There are many reasons you might want to start a new life, and many ways you could approach this decision. For example, perhaps you just ended an abusive relationship and have to figure out how to get started with a new, healthy, happy life away from your abuser. Or perhaps you just don’t like where you live and want to move to find a new start in a new community. Regardless of your goals or reasons for change, it’s possible to start fresh if you think carefully, plan thoroughly, and check in with yourself to make sure you’re doing okay.
- Making the Decision
- Making the Changes
- Staying Happy
Determine your motivation. You need to think carefully to determine why you feel the need to start a new life. There are many valid reasons why you might do so, but there are also reasons that aren’t so helpful.
- For example, if you’re a new empty-nester facing life without kids in the house for the first time in decades, you might appropriately think it’s time to start a new stage of your life: you aren’t a primary caretaker for your children anymore and can reframe your life to focus more on you.
- On the other hand, using a life change to escape unpleasant feelings isn’t a good idea, since this avoidance doesn’t address the real issues you may be having. Emotions tend to follow you wherever you go. You have to deal with them before you can start a truly fresh life.
Consider whether you have recently experienced any major life events. Major life events, such getting married, as a death in the family, a loss of a relationship or job, a change in your financial or health status, moving to a new place, or becoming pregnant, can have a profound effect on your emotions. Some of these may make you happier, while others can trigger stress, depression and/or anxiety. If you have just experienced a major life event, keep in mind that your judgment may not be functioning at its best, and consider waiting to make any major decisions.
- If you have just experienced a major loss, allow yourself time to grieve it. Mourning is a necessary process of examining and processing your feelings of grief and adjusting to life after your loss. You don’t have to feel rushed into changes or pressured to “get over it” right away.
Examine your past. To make sure that starting your new life is as effective as you hope, think about your past patterns. You want to make sure that you’re making this change from the right motivations, not as a way to run from your past. Running away from problems doesn’t ultimately fix them.
- For example, do you have a habit of trying to “move past” or escape adversity as soon as it comes up? Research suggests that the necessary process of growth comes from working through both positive and negative emotions and situations.How do you react when the going gets tough? Do you stick to your goals, or do you run away?
Examine your values. Your personal values are your roadmap for living. They’re the very core of what you believe: about yourself, about others, about life in general. It’s important to examine what your values are before making a major decision such as starting a new life. Once you know what is most important to you, you can ensure that you make the right decisions to prioritize those values. Accepting who you are is the first step to making big changes.
- Ask yourself some questions. For example, consider two people whom you admire. What do you most respect about them? Why? How could this play into your own life?
- Another good question to ask is what issues make you feel most invested or inspired when you hear them talked about. For example, do you feel passionate about hearing about new inventions and wish you could be a part of that innovation process? Does it make you feel fired up hearing about community service projects? Examining this could help you figure out what you value most, such as innovation, ambition, social justice, or service.
- Remember that there are no “inferior” or “superior” personal values. One person might value adaptability, while someone else might value stability more highly. Neither is “wrong.” It’s all about embracing who you are and living a life that is in line with that. You can find lists of core values online, if you need some help coming up with words to define them.
- Studies suggest that in general, people tend to place a very high value on their social relationships and their feeling of value and respect at their work. If one of these areas is lacking, you might consider focusing your “new life” efforts on that area.
Decide how big a change you want to make. For some people, starting a “new life” might mean starting everything over: relocating, building new social networks, getting a new job, etc. For others, it might mean smaller but substantive changes, such as ditching old habits or perspectives and focusing on developing new, value-congruent ways of living. Whatever your desire, make sure you are clear about how the big the changes are that you want to make.
- Figuring out what about your life needs to change can be very helpful here. For example, what is making you unhappy or dissatisfied? Do you need to change every single thing about your life, or would it be more effective to focus in on one or two areas? Making change is hard, so you might find better success if you start small and work your way up.
Try the Best Possible Self exercise. This exercise can help you figure out what goals to set and what changes you will need to make. Research suggests that doing it can make you feel happier and more motivated. Take a moment to imagine yourself at some point in the future. In this future, you have been granted the magical power to achieve all of your hopes and dreams. You are exactly who and what you want to be.
- Imagine this in as much detail as possible. Who do you surround yourself with? Where do you live? What do you do? What does it feel like? Incorporate as much detail as you can to create a clear image. For example, you could imagine that you are a successful independent musician with her own band who travels around the country giving shows at small venues.
- Now, think about the strengths and skills you need to get you there. What do you already have? What areas need further development? Be honest with yourself here. For example, if you want to be a musician, you might already have musical skills, or at least a love of music. You would also need some business savvy, which you might need to work on improving.
