Letting go of what no longer serves you can be liberating on more than one level. It frees up physical, mental, and emotional space, allowing better things to come into your life, and bringing about positive change.
The act of letting go of irrelevant can be quite challenging. This is especially true about the stuff we are heavily invested in emotionally.
Excessive attachment to people, things, and situations can have you holding on tightly to deadweights. You don’t want to let go because they seem irreplaceable, and the thought of losing them forever is just unbearable.
To live this way is to fill your life with unnecessary suffering ― making you sweat the small stuff.
Detachment is essential for cutting off beliefs, habits, people, and physical possessions long past their usefulness and purpose.
You probably already know all of this, but like many people, you might not know how to release yourself from the clutches of all this “expired” stuff.
Fortunately, you’re reading this post, and if you stick with me to the end, you’ll know exactly how to discard every irrelevant thing that is sapping you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
In addition to helping you understand why letting go of what no longer serves you can be hard, I’ll share a few exercises to make the process a tad easier.
Here’s Why It’s Hard to Let Go of What No Longer Serves You
First, why is it so hard to release what no longer benefits us? Why do we hang on to things that aren’t working or serving any relevant purpose even when we know we should let go?
Here’s the thing.
Research shows that all humans (without exception!) are creatures of habit. We love familiarity.
Our brains prefer routines because repetitiveness creates a certain level of stability, conserves energy, and is necessary for our survival.
Imagine driving your car for an entire year, but each time you get behind the wheel, it still feels like the first time!
Your life will be incredibly chaotic if you don’t have established routines or function on autopilot most of the time.
That said, habits can have adverse effects if they are bad.
And holding onto things that are no longer beneficial to you, bring you joy, or are worth sticking with is an unhelpful habit.
Besides, the emotional investment in the stuff you’re holding onto is another strong reason for not letting go. That’s to say, in addition to forming a not-so-helpful habit, you’ve also created a strong bond with the things you’ve outgrown.
This makes it difficult to release them from your experience, whether “them” here refers to people, physical possessions, thoughts, or habits.
The good news is that anyone can develop and practice detachment. You only need willingness, determination, and a little bit of patience with yourself.
Sings You Should Let Go of Something
Like most people, you probably have many reasons to hang onto people, memories, thoughts, and things that once meant so much to you.
But think of these things like the precious toys you had as a child.
You had fun playing with the toys, and they helped sharpen your motor skills as well as expand and explore your vivid imagination as a kid.
However, that’s all in the past.
You no longer need the toys, and it will be out of place to hold dearly to them as an adult, don’t you think?
Analogies aside, here are 5 concrete signs it is time to let something go.
- It is holding you back from taking risks and growing. This is especially the case with outdated beliefs and values.
- It no longer inspires or motivates you. Instead, it feels like a chore and drains you.
- It is broken or has stopped working. This applies to physical possessions as well as relationships in the present moment.
- It causes too much physical, emotional, and mental stress and is simply not worth all the effort.
- It feels like settling for less than you’re worth. And deep down, you know it is time to move on to something better and look toward positive change.
Identifying What No Longer Serves You
It is okay to discard what no longer works. Some things may have worked well for you in the past, but it is okay to discard them when they stop working or outlive their purpose.
How do you identify these things, though?
Here’s an exercise I recommend. Make a list of the major areas where changes are likely to occur as you grow and develop.
Common areas to consider are:
- Physical stuff: material possessions
- Emotional connection: relationships, groups, roles
- Behavior: hobbies, habits
- Internal stuff: goals, values, beliefs, obligations
Once your list is ready, ponder over each item on the list and ask yourself: “Does this help me to move in the direction that I want? Is this aligned with the current vision I have for my life?”
As you can imagine, this isn’t something you want to do when you are short on time.
Find a quiet place and convenient time to reflect on the “excess baggage” in various aspects of your life. You can even do this exercise in more than one session.
One more thing:
Consider making this exercise a yearly routine. This way, you won’t hang on to irrelevant stuff for too long before discarding them.
How to Let Go of What No Longer Serves You
Letting go of what no longer serves you can seem daunting or overwhelming if you don’t adopt the right approach.
For example, attempting to immediately cut off all negative people out of your life in one fell swoop or quitting your boring job (without having another source of income) can be a grave mistake.
Even if you’ve identified the things that need to be released, it is important to gradually decrease your attachment to them while steadily gaining your footing.
The following steps explain less radical and more realistic ways to release what no longer serves you.
1. Make Peace With Letting Go
Nothing lasts forever, not even the people, things, and circumstances that once meant the world to us!
