Renewed: How to start over again – with Repotting Your Life author Frances Edmonds

Deepak Chopra says starting over is the knowledge that there is something better out there for you—even if you don’t know what it is yet. It’s about learning from the past and using it to propel you forward in a way you had never considered before.

So how do you transform and start over again?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Frances Edmonds has had an extraordinary professional career full of transitions and transformations, latterly becoming a longevity and well-being fellow at Stanford university’s distinguished careers Institute in 2018, where the concept of repotting was born. She is an inspirational keynote speaker, a cross-generational mentor and she helped create the U.K.’s most prestigious business development network. Previously an international conference interpreter at the European Union, United Nations and world economic summits, she’s also a bestselling author and broadcaster. Repotting Your Life is the latest in a long line of works.

Kathleen McCauley, founder of wellness company Danu, LLC, which helps people manage stress by building habits and shifting mindset to be happier and healthier at home and at work.

Kellan Fluckiger, Your Ultimate Life Podcast Host, business coach and author of a dozen books including The Book of Context.

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Bestselling author Tom Vanderbilt sets out to find the answer, tasking himself with acquiring several new skills under the tutelage of professionals, including drawing, juggling, surfing and much more. In this nugget, he speaks about the real meaning of baby steps!

Books looked at this week:

Frances Edmonds: Repotting Your Life: How to reframe your thinking, reset your purpose and rejuvenate yourself time and again

Tom Vanderbilt: Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

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Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to season 2 episode 57 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky topics and skills by reading through the best books out there.

So much of the last two years has made us re-evaluate our priorities and our lives. And for those fleeing war, starting all over again has been at the forefront of many people’s minds. And everyone goes through changes in their lives, whether it be aging, emotional maturing, retirement, parenthood, or entering or leaving a relationship.

However, some of us seem to embrace change better than others. When change happens, we may find ourselves wondering how to start over and make the best of the new circumstances we find ourselves in.

So how do you turn over a new leaf and start again?

Here is Kathleen McCauley, founder of wellness company Danu, LLC, which helps people manage stress by building habits and shifting mindset to be happier and healthier at home and at work. She tells me how she starts over again

KATHLEEN MCCAULEY: For me, it’s a mindset shift, an attitude of gratitude every day. I’m learning from my past and starting a fresh journey for me. It’s not about starting from scratch, but instead starting from experience, you can turn over a new leaf in your lifestyle, your attitude, your movement, and your nutrition. The possibilities are endless. It can be a scary journey, but also an exciting one. There are twists and turns along the way, but that is what makes it exciting. Turning over a new leaf allows you to follow your dreams. Despite the fear of the unknown. It is a beautiful place to be. If you fully embrace it.

(Back to host)

Our first book is from Frances Edmonds, who has had an extraordinary professional career full of transitions and transformations, latterly becoming a longevity and well-being fellow at Stanford university’s distinguished careers Institute in 2018, where the concept of repotting was born. Previously an international conference interpreter at the European Union, United Nations and world economic summits, she’s also a bestselling author and broadcaster. Repotting Your Life  is the latest in a long line of works. She was kind enough to speak to me about this, hence here is a snippet and find the full interview on http://www.howtobe247.com or on the YouTube channel. 

FRANCES EDMONDS: It couldn’t be more true repotting your life. What’s it all about? Well, let me tell you my story so that we can wrap a bit of context around this, and then we can talk about the issues involved. I mean, I hate what I would call them deep middle-age or the springtime of my senility as a lot of people do the end of work. Emptiness and end of a relationship.

Sometimes people hit the end of the road because you know, something happens to them. Something happens that is life changing. We look at the moment at the poor people in Ukraine. One minute, you’re living in a nice, warm home with a lovely job. And the next minute you’re a refugee looking for somewhere to live.

So, the necessity to move your life along happens in many and many, many different ways. But in my case, it was a little bit more nebulous than that. And I think this is what happens. Rarely do people have such draconian radical, desperate sort of changes in their life. As you know, you yourself have been through and the poor people in the Ukraine have been through, but often people just feel a bit that this isn’t working anymore. This relationship wasn’t working, this situation isn’t working my life generally is the salt is lost, is lost it’s savour. And you know, sometimes when you’re feeling like that, sometimes something will happen or a program will come up or you hear something on the radio or you read something in the newspaper, in the book.

And it really hits home. And I was watching a gardening program on the television and one of the gardening gurus was going around the garden and there was this potted plant. And it was all wilting and sad. It was still alive, but it looked really bedraggled and sad. And, and anyway, he said, oh dear, let’s look at this.

