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How to Start Fresh

Do you feel stuck? Do you have the urge to get back on square one and start over? For whatever reason you feel this way, a fresh start can potentially be life-changing if done right. Still, only a minority succeed in transforming their life permanently and persevere in such an endeavor. It’s not a lack of motivation or determination that often leads to failure, but the focus on obvious and superficial changes in our lives instead of also shifting our self-perception and underlying habits.

It’s been five months since I published my second and last article on this blog. Over 1’200 people have read it since, and despite my absence, some of you have found your way back here week after week, probably wondering: Was that it? or What the fuck is this guy doing? Well, disclaimer: I attempted to make a fresh start, which turned into starts, and only now, five months later, I figured out I went about this whole rosy thing the wrong fucking way. But let me indulge you and explain to you how it is done right by my example of doing pretty much the opposite during my first trials.


1 Finish What You Started

If you want to have a successful attempt at a fresh start or a new life altogether you better finish what you started in the first place. In a time-deprived universe where I could gather my past selves of the last ten months in a house, I would lock the door and force them to write my final university thesis that very summer. Instead, the past couple of months have turned into a bonanza of self-satisfying short-term trips, light entertainment, and pursuing pretty much everything that came to my mind BUT writing on my thesis.

Another way to shirk responsibility: a little hate fire.

After the fun died off, my current self still found itself confronted with the same adage to finally "finish the degree". It was for this laziness that even after I moved countries, I carried my thesis like a mule over some insurmountable trekking path. It sucked!

Lesson learned: Finish what you started. In your case, it may be a work project you need to complete, or finally remodeling your garden (because it still looks as ugly when you promised to do it two years ago). Whatever it is, that’s been sitting on your to-do list for way too long: finish it or kick it off the damn list. Believe me, I know it hurts to hear that starting fresh isn’t a magical clap-your-hands-and-problems-go-away-one-trick-pony and that you might be tempted to skip this step. Please don’t! Don’t be like me, reminiscing in fighting with imaginary past selves and raging on a small online blog about it. Put in the boring work first.

2 Get Rid of the Excess

Throughout the last couple of years you probably accumulated a lot of physical and emotional baggage. Most of this weight has likely become redundant and unnecessary to carry around. Now is the time to divest and get rid of the excess. Reevaluate your current living situation and environment, your love life, friendships, your passions and aspirations, whatever it is: Put it on a balance. Ask yourself: Does this bring you joy? Keep it. Do you feel indifferent or even negative about it? Get rid of it.

Think about how your ideal self would look like. What lifestyle would you be living and what kind of people would you surround yourself with? Map out your personal goals and vision and eliminate anything that doesn’t positively contribute to that. At the end of the day you just have so many hours, and so much energy to spend: Where do you want to invest it in? Be honest with yourself and set your priorities straight.

"Get rid of the excess, the wasted time, decrease your options... And you will have accidentally, almost innocently, put in front of you, what is important to you by process of elimination."

- Matthew McConaughey, 2015 (1)

If the place you live in doesn’t inspire you or make you happy, then try selling it. Or cancel your contract to find something more suitable at a location that you actually like. If your work sucks then think about ways to get out of your rut. Depending on your age, you will keep working in this field for another 30 to 40 years. That’s a lot of time invested for something that doesn’t give you some form of delight. Sell the things that you don’t regularly use or appreciate (for inspiration see Minimalism (2)). Restructure your debt (if you have any) and pay it off. It’s never too late to get your financial situation in order. If you suffer from endless consumerism and just don’t seem to make ends meet then you should probably cancel your credit card. Break off friendships that are dragging you down or leave your partner if it just never seems to work out. Life’s too short to postpone and be wasteful.

Quitting my job without a direct alternative belonged to the more venturesome moves I pulled in recent years. It just didn’t contribute enough to where I wanted to go. Luckily I saved up and could afford to act on it. Changing locations and radically changing my immediate environment was a substantial contributor to my fresh start and I can definitely recommend it. Nevertheless, that said: When you reshape your circumstances and living situation, be mindful of the consequences your actions cause. Especially if your decisions affect more people than just yourself.

3 Close the Chapter

You did the boring work and your backpack is as light as it can be to venture into a new beginning. Congrats! You have now reached the sexy part of your How to Start Fresh-Guide. Kiss your old life goodbye and cross the bridge to a brave new world. But be mindful not to become one of the rare specimens who get stuck halfway through and reminisce about their glorious High School years without actually moving on and wholeheartedly pursuing new opportunities. Don’t be like Tim who once was the favorite quarterback but still acts like a big deal ten years later, while working at your local grocery store. Close your last chapter, as shitty or glorious it might have been. Or in so many words: Move the fuck on.

