forge a new life path accounts for 80 percent of the results. Since you get such a great reward down the road, it tends to take the most out of you upfront. Almost like it’s punishing those who quit early by putting such a massive reward on the backend. Patience is boring and it’s not fun, but it’s the unsexy path to getting pretty much anything you want.
Learning how to start over is so difficult because you build up this sense of who you are over time. It starts early and comes from all directions, too. I can remember my parents telling me how I had so much potential when I was a kid. I can also remember how they subtly hinted at the idea that I was lazy and wouldn’t realize that potential.
That stuck with me for a long time. I started and failed to finish so many projects. The idea that I’d always be the guy with tons of ideas but not results made a deep imprint on my identity.
I remember when I told my brother I’d started writing. He told me to not let this become another one of my half-baked projects that never got done. He meant well, but I took it as a challenge. I carried a chip on my shoulder.
“No one thinks I can stick with something, I’ll show them.” I decided I was going to become a different person. I wasn’t going to let the past define who I could become in the future.
Your past doesn’t have to define your future. The labels others put on you and the labels you put on yourself are just that, labels. Arbitrary figments of your imagination you don’t have to live by.
You have to fight against commitment consistency bias: the need to stick with what you already believe, even if it’s detrimental. Being aware of just how strong your biases are is half the battle.
Call it cruel if you want, but I model people I don’t want to be like and try to avoid their fate. I did this a lot when I was younger and struggling to change. I looked at people who were on the same trajectory as I was, but further along the path. I didn’t like what I saw.
I have the utmost respect for people who work to take care of themselves and their families, regardless of their job, but I saw so many people that took the traditional route and seemed so unhappy. I didn’t want that. I used them as motivation to pivot into entrepreneurship and freelancing.
Look at where you’re at in your life right now and extrapolate that out into the future. Do you like what you see? Take some time to look at that future with a level of brutal honesty that might terrify you. Some gurus like to tell you it’ll all be sunshine and roses, that things will just click eventually. That’s not true at all.
Yes, hold out hope, always, but understand your life will drift in whatever direction it’s currently headed on if you don’t intervene. “An object in motion stays in motion unless it’s acted upon by an outside force.”
But, as I said, hold out hope that you’ll learn how to start over even if you haven’t done it yet. Some people say hope is dangerous. And, it can be if you never do anything with that hope.
But, what the hell else do you have?
I get the knock on self-improvement. It’s the art of selling dreams and these dreams simply don’t come true for most people. Gurus play on your hope to get you to engage with their content and buy their products. I guess I’m guilty of that, too.
But I hope you can feel the level of sincerity I put into my words. I know the trap is hard to escape. The rat race is a beguiling and devastatingly powerful adversary. But there are enough people who’ve escaped it and turned their lives around for hope to be something worth holding onto.
You have to make it happen, yes, but things can click after a bunch of misfires. Trust me, I’d know. And, if you do get things to click, it feels so damn good. You feel that weight lifted off your shoulders from no longer having to wonder about what your life would be like if you finally put your foot down. It feels amazing to look in the mirror and realize you became who you knew you could become all along.
We live in a world that’s losing hope. Lost souls everywhere you turn. But a soul is only lost when that flame goes out for good. You still have time. You should still have faith.
But, yes, the clock is definitely clicking. Get going.