And he pulled this plant out of the pot and it was, it was pot bound. It was root bound. This is what happens when the plant is actually grown out of its pot. There’s not enough nourishment within the soil, within the pot to sustain and nurture, the growth of that plant and that, and when that happens, the roots go round and round and round in a never-ending circle, trying to find the nutrients in the environment that they need, but they can’t find them.

It’s no longer than I thought he said, this plant is pot bound. If we don’t repot it, this plant is going to die. I thought what a metaphor for life I need repotting anyway. All sorts of various things. And we might go into what those things were, you know, having a look at what I might want to do, I ended up, um, going on an extraordinary program in Stanford university, in California, it was a program that took 25 fellows from all over the world.

People in deep middle-aged like me from all different cultures, walks of life, whatever cultures, languages smacked us all together in a cohort. In the most frighteningly, demanding university in the whole world, it really is like the, the, the sort of epicenter of Silicon valley and to see what would happen.

And my first day there, as I was waiting to get sort of, sort of a registration plate and some, and some books at the graduate school of business at Stanford, I noticed that this little plaque in the garden before you get to the, the, the market square there, and it said, repotting, that’s how you get new bloom.

You must have a plan of accomplishment. And when that is achieved, you must be willing to start off again. So I thought, yeah, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, to learn about starting again, whether you want to start off again or whether you’re obliged to start off again, or whether the world is telling you, you must start over again.

How you go about that process because rarely do people want to start off again? It’s tough. Isn’t it? You’re used to doing certain things. You’re used to the job, you’re used to the way your life is your situation, your comfort zone. And when you’re catapulted out of it, things happen to you or you just feel that it’s no longer right for you.

You have to find the where with all the technique. And I would say the process of moving on and getting on with life in a new format. And that’s what repotting your life is all about. Well, as I say, uh, started as a modern linguist at a  international conference interpreter, a professional cricket widow, writer, a broadcaster, then I ran a building company.

Uh, then I was a director for, um, uh, business development network. And then I was a fellow researching into longevity in extended life expectancy at Stanford. All of this and I want it to be a ballerina Suswati, but unfortunately I had to give up, I sort of injured a groin muscle early on, and unfortunately it wasn’t, it wasn’t my own.

And I think he now sings lead soprano in the Vienna boys choir. No, seriously, basically we’ve all got lots of different elements in our life. And here’s the thing. When I was at Stanford, I ended up, um, researching the central longevity there because my, my real interest now in life is extended life expectancy because here’s  the real issue that I really want to grapple with where a child born in the 1900s had the life expectancy of 70 a child born today will probably live to be a hundred, all things being equal. So that’s 30 gifted years that we have. So the old models that we have of learn, earn, retire, go to school, college university, get a  you know, get a qualification, earn a living, and then retire, and please pop your clogs before the money runs out, you know, have you’ve not been provident.

God help you. Um, those days are finished. We know we don’t unfortunately have the institutions or the culture to deal with this hundred year life. That is actually what I’m having a good look at it in repotting your life. We’re going to have to try and find ways of managing these 30 gifted years so that they’re 30 gifted years of meaningful, purposeful life rather than 30 years of just being kept alive. And that means really that we will have to have, we have to sort of train ourselves in a different sort of mindset, tool set and skill set, sort of, sort of learning by rote is no longer really required in the way it was when I was a kid.

Nowadays, all the information you want is on the is, is on your iPhone. So we’d have to sort of start thinking in terms of managing our health, wellness, and wellbeing, mental, physical, and spiritual finding purpose. And that will mean often I think oscillating in and out of work and personal and professional development.

And my big thing too, is the importance of community. Have we not felt this all of us over COVID as well as you’d like when we couldn’t really see people and how desperate we are to sort of to be in a community, a sort of a supportive community that helps us through, through the good times and the bad.

So well-being and purpose and community, and trying to stitch those elements into a life of extended life expectancy to help us through all these transitions in life, because we will be called upon increasingly to manage these transitions. Nobody nowadays has a job for life. Even if you go into, um, you know, profession, like my three brothers doctors, you don’t two of them are eye surgeons.

What they were learning when 30 years ago is not what they’re learning now you have to employ new techniques. So even when you go to vocational degree, like medicine, things change, but most of us will not have the same job for life. Most of us won’t have a job for life. The flexibility, the curiosity, the where with all to deal with this constantly changing and volatile situation.

