I know the start of 2024 was a few weeks ago, but I still feel January is a great time to do a bit of a review. A life review if you like. Doesn’t have to be heavy, but one of the questions I ask clients quite often is whether they can let go of what no longer serves.
What does it mean?
I’m not sure of the history of these words, but I’ve been particularly aware of them since I started seriously practicing yoga. The concept was introduced during a class a few years ago and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since.
As we go through life, we accumulate all sorts of things. Stuff, behaviours, values, duties, experiences, dreams, unfinished projects, feelings about people, plans……. the list is endless. And, for many of us, all of these things have been useful to us at some point. As they fade into the background, they’re somehow just popped into our back packs that we end up lugging about with us.
At some point, we realise that this back pack is really heavy, and actually, we don’t even know what’s in it. There’s no real filing system, nothing is colour coded, it’s just a jumble of our ‘life’.
I’m not suggesting that we just get rid of our treasured memories and experiences. But, a bit like the loft, there will be things in there that are really not useful to us in our current life. We could probably do with a turnout and sorting into keep, or release. It’s well documented, that when we’ve done this, we can feel lighter, more productive and more open to new experiences.
How to identify what no longer serves?
I hope you can tell by the phrase that this is quite a gentle process. I’d encourage you to be respectful in the process as it can bring to mind many memories and emotions. And, like in that loft clearance, it’s absolutely fine to have a pile marked ‘not sure’ and come back to it later.
Identify the things that no longer serve. Commonly, these exist in areas of your life where you feel stuck or unfulfilled or where you experience some kind of conflict. An example might be that you’re bringing up your children in the exact same way that you experienced in your childhood. Whilst much of this might be very valid and useful, the context changes.
For me, the idea that everyone watched TV together in the evening (unless I was studying or out doing something else) no longer really applies. With streaming, fibre and other technology, many families spend much less time together in one activity these days (even if they’re in the same room). It’s a personal choice as to how you ‘do’ your family, but I’ve really had to reconsider this aspect in mine.
Notice patterns. Do you ever wonder how you ended up here again? Feeling the same emotions or frustrations and recognising that they’re very familiar and have the same outcomes? What is it that you’re doing, saying, experiencing that lead to this unsatisfactory outcome? Is it habit? Is it comforting, if painful?
Catch your thoughts. Often, our thoughts are automatic and based on our past experience. ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly enter that competition as I’m no good at…..’ I can give you a great personal example here. When I was about 8, I was the lead in a school production – until they heard me sing.
Then, I got swapped out for a minor role because another girl could sing better. Well, ever since, I’ve believed that I can’t sing! To be fair, it’s never really held me back, tho I’m always the one whispering at carol concerts, but you can see how this might have impacted my life!
Notice what depletes you. Where in life do you feel exhausted? Is it with a particular relationship? Maybe it’s your job? Perhaps patterns of eating or drinking? Whilst all of these things may bring some element of pleasure, perhaps ask, ‘is it worth it?’ If you are losing more than you’re gaining, then it might be time, to find a way of redressing the balance.
How to release what no longer serves?
I want to start by saying that letting go doesn’t mean cutting it out for ever. It might just be that you don’t need it for now, so don’t need to desperately hold onto it ‘just in case’. Sometimes, it can feel to scary to let go altogether in one go, so perhaps take small steps to start with and trying life without it.
- Once you’ve identified something that you’d like to release, imagine what your life would be like without it. If it’s a person, how would it feel if they were no longer there? If it’s a behaviour, what would it be like without the emotions attached to it? Sometimes, this can give you a real feel for whether or not it’s time to release. Identify an ideal situation about this thing. Imagine a future where this issue is resolved; where you are no longer driven to include this in your life. What’s it like? What benefit are you getting from this new way of life?
- Allow yourself to be authentic. Be honest about how useful this thing is. If it’s bringing more pain than value, but there’s something about it that you really like, notice why it is that you need it. I’m thinking of situations I know of where a particular relationship is based around lots of ‘games’ and drama. Whilst these are very damaging, sometimes, the individuals don’t know how to not follow that pattern of behaviour and feel that to change might risk everything. Being honest about this is so important, or returning to the behaviour is likely.
- Where you feel you do still get some value from something, but feel it’s time to move on, find something else that can give you this value. For example, can you get your dopamine hit from exercise instead of that chocolate? Maybe you don’t need to see that particular person every week?
- Practice the new feelings – it can take time to change. We’re often tempted to go back to what we know, but when we’ve practiced the new way, we notice how much better life is. When I decided not to eat meat, or the byproducts (as much as possible), my values of animal welfare were what drove me to make the change. Whilst I do sometimes miss that roast chicken, I’m still committed to knowing that I’m not eating animals. I absolutely respect everyone’s right to decide this for themselves – and it’s been tricky at times (especially in the early days when vegetarians were a bit of an oddity), but it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it gets, I’m able to stick to my values. Having said that, if at some point in the future it’s necessary to challenge this value, I’d like to think I could
- Be open to new opportunities and possibilities. Nature doesn’t like a vacuum. If you stop doing one thing, something else will want to take its place. This can be a way of identifying something which no longer serves as well as turning our attention to something more positive in life. ‘If I wasn’t doing this, what could/would I be doing instead?’ Just imagine…….
- Sometimes, simply making a commitment that no less than 80% of your life will be living in a way that serves your life’s journey will show you the way.
- Finally – ask for help where needed. Whether this comes from the universe, your priest, a coach or your best friend, sometimes getting an external perspective on things can help. Other people can often highlight areas that we’re unaware of, our shadow side.
If some of this feels overwhelming at the moment, doing it in small chunks can make it feel much more doable. That elephant doesn’t have to be eaten all at once.