Do you ever wish your life had a reset button, like an iPhone? Ever left the house door unlocked on your way out with a secret hope that someone will break in and take all your stuff while you’re gone? Or subconsciously wished for a layoff or a house fire so you could start with a clean slate?
Life gets busy, our stuff weighs us down, our routines become tiresome ruts and we bore ourselves. Sometimes we (or at least some of us) start dreaming about a whole-life reset in these cases, and sometimes that can be just the thing.
But making smaller changes can bring surprising depths of refreshment and energy to our lives as well. Choosing one facet of life to tweak or experiment with can bring great joy and creativity to a complete life.
Here are some things I’ve learned in my own experiences of life-tweaking:
It’s okay to change your mind. Going into any new venture with this attitude can greatly relieve the pressure you feel to make it work, and thereby, ironically, help you succeed. Or, if you get going and find out it’s just not your thing, this mindset gives you permission to stop and move on to something else, guilt-free. Politicians are always accusing one another of “waffling,” changing their minds, as if thinking and doing the same thing all your life is a measure of good character. I say that’s a measure of obstinacy and stagnation. People who are alive and growing will certainly change their minds. (Of course not everything is entered into this lightly. Commitments you make to people – especially family relationships such as marriage and parenting – are made on a deeper level than “life-tweaking,” and aren’t part of this discussion. You may decide on other non/less-negotiables for yourself as well.)
Give it some time. This balances the above point. Most new things feel strange and ill-fitting at first. Starting something new requires a certain level of commitment and discipline to attain some level of skill or comfort with it. Maybe you will make different demands of yourself for different activities. But it helps sometimes to look back at past accomplishments or adventures that felt “all wrong” when you started, which after you acquired some skills and familiarity became favorite activities. A certain degree of stoicism, “just do it” mentality is needed for any new venture in life.
“Accept loss forever.” (Jack Kerouac) Some things simply will not be for you. Certain dreams, romantic attachments, friendships, business ideas, career paths, and loved ones have died in each of our lives. We can cherish memories from these treasures we have lost, but we can’t remake them. Resurrection always takes a new form. The end of the caterpillar is the start of the butterfly; the burial of the seed is the birth of the flower. Your particular losses are the rich soil of the new creation of your life. Don’t hold on to the wispy ghosts of dead things. Let them die so new life can begin.
Start small. Nathan and I once dreamed of selling our house and living on a sailboat. I, the impulsive extremist, wanted to jump in and do it right away. Nathan, the careful adventurer, advised that we buy a small sailboat, learn to sail, take some weekend trips, and see what we thought. We did this, and I learned that I got seasick easily, realized that I loved gardening and would miss it, and then found out we were pregnant with our first child. We made some great memories with our small sailboat, and when the time seemed right, we sold it. Maybe living aboard is still in our future, but it was good to test the waters rather than diving right in.
Or dive right in! Evaluate your situation, the people potentially affected by the change you want to make (are you single or married? do you have young children? are your parents aging and needing more support from you? are you in debt?), and dive accordingly. I do think every person can benefit from at least one impulsive leap in life. “Impulsive” may mean different things for different people though.
Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?” When you honestly face that question, the potential risk often doesn’t seem so scary. Remember that risk has two sides – something can be lost, but something can also be gained. Are you willing to lose the one thing in order to potentially gain the other? Or are you committed to keeping the one thing and therefore erasing any chance of gaining the other?
Re-evaluate from time to time. Just because you rejected an idea at age twenty doesn’t mean it still can’t work at age forty. So much about us changes over the years, regardless of the external changes we make to our lives. Career positions, stages of family life, physical health, interests, abilities, worldview, daily habits – all of these and plenty more can change multiple times throughout our lives, and can affect our openness to new opportunities.
What life-tweaks and experiments have you made, or what are you considering trying? What would you add to or change about the advice above?