These are the challenges for the 21st century. And I said, as I say, in repotting your life, these are the challenges for which as yet, we don’t really have the culture and the institutions to deal with them. So we’re going to have to find them for ourselves, you know, for the time being.

(Back to host)

Edmonds talks about feeling pot bound, where she had been living in an environment that had worked well enough but now was feeling stifled by it. Not only was it stunting her growth, it was jeopardising her well-being.

The problem she says is that society has yet to come up with an alternative template for the culture and institutions necessary to negotiate the additional phases of our elongated lives. She quotes Sir Winston Churchill who said success is the ability to move from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

So in four simple steps Edmonds sets out how to revitalise your relationships, your passions or your career, whatever your age. So she says to ask yourself first of all how do you know when you are pot bound?

She says we are conditioned to resist the idea that things are not working. From an early age we are drip fed the notion that, if we try hard enough, we will eventually overcome the problems that life throws at us. We live in a society that rightly prizes resilience, grit and perseverance. In such a competitive environment, no one feels comfortable looking like a quitter who has not given 100% commitment to the job in hand. However failing to question your own feelings, motivations and behaviours and you are soon on the path to being pot bound. So she recommends you start with the following:

1. Learn to recognise the symptoms of being pot bound – this can be through looking for physical and behavioural clues in yourself and also in others;  

2. Establish the range of reasons responsible for your symptoms so examine your past; looking for tell-tale patterns; trace the patterns back;

3. The problem you face and thereby give yourself a chance of taming it, which means recognising, understand and interpret your emotions; 

4. Consider the nature of the problem you’re facing – is it something you can control? Can you reframe it?

5. If the answer is yes, it is time to start making plans.

In the next stage, Edmonds refers to the French writer, theologian, mathematician, physicist, and inventor Blaise Pascal, who famously observed “all of humanity‘s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” If you invest time and energy in doing relevant, Prepatory ground work, any further effort you make will stand a far greater chance of paying dividends. So:

1. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures and your current situation in life.

2. Understand what you can and cannot change what you can work around. Adopt an attitude of constructive pessimism which means anticipating possible problems

3. Analyse what makes you feel happy or fulfilled. Cross the path taken by your own imagination.

4. Prioritise what matters to you.

5. Make a choice, allow your curiosity to explore, and reach out to others for advice and inspiration.

6. Narrow down your choices to 3 or four viable destinations, and then make an informed choice.

The next stage is committing to your future. The impetus to uproot from your current situation provides an opportunity for transformational growth, she says. The downside is that uprooting always involves a feeling of separation and this invariably feels uncomfortable.

1. It is normal to find the repotting process uncomfortable. Hold onto a positive vision of your future and find focus and reassurance in working through the details of your plans.

2. Where is your life if all the people, possessions and behaviours are holding you back.

3. Imagine the headspace you require to think and plan your next move.

4. Audit the resources you already have that will help you reach your destination.

5. Assemble a support network

6. Inform everyone who will be affected by your decision. Negotiate ways to minimise any negative consequences of your decision on their lives.

7. Follow the commandos code, information – decision – execution.

8. Commit to it.

Finally, bedding in requires making adjustments once you start your life in your new present. 

Summary 

1. Be ready to experience doubt and fear. Refrain and embrace your optimism.

2. Learn the power of failing fast, but don’t expect to know instantly whether something is right or wrong.

3. Be curious and tolerant in your dealings with others. Develop your emotional intelligence and do as you would be done by.

4. Create coherence, energy and optimism by harnessing the power of your own life story.

5. Be thankful for talent, but remember that commitment is even more essential.

6. Look after your physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual self.

7. Seek the support and fellowship of good company. Connection with others is key.

On that note, it’s time for a cheesy movie reference. And this week we’re featuring the 1998 romantic drama Hope Floats featuring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. This is nearing the end of the movie. And listen carefully, because you’ll get a prize for naming this movie! Just follow @howtobe247 on Instagram to get a book off your Amazon wishlist. Check the terms on the post in the coming week.

HOPE FLOATS: “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it is the middle that counts the most. You need to remember that when you find yourself at the beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up.”

(Back to host)

Our final book is from prolific author Tom Vanderbilt, who has written for The New York Times, Smithsonian and London Review of Books. His 2021 book Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning is part personal story, part scientific primer and demonstrates the benefits of always trying something new. Here he is speaking to the Play to potential podcast. 