- Keep your imagining attainable and positive. Obviously, you can’t become a superhero like Superman — that isn’t possible or realistic. However, you could imagine what you could do that would be like that. For example, is it Superman’s commitment to justice that you admire? You could imagine yourself fulfilling that mission in some way, such as becoming a police officer or attorney. Is it his kickass physique? You could imagine yourself becoming fit, or even becoming a personal trainer to help others with fitness goals.
Set goals. As Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Your journey must begin with what steps you will take along your road to your new life. Setting clear personal goals will help guide you as you embark on starting your new life.
- Consider where you see yourself in 6 months, a year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and 20+ years.
- Set your goals. Make sure they’re SMART goals, that is, they’re specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
- Start by defining your big goal, and then break it up into smaller objectives. Break those down even further into tasks.
- For example, if you’ve decided you want to start a new career as a police officer to honor your values of service and justice, that’s your overall goal. To accomplish it, you will need to achieve several objectives, or actions you take. Examples of objectives could be working on your physical fitness so you can pass the physical test, talking with a police recruiter, and applying to a police academy. Break those down even further in specific tasks, such as exercising 3x a week, looking online for your recruiter’s information, and finding out the steps to apply to academies.
- Make sure that you are as concrete and specific as possible when setting your goals.
Determine what changes you need to make. For large-scale do-overs, this list could be very long. If your idea of starting a new life is more limited, such as finding a new career or developing a new worldview, your list of changes might not be as long. In general, you’ll probably need to consider changes in several aspects of your life: physical, emotional, geographical, social, financial, and career.
Make a plan to achieve physical changes. For some people, changing their health condition or fitness level can feel like getting a fresh start on life. Perhaps you’ve been overweight for some time and want to feel healthier. Perhaps you’ve always been pretty sedentary but have decided you’d like to learn to run marathons. Fortunately, physical changes are some of the easiest to make. You can develop healthy habits and talk with your doctor about what plans are right for you.
- Weight loss is the number one New Year’s Resolution, and also one of those that tends to be broken almost immediately. If your weight is something you’d like to change about yourself, or if it is causing you significant health issues, talk with a doctor about how to lose weight effectively and safely. She will probably recommend a combination of exercise and healthy eating habits. If your weight problems are very serious, she may recommend a weight-loss surgery or medication. You should always consult with your doctor before starting a weight-loss plan.
- Eating better is pretty easy once you know where to start. Rather than thinking of modifying your eating habits as “going on a diet,” think of them as starting a new life-long commitment to healthy eating. Incorporate plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, and skip processed and junk foods.
- Staying fit is the fifth most-popular New Year’s Resolution. Unfortunately, about 80% of American adults don’t get enough aerobic and muscle-building exercise.Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise, and do muscle-strengthening exercises at least 2 times per week.
- Dress to express yourself. How you dress affects how you feel about yourself and how others view you. Studies have shown that when you dress in a way that aligns with your goals, you’re more likely to achieve them. So go ahead, wear that little black dress you’ve always wanted, or express your favorite fandom with some rad t-shirts.
Make some emotional changes. Changes to yourself and how you handle your emotions can take time, but they’re wonderfully rewarding. Changing your emotional outlook can give you a new perspective on the world and really make you feel like you’ve started a new life. Self-growth is a continual process that you’ll spend the rest of your life working on, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Gratitude is more than an attitude: it’s a way of approaching life, determined to acknowledge even the smallest moments of good and beauty. Research has shown that practicing gratitude makes you feel happier and more satisfied with life; it helps you learn flexibility and adaptability to change; increases your physical health and sleep quality; and can help you overcome trauma. Take 5 minutes every day or two to record something you’re grateful for that day. Explore why you’re grateful for it and what it brings to your life.
- Forgive. Forgiveness releases you from the burden of past injury and pain. You forgive others not for them, but for yourself. Studies show that forgiveness makes you feel less angry and anxious.
- Grieve losses. Allow yourself to feel grief and loss rather than trying to hurry yourself to “get past it.” Properly mourning takes time and patience with yourself. Acknowledging your sorrow is key to working through it and eventually incorporating it into the new life you build after the loss.
- Acknowledge your own needs. People are all too often taught to deny themselves proper self-care. Acknowledge that you have needs and that it is not selfish to meet them. You don’t have to say “yes” to every invitation or request. Taking some time out for yourself is not wrong. Caring for yourself will not only help you feel better, it will help you interact more positively with others.
Determine what geographical changes you want to make. Sometimes, moving to a new place is enough to feel like you’re starting a new life. You probably have a new job, you have to build a new circle of friends, and you have to get used to the new community you’ve entered. You will need to learn to be self-reliant, to build new connections, and become more flexible and adaptable — all excellent skills for your new life.
