I have always loved new beginnings. The first scrupulous page in a new notebook. The first day of school after a long Summer. The first day of January every year, when your ears are still ringing with bells, and the promises you have sworn to keep still bright and shiny.
My problem is not with beginning things; it’s keeping them up. And the main reason for this is that I want to run before I can walk: I want to have accomplished what I set out to do right now; taking small, incremental steps feels agonisingly slow, and I convince myself that slow progress means failure.
I read something recently that made me look at this from a new perspective. It was in one of the books on mindfulness I read at the library (I know I keep droning on about mindfulness, but honestly, I feel like it’s been such an eye-opener). The author said that we can’t decide to live our lives wholly perfectly from a particular moment onwards. If we decide that we won’t restrict ever again, and then we find ourselves repeating those old familiar patterns, the repercussions are terrible: we have failed, we haven’t kept our promise, we are worthless, useless, blah blah blah – I’m sure you’re familiar with the rest of the litany.
The author said that, instead, we can only make the next right choice.
That sounds like kind of the same thing, given that making the next right choice in the above circumstance would mean choosing to eat the next meal rather than restricting, and then choosing the next one after that. Surely that’s the same thing as just deciding never to restrict again in the first place?
The difference with making the next right choice is that it isn’t rigid. It’s not a stern decree or an absolute. There’s something very human about it, and very humble. There is flexibility in it, and room for error. It’s saying that ok, I will try and keep making the next right choice for myself but I understand I might not always be able to do that. Sometimes I will make the wrong decision or make a bad choice. But that’s ok. No-one’s perfect. What’s important is that I pick myself up again and make the NEXT right choice.
It’s not starting over again, back at square one, with a new promise and an equally steely look, only to feel despairing and worthless again the moment we ‘fail’ (which we ultimately will: I keep saying this, but it’s important: we’re HUMAN). It’s keeping on with the new beginnings. It’s keeping on full stop. Every day is a new beginning. Every hour, every moment, every year. Our new beginnings are limitless. What’s important is not seeing each one as an imperative, because then any mistakes we make along the way become absolute failures. They’re not. They’re only stumbles we can pick ourselves up from.
Carl Rogers said that ‘The good life is a process, not a destination’.
It’s not a nice, neat beginning with a nice, neat, defined end in sight. It’s a series of experiences and emotions and observations and triumphs and mistakes. And yes, things will come to an end, good things and bad; but in every end, there is a new beginning. There cannot be one without the other.
And in between, all we can do is keep making the next right choice.