TOM VANDERBILT: Sure. Yeah. I thought it would be interesting because I was writing about beginners to think about infants because we’re, you know, as we all, once were infants are beginners in life. So, you know, how does it look to be a being that has to, you know, sort of be a novice at everything except maybe, you know, sort of breathing. Um, and, and one of I, I went to New York university, they have something called the infant action lab. And one of the things they, they study quite a bit is how babies learn to move. And they’re sort of a process they go through where they will first just try to sit up a little bit, then they might start crawling join these various half, you know, crawling.

Then they’ll try to make this move toward walking. And, you know, it’s, it’s very interesting in terms of a learning process because they use sort of violate a lot of the things you hear about, you know, they don’t, they don’t really have a specific timetable in mind or, or a goal. Uh, when researchers have tried to figure out where babies are even walking to, they really can’t identify, they seem to be just be walking for the sheer pleasure of walking and to sort of practice it in a sense because, and there’s even some questions as why babies learn to walk when they can really often get around pretty well by crawling and in a sense, learning to walk it provides that much more learning opportunity because you can see more of the world.

You can, you can reach other destinations, you can interact more directly with a caregiver. So I almost think there’s sort of a hunger, a larger hunger for learning there going on. 

(Back to host)

Vanderbilt says each of us is born into the world with lots of potential but very few skills. So it’s only natural that the first years of our lives are dedicated to learning. We learn to walk, talk, and even eat. Then, we spend more than a decade honing our talents in school. And then what?

For many of us, the drive to pick up new skills wanes in adulthood. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Learning could be a journey that lasts a lifetime.

The thing is we never stop learning. Not really. Even minor activities like reading the news or watching television give our brains new information. However, this form of learning merely gives us declarative knowledge: facts, figures, even trivia. But not all knowledge is like that. There’s another kind, one which the author calls procedural knowledge. It helps us actually do something: speak a language, play an instrument, or execute a technical skill. 

As we grow older, we tend to learn fewer and fewer procedural things. But there was a time when every one of us was great at gaining new procedural knowledge. That time was childhood. 

Kids see the world with fresh eyes. They bring no preconceived notions to new activities – and this means that there’s nothing to hold them back. They also don’t expect to be experts in everything which means they’re less self-conscious about failing. The average seven-year-old has 30 percent more neurons available for soaking up new information than the average adult. 

However adult brains can still retain plasticity which is our ability to change and learn. Studies have found that when older adults practice new skills – like painting or writing music – they also improve in general cognitive tests. 

While it’s possible to cultivate a new skill like singing all on your own, practicing in a social setting comes with many advantages. For one, participating in a group activity – like singing in a choir – taps into the innate human desire for social bonding. When people work together to harmonize and breathe in unison, their stress levels drop. And they also benefit from an increase in the production of oxytocin, a hormone connected to happiness. 

But the benefits don’t end there. Practicing in front of others, or in a group, can also boost your performance. Humans learn best by observing others and getting feedback. Singing in a group allows you to do both at the same time. You hear the voices all around you, and you constantly coordinate your own tone and pitch with the rest of the choir. 

The increase in ability that comes from working in a group is called social facilitation. And it’s not just limited to rehearsal rooms. The social psychologist Norman Triplett first observed it in the world of sports. He found that professional cyclists always achieved their best times when riding together with others.

However, learning the basic rules is just the first step in a long journey. University of California professors Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus spent decades studying how adults learn new skills. They examined everyone from fighter pilots to chess players, and they found that skill acquisition usually comes in five steps. People start as novices and then progress through the stages. First, you’re an advanced beginner, then come competence, proficiency, and finally, expertise. And making the jump from novice to advanced beginner is harder than it seems.

To become a novice, all you need to do is get the basic rules right. A novice chess player learns how pieces move, a novice surfer picks up the textbook procedure for mounting a board and riding a wave. On paper, this works great. But, to become an advanced beginner, you must begin to use your new skills in the complex and messy real world like chatting to native speakers in the language you’re learning.

To master a skill, practice it until the movements become automatic. Scientists who study learning love to use juggling as a test case. It’s a simple skill that nearly anyone can learn. Plus, it’s easy to practice and monitor in a laboratory setting. So, while the act of repeatedly tossing and catching balls may seem straightforward, it can actually reveal a lot about how we develop talents.