This is the point where most guides conclude and expect you to just change in an instant and be fabulous like those Disney movies where you just know the sequel would be an entire shitshow of revolting dwarves and royal divorces. Remember: You are still figuring out where to go after you crossed that bridge one paragraph earlier. Because similar when you were younger after you redid your room by moving a couple of furniture around and putting up new wallpapers of horses or some athlete you just happened to like: It will only take a few days until you are back in your old routines feeling like "I just need to start fresh". Take it from someone with experience.

Your childhood was a lie.

Just because you change your exterior doesn’t mean you have changed at all. In our case, your past behavior and habits will lead you straight back to this article where you either try again or call me a fraud. Neither of us would want that.

4 Change Your Self-Perception

To prevent your fresh start from just turning into a temporary excursion, you need to change your self-perception. Your reasons to desire a new beginning are personal, yet in most cases, you messed up somewhere along the way. Maybe you didn’t draw clear boundaries in your relationship because "You are forgiving and don't like to have arguments". Maybe you overspent because "You value things more than your own time". Maybe you rather buy takeaway and sit at home at night because "You prefer instant gratification to a healthy diet and fit body". In all these cases you can temporarily cover up your shortcomings by applying self-discipline. Yet, you always and inevitably regress to your mean. As Tony Robbins once said, "If you want to change your life you have to raise your standards" (3). Whatever you think of this guy, sometimes he's just spot on.

It’s a frustrating realization but it’s unlikely that you reach every goal that you set yourself. However, one thing you can be sure of is that you will never fail to comply with your default settings. For some, that means working out every other day, while for others, it means not working out at all. In either case, if you desire a fresh start you need to change your self- perception first, and reshape the story you tell yourself. To raise your standards by sheer self- discipline will inevitably fail the first time you have a bad day or "just don’t feel like it". It’s much more efficient to change your self-perception than pushing your self-discipline.

Naturally, it’s nearly impossible to go from gaming addiction to reading a book every week. Your mind can’t process such a big shift all at once and your attempt would feel like a farce. Changing one’s self-perception is a continuous and slow transformation towards your ideal self. For example, you felt out of shape and never worked out regularly. The story you tell yourself has to shift from: "I am not athletic!" To: "I am in the process of becoming fit and work out once a week", and so forth. Until your final story morphs into: "I am fit and take care of my health every day". The further away your current self-perception is from your goal, the more time and patience it will take to get there. The essential tool for succeeding in that undertaking is the continuous process of building and following purpose-driven habits.

5 Build Purpose-Driven Habits

Let me pick up the image from the beginning and flip it on its head: Imagine you would walk onto a stage of a concert hall full of spectators. Every single one of them represents a future self of you at a different point in time. One in the back row is your future self in a month from now. Another one in the upper aisle, represents yourself in a year from now. And right at your feet grumbling and visibly agitated that you wasted another hour watching YouTube videos, is your future self in forty years from now. The audience watches your every move and decision you make. Not every future self will disapprove or approve uniformly of your behavior. While the future self from tomorrow doesn’t mind you being unemployed, your broke future self in two years’ time would throw sticks at you and scream: "YOU BRAINLESS IDIOT!"

In either case, one after the other your future selves transform into your current self before dissolving into oblivion. Now what has that little story to do with anything? It’s the little things that make the long-lasting impacts. While in the short to medium term your current actions seem negligible, they are contributing and shaping your future reality. What sounds at first like a disadvantage can easily be turned into a massive advantage as James Clear pointed out in his book Atomic Habits (4).

James Clear outlines the power of changing small and easy to do tasks and routines in order to profit from compound improvement. The emphasis on building purpose-driven habits is to focus on who you wish to become instead of what you want to achieve. Hence, the power of habits can transform your self-perception permanently. You should focus on easy-to-follow habits that often seem little and unimportant at first glance. Read 15 minutes a day instead of wasting it on social media, study a new language 20 minutes a day, workout once a week and so forth. Whatever habits fit to the goals you are trying to reach. All these changes seem small and almost laughable, but they compound over a year and like everything with exponential returns you will have read a couple of books, learned a new language, and even get in better shape eventually.

Eventually you get there.

“Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.”

- James Clear in Atomic Habits, 2018

To successfully start fresh means leaving your past behind, changing your self-perception and pursuing the art of forming purpose-driven habits. After all you want to walk onto that stage under a thunderous applause from your future selves, congratulating you on making the right choices today, to reap the long-term benefits of tomorrow.

For more helpful books on habits & your mind, see book list.


1 Matthew McConaughey’s full Commencement Speech at the University of Houston in 2015.

3 How to Raise Your Standards by Tony Robbins published on

4 Atomic Habits written by James Clear, published in 2018.


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