- Pushing past your comfort zone has been proven to improve your performance and increase your likelihood of finding success. This is because you are more likely to work harder and pay more attention when you are in a new, slightly uncomfortable situation.
- Do some research to determine where you will feel happiest in your new life. Things to consider include the crime rate, the unemployment rate, the average cost of living and property cost, and whether there are experiences available that match your culture and interests.
- Bloomberg and Livability both offer annual rankings of “best places to live.” These can be a good place to start. You can also consider quality of living rankings.
- If you can, talk to people who live in places you’re considering. Plan a visit to see whether you would enjoy living there. The more information you can gather, the better prepared you will be to embark on your new life.
Examine your relationships. It’s hard to start a new life if you have toxic people dragging you down. In some cases, you must cut people out of your life for your own safety. In other cases, they’re simply not good for you to spend time with, and you’ll be happier if you remove them from your life. Interpersonal functioning and relationships are crucial to improving how you feel about yourself and your life. Research shows that we are highly influenced by the people we interact with, so in starting your new life, choose the people to include who matter most to you and will give you the love and respect you deserve. Here are a few signs that a person isn’t good for you:
- You feel exhausted by spending time with them, or you dread interacting with them.
- They are hyper-critical or judgmental of you. You feel like you can’t do anything right when you’re around them.
- They say mean or vicious things about you, to your face or behind your back.
- You feel obsessive about this person, as though you can’t live without them, even if they don’t pay attention to you.
- You constantly feel stressed out when you’re around them.
- You don’t feel safe sharing your hopes, thoughts, needs, or feelings with them.
- Recovering addicts often must learn to avoid the places where they used to spend time, as well as many of their old friends, in order to avoid addiction triggers that could cause a relapse. If you are a recovering alcoholic, spending time with your old drinking buddies in your favorite bar would probably put far too much pressure on you and could cause you to take up drinking again. Forming a supportive social network that doesn’t involve your past habits is critical to maintaining your successful recovery.
- It may also be helpful for you to make social changes if you are recovering from domestic or relationship abuse. Many victims of domestic abuse have been isolated by their abusive partners until they have very few connections that are not carefully monitored or controlled by the abuser. Learning to find sources of social support and caring is very helpful in starting a new life after surviving abuse.You could consider finding support at support groups for domestic abuse survivors, in your faith community, or through mental health provider referrals.
Cleanse your social life. Getting rid of those toxic relationships is often very hard. After all, you probably wouldn’t have started a relationship with that person if you didn’t like something about him or her. However, eliminating unhealthy social relationships will help you move forward to a happier, healthier life. Here are some ways to move past unhealthy relationships:
- Speak with the person first. In some cases, the person may not realize that his/her behavior is causing you pain or stress. Share your feelings openly and honestly, and see if the person is willing to work with you to meet your needs. If not, you don’t need that person in your life.
- Evaluate whether you need to cut a person off. Sometimes, people we love and who love us say things we don’t want to hear. This doesn’t mean that they’re “negative people” whom we should cut off. Before cutting a relationship out of your life, decide whether they bring things to your life that you want and need, even if sometimes the relationship is hard. Conversely, just because a person always makes you feel good doesn’t mean s/he’s the best relationship for you; for example, enablers may make it easier for you to stay addicted to substances, but that isn’t actually what’s best for you.
- Foster your relationships with people who bring you joy. Make a list of the people who make you feel like you can be a better you, who bring you happiness and positivity. Make sure to foster your relationships with these people so that you don’t feel like you have to keep negative relationships around just so you won’t be alone.
- Stop talking to the person. If you have decided that a relationship with a person is just unhealthy for you, tell that person that you have to end the relationship for your own well-being. You need to not talk with him/her, stalk social media, or present yourself with constant reminders of the relationship.
Start a new financial life. Whether you’ve just graduated from college or have been working for 30 years, it’s never too early or too late to start your financial life afresh. Perhaps you want to start saving for a major life goal, such as buying a house or retiring. Or perhaps you want to revamp your spending habits so that you don’t waste as much money. Take a look at your goals and decide how you need to manage your money to get you there.
- You may find consulting with a financial planner helpful, especially if your goals are significant or complex, like starting a small business.
- Examine your finances. Determine your net worth to give you a snapshot of what you owe and what your assets are. This will help you make good money decisions.
- People who have just gotten married will also benefit from taking a good look at their finances. You will likely want to form a budget, add each other as beneficiaries on any retirement and insurance plans, and consider a new insurance policy.
- If you have more debts than you can possibly manage to pay, you may consider filing for bankruptcy. Depending on the amount of debt and your income, most of your debts will be wiped out and you can start a new financial life. However, this is a very serious decision that has long-lasting effects on your credit and overall well-being, so you should not make this decision lightly. Speak with a bankruptcy attorney to determine whether this is a suitable option for you.
