The labor pains birthing a new chapter of my life are, quite frankly, making a mess.

As I write I sit surrounded by the detritus of a life that I’m shedding. The drawers of my kitchen have vomited their contents: Among other things, mismatched tupperware lids are sprinkled with paperclips and orphaned mechanical pencil leads, and a stack of blank christmas cards amiably lean on a USB headset that no one in this house has used since 2003. In the center of the pile, Sea-Monkeys drift in the salty ignorance of their gunky plastic tank, oblivious to the chaos around them.

All this junk is preening and posing, waiting to be evaluated, auditioning for a part in my new life. None will make the cut.

It is with great joy and satisfaction that I will be shoving all of this stuff, and much more, into large trash bags and muscling it all into a dumpster. Except for the Sea Monkeys of course, for whom I’ll need to find a suitable foster-home. Because I’m not the kind of mom who would just surreptitiously pour them down the toilet while my kid isn’t looking, and then make up a story about how the Sea Monkey Mother Ship came to take them home. Really.

The thought of being free from the burden of this clutter and crap feels like a re-birth. A fresh start. A time to usher in “Lisa v.2” (Actually more like Lisa v.27, but who’s counting?) I need this kind of renewal periodically. We all do.

Releasing the physical weight of our past allows us to move forward, and spiral upwards through layers of personal evolution. Tweet this!

It seems to me that the experience of re-birth and renewal must be a basic human need, because it’s embedded so deeply in the rituals that have endured in our cultures for millennia. Baptism washes sins away and allows you to be born anew. Catholic confession and atonement clears you to sit at the table again. The ritual bathing and purification of Mikveh, the sage smoke of a Sweat Lodge, fasting of Ramadan, or periodically touching Nirvana with your mind — all these rituals are doorways.

As we step through, we’re swept clean — ready for a fresh start. A second chance.

It’s not just in religion either. Our secular environment has even more opportunities for renewal and remotion, in everything from moving house to the Master Cleanse. Makeover shows, slurry New Year’s resolutions, and the ritual purchasing of new backpacks and clean, hopeful school supplies in August — all bring the hope of redemption.

We need to believe in second chances. That this time, things will be different.

And things CAN be different. The ritual of releasing the past and entering into the future can be a powerful part of the change process. A big, dramatic clearing of the cobwebs can help you draw a clear line between:

The Time Before
The Time After

But it must be done intentionally. (And running away doesn’t count.)

You can launch a “new you” by creating personal rituals for change and renewal.

Here are four tips that will help you harness the power of a fresh start.

1) Timing. Releasing of the old and embracing of the new has to happen at the right time in order for it to work for you. While there are certain times of year that are more natural opportunities for clearing, cleansing and starting fresh (like around the New Year and in late Summer) there is always a perfect time for starting over: When you are sick of your old life. When what is currently happening is the emotional / psychological or energetic equivalent of wearing a heavy, scratchy sweater, it’s time to start dumping your metaphorical Sea Monkeys. (Not really).

2) Intention. You can shampoo your rugs, get a tattoo, do a cleanse, or go to confession and it won’t mean a thing unless you make it mean something. The actions of renewal are hollow unless you put some thought in. So before you start re-arranging the furniture, think about what you are releasing on a symbolic level, and what you want to embrace in this next chapter. This will be most effective if you actually write down the intention of what you’re releasing, and what you’re embracing.

3) Ritual. The power of this moment is the energy of your intention, combined with a meaningful ritual that sanctifies it. Find a physical way to express your intention to release something old and embrace something new. As previously mentioned, there are many opportunities for renewal and redemption built into every organized belief system. If you’re feeling like you need a spiritual experience talk to your Rabbi, Priest or Yoga Teacher and get some direction. But the possibilities are endless, when they’re approached with intention. Everything from taking a long bath, to changing your hair color, to cleaning your house, to planting a garden can represent the physical manifestation of your intention. Figure out what the symbolic expression of your desire is, and go do it.

4) Follow up. While we all need a periodic schvitz – the cleansing and clearing that releases us from the past and launches us into a new plane of existence, we also need follow up. No one wants to hear this, but it’s my duty to say it anyway: Nothing is really going to change your life except changing your daily habits.

Without  tweaking small, daily habits our dramatic, sweeping gestures of change are quickly forgotten and we collapse right back into the old story. So to wring all the power and meaning out of these rituals of change, we also need a plan — a course of action that we’re committed to following that will help intention of the experience last beyond the moment.

That means thinking about the one or two easy daily activities you can incorporate into your new life that will sustain the newness you’ve just ushered in. If you’re clearing out all the junk in your house you can choose to enforce a “one in, one out” rule. If you’ve just done a cleanse you can not eat cheese every day. If you’ve engaged in a spiritual experience you can commit to 10 minutes of reflection time each morning.

You get the point — find ways to make it last, and recommit to this most recent incarnation of yourself every day.  Or at least, until you’re ready for a new one.