When Has Starting Over Worked for You?

When Has Starting Over Worked for You?

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Are you the kind of person who makes goals, plans and resolutions? What do you tend to do if they don’t work out?

Would you say you’re more likely to learn from what went wrong and try again — or do you tend to give the whole idea up entirely?

In “Tear It Up and Start Again,” Harry Guinness writes about second (and third and fourth) tries, in writing and in life:

I’m a big fan of awful first drafts. All of my writing (even this article) starts with an incriminatingly bad first draft, riddled with typos and clichés, grammatical errors and half-finished sentences. No one else sees those drafts. I tear up that awful first draft and start again — and that’s when things start to click. That’s when sentences start to flow coherently, when ideas and themes make sense, and when the real work gets done.

Too often, when it comes to self-improvement, we create idealized, top-down systems with unnatural rules and regulations. We naïvely assume that we will somehow stick to our rigid plans when life gets random and hard, throwing unavoidable chaos and crises into the mix. Monday might be leg day in the gym, but if your kid falls off her bike and needs stitches, your carefully calibrated eight-week squat plan isn’t going to get a look.

It’s not just sudden shock events that bring our optimistic plans and productivity systems crashing down; it’s also the inevitable creep of time and clutter that gets most of them. It sounds like a great idea to keep your inbox empty, responding to or archiving every email as soon as you’ve read it, but as soon as one message lingers for a few days, the whole thing can start to collapse. One email becomes two becomes 10. The strict rules you’re now ignoring, rather than freeing you to be productive as planned, just stress you out. Within a few weeks, your inbox is back to being as bad as it ever was — if not worse.

Really, the problem isn’t that plans fail, it’s what we do when they fail. When we miss a day or two at the gym, or order takeout when we meant to cook, most of us just shrug, give up entirely, and say, “Well, there’s always next year,” or we find another milestone to look forward to, and we repeat the whole embarrassing process over again.

He continues:

When a plan or resolution fails, the solution isn’t to dismiss it and try a new, equally rigid prescription next year or next time. It’s to build on what worked, ruthlessly cut what didn’t and start straight away on a much-improved second draft. Trying to run three miles every day while eating nothing but raw vegetables might be a terrible idea — but running a few days a week isn’t.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What kinds of personal-improvement goals and resolutions are you most likely to make? How often do they go according to plan?

  • Do you tend to abandon an idea that hasn’t worked, or do you go back, improve it and try again?

  • Tell us about a time when you tore up a plan, a draft or a resolution of some kind and started again — but this time found a better way. Why didn’t the first plan work? How did you tweak it? What happened as a result? What did you learn from the experience?

  • In what aspects of your life have you built a system that works for you, one that “fits in to your life and excites you, and that can handle both the mundane and the madness of daily living”? What advice can you offer others?

  • Though this article uses the concept of “first drafts” as a metaphor for any kind of initial attempt, it also focuses on how allowing yourself literal “awful first drafts” in writing can free you up. Have you ever had the experience the piece describes in which, thanks to a second draft, “You learn what the essay you were writing was really about, what points you were trying to make and the conclusion you were reaching toward”? How often do you do second — or even third or fourth — drafts of written work?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.