Plan some changes to your career. Starting a new career is a great way to reinvent yourself. Plenty of people work at jobs they don’t love or don’t feel inspired by, and getting out of that rut is an excellent way to start a new life. Figure out what your core values are (see elsewhere in this article for that) and decide what career path will allow you to express those values.
- Take your current skills and aptitudes into account. What do you know? What are you good at? What unconventional skills do you have? For example, perhaps you’re a real “people person” who feels inspired by interacting with others, and you don’t get to do that in your current job. This could be something that you’re good at and also something that’s a core personal value for you.
- Don’t feel limited by what you currently know or what your current life situation is. No matter where you start, you can become what you want to be. For example, if you decide that because you’re a people person you want to become a therapist or teacher, you will likely need further education, but you can accomplish that. You’re never stuck where you are.
- Reframe failure. When you think about failures as learning experiences, they stop being able to hold you back from accomplishing what you want for your new life. Instead of focusing on the mistakes you made and allowing them to drag you into the past, think about what you can take from them for success in the future.
- Give yourself SMART career goals. This means they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Decide where you want to be 6 months from now, a year from now, 5 years from now. Determine how you will know when you have found success.
Talk with others. When you want to start a new life, it can be helpful to talk to people who are living the type of life that you want. This is helpful because it can give you an idea of how to get there. For example, if you want to drop your 9-to-5 corporate drone job and become a life coach in Fiji, it would help if you could find out what other life coaches did to get themselves there so you have a roadmap. Asking people about their paths also allows you to build support networks that can be very helpful in setting out on your new life.
- It’s also a very good idea to ask people hard questions about your new life. It can be easy to idealize a new career or new community. Understanding the nitty-gritty details of what you’re about to embark on will help you stay the course even when you encounter roadblocks.
- For example, you might daydream about ditching your boring job in Kansas and moving to Hawaii, where life is paradise. Except, if you talked to people who live there, you might discover things you didn’t know, such as the fact that it’s incredibly expensive, healthcare is often hard to find, and if you aren’t island-born with Native Hawaiian or Asian ancestry, you’ll always be haole, or a “foreigner.” That wouldn’t mean you wouldn’t love your decision to move, but this knowledge would help you adjust to the realities of your new life better.
Get support. Starting a new life can be a daunting prospect. Surround yourself with people who love and respect you and can help you on your journey. Knowing that you have sources of emotional support will help you feel strong and capable as you face your new life.
- If you don’t have family or friends who can support you, consider looking in other places. Support groups and faith communities are common places where people find others to support them.
Check in with yourself. Making the big life changes necessary to start a new life takes work, dedication, and patience. It can be stressful and intimidating. Make sure that you check in with yourself frequently. How are you feeling? What behaviors are you enacting? Are you worried about anything? Keeping a reflective journal can help you understand your emotions and determine whether there are areas in which you need more support or development.
- It’s not uncommon for huge changes to trigger feelings of depression. If you frequently feel sad, empty, worthless, or hopeless; have experienced a loss of pleasure in things you used to enjoy; have seen changes in your weight or sleep habits; frequently feel anxious or guilty; or are considering harming yourself, seek help. Call your doctor or a mental health professional. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or plans, call emergency services or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Make changes along the way. Learning to adapt to roadblocks and challenges will be necessary as you life your new life. Starting a new career doesn’t mean you’ll never feel unappreciated or uninspired again. Moving to a new city doesn’t mean you’ll never miss home. When you encounter challenges, recognize them as such and do what you need to adapt.
- You may encounter roadblocks on your journey to your new life. For example, perhaps you wanted to join the Green Berets to fulfill your core values of service and honor, but found out you’re too old to enlist. You could view this as a failure and the destruction of your dreams, or you could go back to the drawing board and determine whether there are other things you can do that will also allow you to express those core values.
Consider counseling. Even if you don’t think anything is “wrong,” it could be helpful to see a counselor or therapist when you’re considering starting a new life. You’ll be making some major life changes, and stress pretty much always accompanies decisions like this. A therapist will give you a safe “sounding board” to explore your hopes and fears as you make these changes. She can also help you learn helpful ways of thinking and reacting to challenges.
- Many people believe that people with only “everyday” issues wouldn’t benefit from therapy, or that it’s only for people with “serious” problems. The truth is, going to a therapist can be a lot like seeing your dentist for a cleaning: you’re dealing with little build-ups of minor problems before they become disastrous.
- Some people believe that seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness or that you’re “broken,” but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Seeing a therapist is a sign that you care about yourself enough to get help when it’s useful, and that’s a good thing.