ACCORDING TO JAMES ALTUCHER, author and entrepreneur, it is possible to reinvent yourself in 5 years. In his book, The Power of No, he tells us how to reinvent our lives by first saying a big, fat “No” to all the things that don’t serve us—toxic friendships and relationships, stagnant 9-5’s, harmful behaviours, negative thought patterns and, well, just things we simply don’t want to do—in order to free up our lives for greater happiness, abundance and creativity.
This past May has been one of reinventions. The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine class of 2015 has graduated, as I did last year. My Facebook feed was infiltrated with pictures of flowers, long black gowns and tearfully heartfelt thank-yous to the friends and family that got my colleagues through their gruelling 4 years of naturopathic medical education. Last year that was me—I remember the black gowns, the face-ache from smiling, drinking a little too much at grad formal and winning an award (“Most Likely to Write a Best Seller”—complete with misspelling of “bestseller”) while eating Portuguese chicken at my house afterwards with my friend F and his family.
This year, one year later, I watch these events from afar. May 2014 offered new beginnings and chance for reinvention. I was dating, enjoying the sunshine, looking forward to a trip to India, looking forward to beginning a practice as a naturopathic doctor. Mostly, last May was about the death of one life—that of a naturopathic student—and the birth of a new one: a complete reinvention.
This year the rest of my life stretches before me like one long expansive road. My career is underway. My dating life is stagnant. The next steps are more like small evolutions rather than massive, monumental milestones. I most likely will not don a black gown again, but I can reinvent myself by following the 20 steps below. I can always check back into these practices when I’m feeling stuck, alone or afraid. When life is not going my way, there is always a chance to begin a reinvention of some sort. And, I remind myself, my current reinvention is likely well underway. Since I graduated last May, I have been in the process of reinventing: just 4 more years left until I complete my obligatory 5. While 4 years sounds like a long time, I know from experience that 4-year cycles turn over within the blink of an eye.
What stage are you on in your own personal reinvention? Wherever you are, follow these steps to reinvent yourself:
1) Say no.
Say no to all the things that you don’t want to do. Say no to things that cause you harm: emotional harm, mental harm, physical harm, loss of time, loss of money, loss of sleep. We need to say no first before we can free up the time and energy to say yes to the things that we actually want. In fact, say “no” to all the things you aren’t saying “F#$% YES!” to. Read this article for more.
2) Re-examine your relationships.
Who doesn’t make you feel good? Who makes you doubt yourself? Who do you feel will reject you if you act like your true self around them? Gracefully begin to distance yourself from these relationships. You might feel lonely for some time, but loneliness is sometimes a good thing.
3) Clear out your junk.
Get rid of everything you don’t use, don’t like and don’t need. Marie Kondo, in the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, tells us to donate, trade, sell or dispose of everything we own that doesn’t bring us joy. I think that that is a wonderful litmus test to decide what we should be holding on to. Personally, one thing that did not bring me joy was an awful old desk in my room. It was uncomfortable and ugly. I replaced it with a free desk someone I knew was throwing away. I also donated 7 garbage bags of things: books, clothes and keepsakes from when I was a child. Since then, I feel like my room has been infused with a little bit more joy. Remove all your joyless items from your life and observe how your energy changes.
4) Sit in silence.
This could be meditation, staring at the wall, chanting or simply breathing. Do it with eyes closed or open. I start at 20 minutes of meditation—a meditation teacher I had told me to always use a timer to increase self-discipline—and work up to 30 some days and an hour on really good days.
Start with 5 minutes. Sitting in silence helps to quiet the mind and bring us back to the present. You’ll be amazed at what you discover when you sit in silence. Read some books on meditation or take a meditation course for specific techniques, but simply sitting in silence can offer amazing benefits as well.
5) Explore the topics that interested you as a child.
When I got back into painting in 2008, after getting a science degree when I’d always been interested in the art, my life changed a little bit. I started a blog in 2011; it happens to be the one you’re reading now. Get back into whatever you were passionate about as a child, even if it’s just a cartoon you used to watch.
6) Start a gratitude jar.
Once a day write down something that you are grateful for—use as much detail as possible—and toss it in a jar or shoebox. When you’re feeling low, open up the jar and read the messages you’ve left yourself. I also tried a similar exercise with things I wanted to manifest or achieve. A few months later I read my entries and realized I’d achieved every single one. It’s amazing what kind of energy glass jars can attract.
