Ever hung on to something too long- and regretted it later?
You know what I mean- pants that no longer fit, a worn out toothbrush, that jar of pickles in the back of the fridge?
I hung on to my trash can from college.
Seriously- for like 20 years. Pretty weird, right?
The truth is I couldn’t bear to part with it. It symbolized my youth and my independence. It was way more to me than just a cheap trash can.
And it worked pretty okay for us- that is until we got Red, our sweet, curious and energetic new pup. True to his nature, Red can’t help but get into all sorts of messes.
Then it happened- it was spaghetti night and Red got into the trash. Ughhh….what a mess!
He was running around. Footprints of sauce were everywhere. I was pretty sure he would throw up any minute.
Something had to change fast- either Red or the trash can.
So a quick search online (and lots of paper towels later), Amazon hooked us up with an awesome new trash can. It’s complete with lid, lock and it looks beautiful. No more red sauce all over the kitchen!
And bonus- we now spend way less time in general dealing with trash (apparently, trash can design has come a long way in the last 20 years).
Listen, we all do this kind of stuff.
No- not hoard trash cans.
We hang on to things that no longer serve us well.
What worked okay then– is now a source of pain today. Sometime it’s obvious, other times these things dangerously seem ‘harmless’. But when you hang on to the old ‘trash cans’ in life, you’ll find yourself in a pattern of wondering why you keep having messes to clean up or life seems like such a hassle.
We must let go of unhelpful old habits and replace them with new, healthy ones if we are going to grow.
I know, I know- easier said than done.
In truth, silly as it sounds, I cringed at the first thought of a new trash can. Most people simply do not like change. But in the end, my quality of life has improved far greater than the pain of my ‘loss’.
My trashcan story may seem trivial, but here’s the deal- life lessons are often presented in the smallest things first (the trick is to learn them before they get bigger!).
You see, we’re all in this life to learn, to grow and ultimately to love. Examining ourselves, being brave and reaching out to others is part of that process.
If you struggle with frustration or getting out of a cycle, life can be better.
Let go of four destructive patterns and replace them with healthy ones. It can completely transform the way you approach relationships, work, and life.
In fact, if you really embrace these ideas you will see relationships improve and you will feel an increase in your overall happiness. I can personally attest to this.
#1 Let go of Resentment- Replace with Forgiveness
We all have hurts. Little hurts and big hurts. It’s hard to let go of feelings. Sometimes anger and resentment is obvious. Other times it’s been stuffed so deep within, we try to forget about it. But here’s the truth- anger weighs us down. It’s drinking poison and expecting the other to die. It affects your relationships and your life in very negative ways.
Practice forgiveness. Forgiving is not saying that the act was “okay”. It’s saying “I let go”. Call up the person in your mind. Get what you need “off of your chest” (journaling and prayer can help). Forgive and mentally ‘cut’ the cord of resentment as you send them love. Believe me when I say this- this is for YOUR benefit, not theirs. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.
#2 Let go of Shame- Replace with Courage
Shame is the intense feeling of being unworthy. That something is wrong with who we are. It’s destructive and unproductive. Feeling sorry or convicted about what we’ve done wrong is vastly different than shame because it can lead to personal growth. Shame does the opposite- it hides in darkness and secrecy. It feels awful and weakens us.
Addressing shame seems counterintuitive, but courage is the antidote. Bring your story into the light, where shame can not hide. It takes tremendous courage to be vulnerable with who we are- especially if shame has weakened us with fear. Everyone has a story and yours matters. Find someone who you can talk to you- often that becomes lifting others who are struggling with issues you’ve walked through yourself.
#3 Let go of the Need to Control- Replace with Presence
Most anxiety is fear of the unknown. We get trapped in over analyzing the future or concerns with ‘what if’s’. It starts with the need to control our environment, but unaddressed anxiety can get out of control. People griped by the clutches of anxiety feel tormented by sleepless nights, physical pains and racing thoughts. It can feel impossible to see a way out.
I want you to hear this loud and clear- Anxiety can not live in the present moment. It lives ‘out there’ in concern for the future. Let go of the need to control things around you. Practice presence. Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises help. Notice the little things all around you and in the people you love- a new freckle on your son’s nose, the way the sun hits your husband’s face. It takes practice being here NOW, but it is, after all, the only time life happens.
#4 Let go of Criticism- Replace with Gratitude
We train our mind to look for certain things around us. Complaining and criticism can become nasty habits. It’s one thing to ‘vent’ to a friend about a bad day, but when it becomes the norm, it’s no longer venting- it’s destructive. Criticism attracts negative emotions, which takes a toll on our health and well-being. Arguably the worst symptom of criticism, however, is the negative impact it has on our relationships.
Try going a week with no complaining or criticizing. Seriously. See how it impacts your relationships. I’d bet money you see improvement within a couple days. Replace that void in your mind with gratitude. What can you be thankful for in each moment- there’s always something- fresh air, a living body, a roof over your head. Gratitude is a muscle- you need to exercise it.
Listen, I know these are big ideas.
I also know that if you put just one of these into action, you will see incredible things happen in your life. I mean, seriously- think of how much better life got for me just by replacing a stinky old trash can.
You can do this- but clarity comes from action – not thought.
So I challenge you to commit to one thing that you can put into action immediately.
Then, share this article with a friend and let them know what you’re working on.
In fact, if you have any friend whom you feel like this could help, share this with them now. I would greatly appreciate it and this just may really give them the encouragement and spark they need.
Change is possible!
Focus on progress, not perfection.
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From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here-
Jenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX. She offers counseling services, courses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.