For one, scientists find that over-thinking can be a strong barrier to acquiring skills. When trying a new task, like juggling, people work hard. They try to remain conscious of every movement they make, whether it’s throwing a ball into the air, tracking, or catching it. Distributing focus like this can overwhelm the brain. But for more experienced jugglers the basic movements come unconsciously. This frees their minds to focus on the overall juggling pattern.

So, what’s the best way to learn? The answer is, observing and doing. They are so much more beneficial than simply receiving instruction. Watching someone else fulfil a task and then trying it for yourself engages your brain in a special way. This in turn helps with muscle memory.

In 2017, Google released a list of the most popular searches which began with the phrase how to… and curiously, fifth on the list was how to draw. Now, drawing is one of the first activities we pick up as children. Nearly every kindergarten offers kids crayons and markers. However, learning to draw is all about learning how to see the world with fresh eyes. 

It’s all about overcoming our perpetual bias, by drawing shapes and shadows first, because 95 percent of untrained artists will depict faces with oversized eyes near the top of the head. But if you look in the mirror, you’ll see that your eyes are actually relatively small and placed near the center of your face.

At first, these drawings appear very abstract, but as learners fill in the details, their work becomes much more accurate. 

And it’s never too late to try something new. Vanderbilt uses the example of Patricia who took up swimming at the age of 70. She practiced everyday for a year, using tutorials on YouTube and getting advice from a tutor. She was able to swim a kilometre in the Mediterranean. Patricia’s approach to life is all about continually learning. Even at her age, she regularly challenges herself to try whatever interest strikes her fancy. After taking up swimming, she moved on to two new pursuits: playing pickleball and studying astronomy. 

Patricia’s attitude can serve as a very powerful lesson. As we age, it’s important to remain a beginner at something. Discover what opportunities exist near you. Check your local papers, go on Google, or simply ask your neighbour. You never know what you’ll learn next. As the Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “It takes a whole life to learn how to live.”

To sum up:

Edmonds says in Repotting Your Life that repotting is a frame of mind, a way of life and a commitment to keep on growing. It is a determination to discover delight in the rich diversity of life. The four steps include figure out if you actually need to make a change, make a plan, be ready to feel uncomfortable, and then commit to it!

Vanderbilt says in Beginners that all too often, adults become content with their accomplishments and stop learning new skills. Moreover, our society disparages being a beginner as something only fit for children. Yet, continually challenging yourself to take on new interests and hobbies is a fantastic way to keep your brain alert. Developing a new skill or cultivating a new talent makes you see the world, and yourself, in a different light – and this will keep you happy and engaged as you age. So go ahead and learn something pointless. There’s a lot of pressure to only spend time acquiring marketable skills, like coding. However, there’s a certain value in learning something just because it brings you joy. Never feel guilty if you spend time on a hobby even if it’s not professional. Why? Just because you enjoy it.

As someone whose had another relapse from my health condition, I’m always having to adjust and repot. How about you, how are you changing your life? Please join in on the conversation by following @howtobe247 on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and subscribe on the podcast, which can be found via http://www.howtobe247.com. 

Please do leave a review if you found this helpful! Thank you to Intelligent Disobedience author Ira Chaleff, whose book I reviewed last week for your lovely comments called it “culturally sophisticated”.

I’ll leave you with Your Ultimate Life Podcast Host, business coach and author of a dozen books including The Book of Context Kellan Fluckiger on turning over a new leaf. See you in two week’s time! 

KELLAN FLUCKIGER: Myths we live with all the time is the idea that external events control our lives. Now it’s true. That things happen around us, that we don’t control the weather. Other people’s actions, you know, the war that’s going on right now in Europe, we don’t control those externalities. But what we do is we allow those externalities to completely control us.

The truth is you and me, we can turn over a new leaf. And what I mean by that is to recreate our life. Anytime we want, I lived 35 years from age 17 to 52, struggling with depression. I never talked to anyone. It wrecked my life. I was married and divorced three times. I struggled with drugs and was self-loathing even though on the outward side I put on a good show, made good money and all that stuff. Finally, in 2007, after 35 years, I completely changed who I was.  Turned over every new leaf in the universe and started over. I walked completely away from the life I had from the industry I was in from all the money I was making and into the unknown to start over because I knew the life I was living was broken.

I was not healthy and doing good. And I knew that the creator had more in mind for me as he does for all of us turning over a new leaf is something we can do in a big way. Like I did there or something we can do day to day and week to week. God always gives us second chances. And the name of that is tomorrow turning over a new leaf.

It’s a blessing. It’s an opportunity. And it’s within your grasp right now.

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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