According to James Altucher, you need to read 500 books on a given topic in order to become an expert on something. You have 5 years to reinvent yourself, so start your reading now. Read one book and then, from that book, read another. It’s interesting where reading trails can lead us. I read one book, which mentions another book, read that book and then end up in a new world I never knew existed. I personally feel a little anxious when I don’t have a book beside my bed, but if you’re new to reading, start small.
I’ve already mentioned 2 books in this blog post; start from either of them and then go from there. The next on my list is The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, which was mentioned in The Power of No. Who knows where that one will lead me.
8) Get 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
9) Eat your vegetables, especially leafy greens.
Avoid sugar, moderate alcohol and caffeine. Eat healthy protein and healthy fats.
Enjoy some movement every day.
11) Exercise your idea muscle.
According to James Altucher, creativity is a muscle that we need to exercise lest it atrophies, like any other muscle. He recommends getting a journal and writing 10-20 ideas in it every day. They don’t have to be good ideas, just any ideas. Removing the filter of self-judgement is important for allowing creativity to flourish. We need to strengthen that muscle.
12) Get some psychotherapy.
Start dealing with childhood wounds and meeting your inner critic. Address your erroneous beliefs about yourself, the world and the past.
13) Expand your social circle.
If you find that after following step 2 your social circle has gotten smaller, start to find ways to expand it. My favourite way to reinvent my social interactions, and thus begin to reinvent my life, is to look up a meetup.com group and start attending. If you’re not sure about a meet-up group you’ve attended, give it 2 more tries before deciding not to go back. In 3 tries, you’ve either made new friends and connections or decided that the energies of the group aren’t right for you. Online dating is another cool place to start meeting people outside your social sphere and getting over social anxieties.
14) Establish a self-care routine.
What would someone who loved themselves do every day? Try to do at least some of those things every day. It could be going for a 15-minute walk before doing the dishes. It could be doing the dishes rather than leaving a messy kitchen for your more tired future self.
Think about what things will make you feel good and then do them. Most of the time this involves bubble baths—light some candles while you’re at it. Read this article on self-care to learn more.
15) Write a Have-Done List.
Instead of writing a list of things you have to do today—your standard To-Do List—write a list of things you’ve done at the end of every day. This fills people with a sense of accomplishment from looking at everything they’ve done. It definitely beats the stress and anxiety of looking at the list of things that must get done looming before them.
16) Treat other people as if it were their last days on earth.
We’ve all been told to “live each day on Earth as if it were your last.” But what if you lived as if each day on Earth were everyone else’s last? You’d probably treat them a little more nicely, be open with them, be honest with them and not gossip or speak badly about them. You might appreciate them more. The idea is James’, not mine, but I like it. I think it’s a good rule for how to treat people.
17) Pay attention to what you’re jealous of and what you despise in others.
The things we are jealous of in others are often our disowned selves. If I’m jealous of my friend’s Broadway debut I’m probably disowning a creative, eccentric and artistic side of myself that it’s time I give love and attention to.
The things we’re bothered by in others often represent our shadow sides, the negative things we disown in ourselves. My ex-boyfriend was selfish and aloof. He took care of his needs first. Maybe I need to start taking care of my own needs or come to terms with my own tendencies towards selfishness. Our negative emotions in relation to others can provide us with amazing tools of enlightenment and prime us well for our own personal reinventions.
18) Let go of the things that were not meant for you.
Past relationships, missed opportunities, potential patients that never call back, “perfect” apartments, etc. Say good-bye to the things you don’t get. They’re for somebody else. These things are on their own journeys, as you are on yours. If you miss one taxi, know that there are other, probably better, ones following it. So, rather than wasting time chasing after the missed taxi, meditate on the street corner until the next one comes along.
19) Listen. Ask questions. Show curiosity.
When someone finishes speaking to you, take a breath and count to 2 before responding. It’s amazing how your relationships change when engaging in the simple act of listening. I love the Motivational Interviewing technique of reflective listening. In reflective listening, we repeat back the other’s words while adding something new that we think they might have meant, looking for the meaning between the person’s—your friend’s, patient’s or client’s—words. I find that this has helped the person I’m speaking with feel truly listened to. If I get the meaning wrong, it gives the other person a chance to correct me and thereby ensure that we’re really communicating and understanding each other. This one simple tool—reflective listening—has transformed my naturopathic practice and interviewing skills.
20) Be patient.
Personally, I’m terrible at this. But, like you, I’ll try working on the other 19 steps while I wait for the next stage of reinvention to take hold. I’ve ordered my next book from the library. See you all in 4 years.
Book List Referenced in this Article: