How to Close a Chapter in Your Life and Open a New Door

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Necessary Endings" by Henry Cloud. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you ready for a new chapter in your life? What are the steps to leaving the past behind you?

If you know that an ending is needed in a particular situation, you need to create structures that encourage you to act. Then, prepare carefully for that last conversation and take time to grieve afterward.

Below we’ll go through the three steps of learning how to close a chapter in your life.

1. Create Structures That Encourage Action

As you try to understand how to close a chapter in your life, you’ll want to create structures that keep you engaged in the process. Cloud notes that it’s easy to lose focus when dealing with difficult situations. Because these situations are painful, we naturally want to focus elsewhere, which can lead us to delay making important changes.

To stay focused on the problem situation, regularly schedule time to work on the problem, and set deadlines for taking action. Regularly scheduling time to work on the problem helps you avoid losing focus, and setting deadlines helps ensure that you don’t delay your endings indefinitely.

It can be helpful to bring other people in to hold you accountable to your decisions. Cloud argues that people who aren’t directly involved are less likely to avoid the problem and can help to keep you motivated.

For example, if you need help ending a dead-end job, you could set a deadline with someone who will keep you accountable, such as a friend, coworker, or family member. While on your own it might be easy to delay putting in your two weeks’ notice, having a friend to call you out can help redirect your focus.

2. Prepare for the Ending Conversation

When it comes time to end a relationship, thoroughly prepare for the ending conversation. Cloud contends that people often go into these conversations underprepared, which leads them to make mistakes that make the process more difficult and confusing for everyone involved.

The first step in preparing for an ending conversation is to set goals for what you’d like to accomplish during the conversation. According to Cloud, people who enter these kinds of conversations without clear goals in mind often end up waffling or letting the other person convince them to change their mind. For example, if you decide to fire an employee whose role has become obsolete, your goal might be to clearly communicate that the employee is fired, while also thanking them for their time at the company and letting them know that you’re open to being listed as a reference. With these goals in mind, it’ll be easier to stay on task in the heat of the moment.

Once you’ve set goals for the conversation, it can help to rehearse. Endings can be emotional, and you may find it difficult to remember everything you wanted to say when the time comes. While it might sound silly, writing a script and practicing it can help you feel more confident later on.

When writing your script, be sure to focus on the problem in the relationship, not the person. According to Cloud, focusing on the other person’s flaws can make them feel attacked, which may result in a heated and uncomfortable conversation. By focusing on the relationship’s issues, you’ll maintain clarity without upsetting the other person as much.

During the conversation, try to balance empathy with firmness. Cloud says people are more receptive to ending conversations when you approach them gently. However, at the same time, take care not to be too gentle, as this might give the other person the impression that you aren’t serious. Don’t be cold, but don’t leave any wiggle room either.

3. Take Time to Process and Reflect

After ending a situation or relationship, take time to process your feelings and reflect on the situation and its ending. Cloud argues that taking time to process your emotions after an ending is an essential part of the process. Processing and reflecting on the situation can help you to learn from it. As you reflect, make an effort to understand what went wrong. Doing so will help you avoid similar situations in the future. 

(Shortform note: While it’s important to reflect on relationships after they end, experts caution against hashing out the relationship with your ex. It can be tempting to meet up with your ex to discuss exactly what went wrong, but these meetings only lead to more conflict, and in some cases, they may even lead you to reopen a relationship that you worked hard to end.)

By contrast, when you avoid reflecting on your feelings, you’re liable to make the same mistakes again. Not only this, but when you avoid processing your feelings and instead choose to avoid them, you’re also more likely to make impulsive decisions to distract you from your pain.

(Shortform note: To avoid making impulsive decisions after ending a romantic relationship, some experts suggest setting aside a period of time to take a break from dating. Taking a break from dating gives you time to focus on yourself and on unpacking your feelings about the ending. Explicitly deciding to stop dating helps ensure that you don’t allow yourself to be distracted by a sudden rebound fling.)

How to Close a Chapter in Your Life and Open a New Door

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Here's what you'll find in our full Necessary Endings summary:

  • That pulling out of a bad situation is the best way to move forward in life
  • How to assess which situations and relationships need to end
  • How to make sure that your endings stick

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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