New Beginnings in Life: 3 Ways to Accept Endings

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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Why should you learn to accept endings? What are ways to welcome new beginnings in life?

According to Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud, endings are an inevitable and often beneficial part of life. For new, healthy patterns to begin, old patterns must end.

Let’s take a look at the mindset you need to be in to accept that these new beginnings aren’t a bad thing.

Learn to Accept Endings

Cloud notes that people often avoid breaking things off because it can be difficult and uncomfortable. In some cases, you might avoid ending a relationship because you’re afraid to hurt the other person, or you may be uncertain about your decision. In other cases, you may not have the needed skills to make the ending happen.

(Shortform note: Psychologists note that many people avoid endings because they fear the uncertainty that comes with change. Research has shown that in general, people fear unpredictable outcomes even more than they fear known negative outcomes. In addition to the factors Cloud lists, the natural tendency to fear uncertainty can also contribute to hesitancy around endings.)

Regardless of the reason for your discomfort, the first step in ending something and accepting new beginnings in life is getting comfortable with endings in general. To get comfortable with endings, Cloud recommends recognizing that endings are natural, remaining open to unexpected outcomes, and learning to diagnose unrealistic ambitions.

(Shortform note: As a supplement to Cloud’s methods for getting comfortable with endings, experts suggest you make a list of all the benefits of ending a situation. This can help motivate you to make these difficult but necessary changes. For example, ending a relationship might mean you’ll get to spend more time with family and friends.)

1. Endings Are a Natural Part of Life

According to Cloud, endings are a natural part of life. He notes that in nature, cycles that include both endings and new beginnings are the norm—often, the end of a particular season or stage of life is what makes the new beginning possible. He suggests that keeping in mind the role of endings in nature may make it easier for you to accept their role in your life.

For example, consider wildfires. Most often triggered by lightning, wildfires are a natural ending. They’re capable of bringing an end to much of the plant and animal life of large areas. At first glance, wildfires might seem to be wholly destructive. However, areas razed by these fires tend to be especially fertile and hospitable for rare species of plants and animals. In fact, there are some seeds that only germinate in the wake of wildfires—new life that wouldn’t have been possible without an ending coming first.

(Shortform note: While endings are a natural, beneficial part of life, modern society tends to be  ending-averse, especially when endings involve death. However, in Happy, Derren Brown argues that it can be liberating to view death in a more positive light. Brown believes that accepting death can help you live a regret-free life—he asserts that maintaining awareness of your mortality can help motivate you to make the most of the present.)

2. Remain Open to Unexpected Outcomes

As you get comfortable with the role of endings in nature, stay open to unexpected outcomes. According to Cloud, when we enter a business venture or relationship, we often have a single goal in mind—the success of our original vision for a product, or marriage and 2.4 kids with a new partner. When you focus too intently on a desired outcome, it can make it harder for you to adapt to any other outcome. Instead, Cloud suggests altering your expectations—continue hoping for success, but remain alert to the possibility that new products and relationships may go in unexpected directions.

For instance, suppose you’re the entrepreneur behind a new subscription service. Your service combines two elements: You ship accessories like jewelry and cufflinks, and fancy snacks to go along with them, including caviar and imported cheeses. You receive constant feedback from prospective customers, who complain that a jewelry subscription is too expensive, and that they’d prefer an option to subscribe to just the snack box. If you’re too set on your original vision, you might not be able to make the change. However, if you remain open to other outcomes, you’ll be able to pivot, end your jewelry sales, and make a windfall selling standalone fancy snack subscriptions.

(Shortform note: Experts note that social media can lead us to set unrealistically positive expectations for our experiences. According to these experts, people tend to post about exceptionally positive experiences, but not neutral or negative ones. This tendency can warp your perception, leading you to expect similarly positive results from your own experiences. To avoid falling into this trap, experts recommend that you avoid planning every element of your life, and leave room for spontaneity—unplanned experiences that go well will feel more uplifting, as you won’t have any preconceived notions of what to expect.)

3. Unrealistic Goals Prevent You From Accepting Endings

Along with staying open to unexpected outcomes, consider the role that unrealistic goals play in your thoughts about endings. Unrealistic goals are dreams for a particular project or relationship that are unlikely to occur based on the evidence. Cloud argues that by setting your sights on unrealistic goals, you blind yourself to the reality of a situation, making it impossible to determine when it’s time for an ending.

To diagnose unrealistic goals, look at the situation from an objective perspective. If you were a stranger to your business or relationship, would you be able to find reasons to believe in its success? If not, you may have set goals that don’t reflect the reality of the situation.(Shortform note: In addition to keeping you from accepting endings, unrealistic goals can lead you to devote too much energy to an impossible task. In the long term, this can lead you to burn out or get bored and lose focus. To identify unrealistic goals, experts recommend asking yourself if you have a plan for achieving the goal that includes a set of steps you’ll realistically be able to take. If your goal lacks actionable steps, it likely isn’t realistic. To avoid setting unrealistic goals in the future, make sure that any new goals include both a clearly defined result and a plan of action that will get you there.)

New Beginnings in Life: 3 Ways to Accept Endings

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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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