Sometimes circumstances hit our life that make us take a step back and soberly say, “I don’t want any of this. I want a new life.” If life were a video game we’d be hitting reset and rolling a new character. Having this thought is nothing to be ashamed of. And typically while we’re having the thought we’re at a place in life that feels very isolated. It’s easy to look around and assume you’re the only one in this place. You’re not. Just like you’re not showing this part of yourself to the world, other people are hiding similar feelings.
A New Life is Possible
Unfortunately, life is not a video game. If we feel like we fell into a hole, there’s no magic button to get us back to neutral ground. We have to find a way out of the hole, that is the task in front of us. Your situation is not hopeless. It is highly unlikely that you have never accomplished anything that you are proud of. In fact, you have almost certainly done things that were a lot harder than what it will take to escape this feeling. If you’re feeling hopeless, think back to those accomplishments, remember how badass you can be, and let’s start looking for exits from this stupid hole.
Start From Ground Zero
The feeling of wanting a new life is obviously a phenomenon that exists within our mind. Unless we have good evidence to the contrary, it’s usually not productive to assume our mind is broken. Even if we find ourselves saying, “but I have all of these things that are great in my life, I shouldn’t be so fed up.” Typically we just have to look a little deeper and we can find plenty of good reasons. The reward function of the human brain is extremely sophisticated. It’s this function that has been the driving force for all our species has accomplished. Probably best to not write it off as a hindrance and instead trust what it’s telling us.
Satisfy Your Reward Function and Your Life Will Feel Brand New
Lack of appreciation for our current circumstances is, at its root, just a configuration of the mind. It’s for this reason that we can hack it to feel momentary reprieve, like when using substances for example. Of course, those effects are never lasting and often make the feeling come back with even more power. There are a number of well understood contributors to positive emotion that need to be satisfied in order for this feeling to lift in a lasting and meaningful way. The more of these we can check off the list, the more activated our reward function becomes.
1. Eliminate Unhealthy Factors
Often, the most powerful thing we can do in the health department is to take our foot off the brake pedal. The approach here is identifying and eliminating actions we are taking that affect our health in a negative way. No need to build Rome is a day here, sticking to the fundamentals will help avoid overwhelm. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll break it down into three main categories.
- Reduce or eliminate harmful substances.
- Improve your diet.
- Move your body.
Cutting Back on Substances
Some people can skip this step as they’re already keeping their body clean substance wise. However, the majority of us mortals are using something as a crutch to get a little break from life’s onslaught. In the United States, the big one here is booze. Hangovers are no joke, these joyful states can derail us for literally days. Not only that, they tend to create a negative feedback loop.
It tends to go something like this; we drink to feel better about some negative circumstances we’re facing. We end up drinking too much and wake up with a nasty hangover. We’re too tired to face the circumstances that need our attention, making us feel worse. The hangover comes with anxiety for many, so those circumstances feel even bigger. Then, to top it all off, a quick drink can often reduce the hangover symptoms (and give us the same break we were seeking when we started). So, rinse and repeat. A few days of this can knock someone down a surprisingly long way. Reduce or eliminate booze.
Other substances can also stand in the way of progress. Cigarettes, cannabis (for some), and of course much of the illegal stuff. Assessing your use of substances requires some honesty with yourself. Is the substance standing in your way? Start moving away from it. It can take a while so just stay focused.
“I Want a New Life” Rarely Excludes “I Need a New Diet”
Like substance use adjustments, dietary change can be difficult to implement. You don’t have to be perfect, just be better than yesterday. The latest research on diet is pointing more and more toward carbohydrate reduction. This is because carbohydrates, particularly sugars, are massively pro-inflammatory for human beings. The fun part here is that processed carbs are in like everything. When your body is swimming with pro-inflammatory markers it’s a lot like having a constant cold. Fatigue, especially after lunch, brain fog, negative emotion, and reduced immune response are just of few of the joyful side effects of a sugary diet. Many people don’t know how good they can feel because they’re been eating this stuff their entire life. Imagine if you could take a pill that made you feel way better throughout the day. Happier, more energy, better sleep. Well no pill like that exists, but a diet change can achieve the same thing.
Move the Meatsuit
It’s very easy to geek here, which can lead to overwhelm. The secret is establishing a practice you adhere to. Maybe it’s as simple as a walk every morning. There is nothing wrong with starting slow to get in the groove. If you have it in you, work in some pushups (from the knees is fine) and body weight squats. If you don’t exercise currently and can push yourself to the point of sweating with pushups and body weight squats every other day for a week you will be shocked at how different you feel. This has the upfront cost of some increased fatigue, so be aware of that. The fatigue will start to dissipate however, and daily energy levels will increase.
2. Accomplish Goals – Plural!
Now that we have addressed health-related factors in our life, we should have reward circuits functioning properly within the mind. All we have to do is start firing them. As stated earlier, the human reward function is an incredible thing. Other species have their reward function fire when they accomplish something good for their survival. We seem to have a layer to ours that aims at the goal of thriving. Sure, a satisfying meal certainly has a reward emotion attached. However, build a small business to the point of profitability and compare the two feelings. Don’t let this example overwhelm you though, we can enjoy reward emotions in spades by starting small.
