Begin Again

You can break the chains of habit in every moment.

Begin Again

Thanks to Sam Harris and his Waking Up app for putting me on to this concept.

I gather these mental models in order to help myself navigate the chaos of life with something approaching a framework, and in that light, this notion of beginning again has been certainly one of the most helpful for me. I hope it can do something for you, too.

Many people use January 1st as an excuse for a fresh start - the breaking down of old habits, perhaps, or the building up of the new. There's something about that dividing line which encourages us to take a deep breath and wipe the slate clean, refreshed and ready to go on.

Yet the ability to begin again is available to us in every moment.

This is true on the macro level. A hedge fund manager may choose to end a multi-decade career in order to go and live off the land in a tiny rural village. Profligate criminals may finally gain the self-awareness to stop the lying and the stealing, and find themselves suddenly able to turn it all around. (Some never manage, of course, but we are talking here only of possibilities, not of prescriptions.)

However, the most profound changes occur when we realise that we have the ability to begin again in every moment.

Human minds, for whatever reason, love to wait until a marker of some prominence arrives in order to permit themselves to start again. January the first. Mondays. Precisely on the hour, or at half past; never at twenty-three minutes past. But this is completely arbitrary, and the moment that we permit ourselves to let go of this notion that we must wait in order to change is the moment that we find ourselves better equipped to deal with the days ahead of us.

I use this during workouts. I might be three reps into a movement when I realise that my concentration has slipped and my wandering mind has lead to a subsequent sloppiness of form.

In that moment, I take a deep breath and permit myself to begin the next instance as though it was the first. There's no need to start over from scratch - instead, start where you are, and resolve to make the next movement as clean and perfect as you possibly can. In every moment, you are permitted to begin again, and to leave behind the mental baggage of "should".

This applies to your moods and emotions, too, although in reality this is something that takes ongoing practice. It is simple - in concept, at least - but not easy. But this is the beginning of our development on this front, and aside from twenty years ago, there is no better time than the present.

Every new moment presents us with a new opportunity to begin again. The key here is to exercise sufficient self-awareness to notice these appearances of frustration, or anger, or fear, when they arise in consciousness. In that instance, we have the opportunity to bring our focus back to the present moment - without judgement. It begins with the noticing, and once observed, there is no inherent reason that the next moments should not be a material improvement upon the very recent past.

"Begin again". Get used to saying it almost as a mantra to yourself when you notice your emotional state deteriorating, and know that with practice, we can build up our ability to truly be present in each passing moment.