Realize that you will have to drop some things ― in fact, many things ― that will stop resonating with the various stages of your growth. It is okay to leave those phases behind as you continue developing and healing.
Although nostalgia can creep in and make it harder to let go, remember that holding on to irrelevant things can prevent you from reaching your full potential. This is especially the case with A toxic relationship, a toxic friendship, and an uninspiring job or role.
Bottom line: Accept that letting go is a normal part of growth and the highest good.
2. Express Gratitude for the Experience
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Don’t bite the finger that once fed you.” That’s solid advice!
A person, thing, or experience may no longer resonate with you, but that doesn’t mean there were completely useless.
Whatever you want to discard or release probably once had a huge positive impact on your life, no matter how brief. Acknowledge the benefits, good feelings, and positive experiences you got from this thing you are letting go of.
And here comes the hard part. Be grateful for the not-so-good experiences, too!
I understand how difficult it can be to acknowledge, appreciate, and honor negative experiences, but these things helped shape who you’ve become ― a stronger, wiser, and better person.
For example, your job may have become unexciting over the years, but it once helped you pay the bills. You may have a boring marriage now, but once upon a time, it helped you experience unspeakable joy!
Bottom line: Avoid the mistake of railing against what no longer serves.
3. Let It Go!
Once you’ve acknowledged its role in your experience, you’re ready to release what no longer serves you.
Discard some possessions or consider gifting them if you’ve outgrown their purpose but feel someone else might find them useful.
Forgive those who’ve hurt you and move on, walk out of toxic relationships, end friendships that are no longer uplifting, and withdraw yourself from mundane roles and commitments.
Make a commitment to give up unhelpful habits. Easier said than done, right?
I get it.
Dropping old and unhelpful habits can be challenging, but an effective technique is to focus your time and effort on forming new, helpful habits that will replace the old ones.
I recommend checking out this post for suggested mini-habits that can have significant positive effects on your life.
4. Express Your Emotional Pain
Letting go of what no longer serves you can create a sense of loss, and that’s painful. This is particularly the case when you release the things that were once a huge part of your life.
If you feel like it, go ahead and cry, get upset, or express your grief in some way. Don’t pretend about your feelings, and avoid bottling up your emotions.
Attempting to be “mature” about emotional pain often leads to anger turned inward, which is the same as self-resentment.
That said, be sure to find closure in a healthy manner.
Bottom line: Reasonable grief is not a sign of weakness when you experience loss or let something go. Instead, it lets you safely express your emotion.
Suggested “Letting Go” Exercises
If “leg go” sounds a bit too vague for you, you’re not alone. To make things more practical, here are a few suggested exercises you may want to try.
Choose to Fail at What You’ve Outgrown
Here’s one of my favorite definitions of failure: Failure is not a lack of success at what you love; it is succeeding at what you don’t like.
Read that again!
It doesn’t matter if it is a job you detest or a relationship that saps the life out of you; if you are succeeding at it, you are failing at life.
Here’s what I propose:
- Take some time to reflect on what you are striving for in the various areas of your life.
- Next, ask yourself what you truly love out of all those things.
- Lastly, honor your experiences from the deadweights, and quit trying to succeed at them.
Reflect on the Many Stages of Your Life
We go through several stages in life, from childhood to adulthood. Each of these stages brings lessons and changes.
When you do this exercise, you can quickly discover what you’re still hanging onto from a stage you’ve long outgrown.
To do this:
- Grab a pen and paper (writing in a journal is usually better because you can always come back to review your self-reflection notes).
- Mentally review the various stages of your life to identify and write down the themes, lessons, and changes that came with each stage.
- Now ask yourself: What did I learn? Are the lessons and changes still valid in my current stage?
- Finally, release the themes and changes that no longer suit the direction you want your life to go.
Eliminate “Stuff” in Your Life on Paper
If you’re stuck about what to let go of, you are probably overthinking things. Here’s an exercise to help you quickly decide what to release from your life.
- Make a list of “stuff” currently in your life. Let your list focus on only one category, for example, material possessions. (You can repeat the exercise for hobbies, goals, relationships, and other categories).
- Go through the list and mark off irrelevant items as quickly as possible. Don’t stress too much about what should go and what should remain; you are only eliminating these things on paper, not real life (at least for now).
- Once the elimination process is complete, carefully look at your list. Would your life move in the direction you want it to go if you actually eliminated these things in real life? The choice is ultimately yours, but if you went with your gut and marked out an item on your list (when you weren’t overthinking things), that item probably doesn’t have a place in your life anymore.