This lesson is divided into three sections, letting go of what no longer serves us, decluttering our thoughts and cultivating gratitude. To heal we need space, both mentally and physically. Think of a crowded room, you can’t redecorate or enjoy the full space if there is no room to move. The first step to clearing space is to start unlearning things that stop us from following our dreams.
I’m unlearning everything I know that is unhealthy for me. It’s not easy. I make mistakes. I get tired and want to give up, but I feel like deep inside me is this warm shining light that is slowly burning through this heavy, darkness I have acquired. When I think of myself just four years ago I can see how much I have grown and that helps me stay focused.
So, what have I unlearned?
- Money is the Key to Happiness! I’ve unlearned the false idea that material wealth makes me happy. I learned that retail therapy doesn’t help me, but makes me feel worse. I’ve unlearned the screwed-up idea that money will buy happiness.
- Those in Power Know Better! I’ve unlearned all the hateful words my peers preached to me during our school years. I know the reason they were mean was because of their own pain and anger.
- Finding Your Soulmate Is All You Need! I’ve unlearned the idea that I must be in a sexual/romantic relationship to be happy.
- A Makeover Will Cure Everything! I’ve unlearned the lie that I must be thinner, prettier and strive to look flawless.
It won’t always be obvious what you need to unlearn. The easiest way to find out is to start with one aspect of your life that causes you a lot of stress. Search out new ideas on that aspect and see if anything resonates with you.
Part One: Practice Letting Go
Like most people I want to experience everything in life! I want to be a part of everything, travel everywhere and learn everything. I spent most of my life doing what I could to get it all. I failed. After stressing out about not having everything I finally realized it’s because I can’t. I don’t have time to do it all and see it all because when I try to do that I end putting less effort into that which is most important to me. In place of having it all, I feel guilty for not having enough time to really thrive in areas of my life which are most important. I spread myself too thin.
Are you spreading yourself too thin as well? It’s time to slow down and decide what is most important to you. Focus on less and you will succeed more on what’s important.
Use these questions to guide you in letting go of what is not important so you can focus on what is important.
- What do I love?
- How can I spend more time on that?
- What am I willing to give up?
- Why do I feel the need to have everything?
- Am I happy racing to have it all?
- Take deep breaths and be mindful.
The choice is up to you. How will you enjoy your one and precious life?
Part Two: Declutter Your Mental Closet
I spent a lifetime gaining stuff, not nice quality stuff, just stuff to fill my closet. Things cluttered up my life along with millions of thoughts that I never had enough. Does this sound familiar? Below are my most common thoughts that have cluttered my brain and pushed out the loving, clear and innovative thoughts I really believe.
Thoughts to get rid of:
“I’m Not Good Enough.
“If Only I Had….”
“Why Am I Such a Failure?”
“Why Is Everyone Else Happy All the Time?”
Now be still and be mindful. Are these thoughts helping you or holding you back? While it’s important to be realistic, negativity, doubt and anger are clutter that keeps clear and innovative thoughts from shining through.
One trick to changing your thoughts is using proactive and kind words. You need to train your brain to think positively. “Positive” does not mean you need to be a constant ray of sunshine. Teach yourself to steer clear of thoughts that fill you with doubt in regard to areas of your life where you thrive. Negative thoughts that devalue your characteristics, natural talents, skills and accomplishments are not helpful.
Write the following statements in your journal:
CHANGE “I’m not good enough” to “I’m great at (insert your strengths/skills).” or “I may not be an acclaimed author yet, but I’m learning how right now and that’s good enough.”
CHANGE “If only I had…” into “I actually do have (insert item/action).” or “I know that I can work towards what I need.”
CHANGE “Why am I such a failure?” to ” I’m successful at (insert your accomplishments).” or “It’s okay to fail, even as often as I do. What matters is that I will keep moving forward.” or “I believe in myself, I trust myself, I love myself.”
CHANGE “Why is everybody else happy all the time?” to “I will not compare myself to others.” or “It’s okay to feel unhappy sometimes.” or “What is bothering me and how can I fix it?”
*Another trick to change your thoughts is to ask if the thought is valid. If it’s not than remind yourself what is true. A fun practice is to write down negative thoughts on a piece of scrap paper and either tear it up into the recycling bin or burn it in a safe manner.
Declutter your actual closet too! Think of how hard it is to find something to wear when your clothes are scattered across your room, shoved in drawers and laying on the floor of your closet. (If you’ve NEVER had a messy closet, then think of a time and place when you had to search for something in a bunch of clutter.) Once you’ve picked up and organized your clothing it’s easier to see what you absolutely love to wear and what needs to go.
You don’t have to be a minimalist and I’m not encouraging you to give away all your material belongings. For me doing a regular spring cleaning of my material belongings has allowed me to live a healthier life. By only keeping what I need, use and cherish I’ve become less interested in the retail game. How much do you consume each day? Take a good look and be honest with yourself. Consumerism stems from ‘consume’ which is defined as “to use up a resource”. I don’t want to be a uncaring consumer! In our quest for good mental health we also must be conscious of the health of our world. The more resources we use up, the less healthy we all will be.
One of the ways I declutter is by putting things I don’t use in a box near my door. If I haven’t used it in a few months than I probably don’t need it. I can then either donate it, give it away or recycle it. This keeps my drawers free of clutter.
Part Three: Cultivate Gratitude
I like cultivating gratitude because it reminds me of what is good in my life. Being grateful keeps me from complaining as often and keeps me out of my head when something negative happens. A research study at Indiana University in 2015 showed that gratitude can have long lasting effects on our brains. “Subjects who participated in gratitude letter writing showed both behavioral increases in gratitude and significantly greater neural modulation by gratitude in the medial prefrontal cortex three months later.” (2) Knowing that practicing gratitude would help me stay in a more balanced mood for longer periods inspired me to use more gratitude in m daily routine.
- Write 10 things you are grateful for today, last week, last month, and last year. Display your list somewhere you can see it every morning. Use a dry erase board or a piece of paper. You can even put it in a nice frame and put it somewhere visible. Start your day off with a reminder of what is going right in your life. You can also put a list up at work about what you are grateful for in your career if you often have negative thoughts about your job. I like to have a list on my phone to read throughout the day.
- Choose only ONE thing you are grateful for and focus on that. Think of how this one thing has caused ripples in your life. Create a map of gratitude in your journal.
- Take turns sharing gratitude with a friend or in a group. Share gratitude on social media or in a private message and ask what others are grateful for today. I’m part of a group on Facebook named ‘Today I’m Grateful For…’ and people around the world post their gratitude. I love how it helps me feel connected to the larger global community. Occasionally someone who is struggling with depression shares their story and this reminds me that I’m not alone in cultivating self-care.
- Write a gratitude letter to someone you love or admire. Keep it simple, but let them know how much they mean to you. Send the letter!
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