Calibrate to Your Situation
The trick here is to calibrate to your current situation. If you are having difficulty finding the motivation to get out of bed, something like cleaning your kitchen might go a very long way. However, if your home is already in good order and you’re struggling with something in your professional life the goal will look different. Remember, we’re just looking for a way out of the hole. We don’t need to do everything in a day. At first, select goals that feel easy but that you’ll be relieved to accomplish. “What am I willing to do?” is a good way to approach this step. No need to tell anyone about it, you don’t even need to feel proud of it. Just do some small thing you need to do. Then another. And another.
Progress Triggers Positive Emotion – Stagnance Triggers Anxiety
Your subconscious mind is very intently tracking your accomplishment progress. By repeatedly setting deliberate goals and accomplishing them, the subconscious is getting signaled that we are progressing in life. This is exactly what it wants, so it will reward us with dopamine and serotonin. If it isn’t getting signaled that we are progressing, it punishes us with cortisol.
3. Build a Positive Community
If health and accomplishment were lacking in your life, addressing those two things will very likely make you feel like you’ve gained a new life. However, if you’ve ever spent time without a good tribe around you, you know how lonely life can feel. We are built from the ground up to be part of a community. Addressing the question of community requires some objectivity. The goal here is to spend time with people that are good for you. Other people can hurt us just as easily as they can help us. Avoid people that are resentful of your successes or want to see you stay in a circumstance that you don’t want to be in. If you can surround yourself with a great community, thoughts like, “I want a new life” will evaporate.
Start With What’s in Reach
Sometimes we simply don’t feel the desire to spend time with good people in our life. If this is the case, it’s likely that we’re operating with some level of introversion. The fact of the matter is that facing the discomfort of spending time with others will pay dividends emotionally. Yes, even for introverts. Treat this like exercise, make it a priority knowing it will help you feel better.
Meeting New People
The modern world is getting increasingly isolating. However, with that isolation has come tools that are extremely useful for all kinds of things. Meeting new people is a big one. Jump into a meetup group that is organized around a subject your interested in. Join a dating app to start prospecting for a love interest. Meeting new people is a numbers game and we have access to almost all of humanity sitting in our pocket. It simply has to become a priority.
Community and Accomplishment – Two Birds, One Stone
If community is lacking in your life and you’re ready to address it, start small. There is an opportunity here to trigger accomplishment and community reward functions with one set of actions. For example, set the goal of finding a social function you’re interested in attending. Surf sites like meetup until you find something and commit to going. There is one goal set and accomplished – rinse and repeat for the next steps. You’ll be scratching the community itch in no time.
Moments when we are fully engaged flood the body with positive hormones and neurotransmitters. This often occurs when we are practicing a skill that is particularly interesting to us. However, simply doing something we are adept at can also meet this criteria.
Build Engagement Into Your Day
Some creative thinking on how to bake these moments into our day can be a fruitful exercise. For example, let’s say you’re skilled at graphic design but not doing it professionally. By volunteering this skill at your current job, you may be able to both get some time doing something you enjoy while elevating your status in the workplace.
Avoid Negative Judgements About What is Engaging
It’s easy to scold ourselves for having some fun. For example, many people get highly engaged while playing video games. They then beat themselves up for not being productive. However, the positive effect of the engagement they are enjoying so much is likely helping them in other areas. Of course, these things can get out of balance. Just make sure to get your chores done before you have your fun.
5. Meaning and Purpose
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Admittedly, this can feel like a luxury we simply can’t afford in some circumstances. When obligation is piled on so high it’s all we can do to keep our head above water, considerations like “meaning” can feel a bit ridiculous. That being said, meaning is indeed possible to pursue for many people. As an anecdote, this website was created in an attempt to pursue meaning. Sometimes pursuing meaning does require sacrificing something else. For example, down time in the evening may need to be sacrificed to pursue something with purpose. At least for a time.
The Great Motivation Hack
There’s no question that accomplishing goals leads to all kinds of positive emotions. What often gets in our way is a lack of motivation. Few things hack our motivation like feeling like we’re serving a purpose we actually care about. Now, initial attempts at this pursuit don’t come with much feedback if any. For many, this can lead to feeling like they may be toiling in vain. However, if we persist, the positive feedback eventually comes. Then it is off to the races.
Achieving a New Life – Right Where We Are
When we find ourselves saying, “I want a new life.” it’s probably because we’ve found ourselves in a hole. A hole we’re not particularly fond of. If you’re in a hole you don’t want to be in, the only thing to do is find a way out. Hopefully some of the suggestions we’ve laid out can help lead to an exit from that hole. No circumstance is permanent, change is inevitable. With a little diligence we can increase the likelihood that change is positive. At insight maps we believe it’s all about building positive routines. Get in the habit of making things a little better every day. We offer a library of guided journaling modules to assist you in this journey. However, there are myriad ways to approach the problem. You got this.