8 exercises to help you let go of the things that no longer serve you

Some things work for you for a while and then stop working for you. It is okay to burn these things with fire.

But we are creatures of habit, lovers of the familiar, aren’t we? What we know feels like safety to us, even when it’s no longer serving us.

People change and life changes and the things that make up life change, too:

  • Internal stuff: beliefs, values, goals, duties, obligations
  • Behavioral stuff: habits, hobbies, pursuits, commitments
  • Physical stuff: possessions, ownership
  • People stuff: relationships, roles, groups, connections

When something no longer serves you, that means it no longer helps you move forward in the direction you want to go.

A few reasons something may no longer serve you

Maybe this particular thing never really did serve you, but you didn’t realize it.

It’s common to adopt beliefs and habits and goals and roles as our own because they seem familiar. Because we grew up with them.

You may have a whole set of big, overarching, lifelong goals that – maybe – you’ve never spoken out loud, but you are chasing somehow. They’re in your head, telling you when you’ve missed the mark, when you’ve fallen short.

You may have a whole set of fears and corresponding defense mechanisms, too. Maybe they were relevant at one time. Are they, still?

Maybe this particular thing served you once, but you have changed focus, you’re going in a new direction, and it is no longer helpful.

Maybe it’s something you thought you wanted or needed, but once you got it, Surprise! It wasn’t at all what you thought.

Maybe it was a limited-time item. Like fresh produce. You enjoyed it and benefited from it in the season, but now… It’s old. Rotten. No longer enjoyable or healthy. Time to let it go.

Release what you don’t need anymore

It’s okay to let things go.

It’s okay to admit that something used to work, and now it doesn’t.

It’s okay to change. It’s okay to require change.

1. Think of your many lives.

Think back on your life in terms of major stages.

Most of us live at least four lives in a lifetime: childhood, adolescence/early adulthood, “settled” adulthood, aging-death.

But there are many points of change, and each of these can lead you into a new life.

What are your points of change? How have they led you to a new/distinct life?

Think about the big theme or lesson from each of your separate lives. 

Do you understand it? Have you let it change you? Are you conscious of the lesson? Write it down. Look it over. Think about it. Let it sink into you. Now let it go.

2. Write letters to the significant people in your past.

Maybe you need to explain yourself or forgive someone or say thanks.

You can do this by thinking of the 1-3 most significant people from each stage of life.

Write a letter to each one. You’ll start with an idea of what you want to say; don’t hold back. Be honest, be real. You may find all sorts of stuff you didn’t know you wanted to say. Say it.

Now read the letter over. Will you send it? Maybe. That’s up to you. Maybe you need to say it and release it.

3. Compare desire and duty.

Start looking at every activity in your life and asking if you do it from Desire or Duty.

If you do nothing else on this list, do this. It’s eye-opening.

The next step, of course, is to question the role of duty in your life.

What’s so great about duty? Do you have a clear answer? Does duty serve you? Does duty flow from love? Does it bring creativity and love? (Um, no.)

How do you feel about desire?

Do you feel like it should take a second place in your life? Are you a duty first, then desire if there’s any time leftover person? Why? What has that gotten you? Do you need to be that kind of person? What are your other options?

4. Write out your internal monologue.

Try this once a day for a week or two; not all day, of course, just for a few minutes.

When your head is busy (as it always is), stop and write out what’s going on in there. Go very stream-of-consciousness. No judgment. No hesitating. No grammar rules.

Then take a look at it. What’s it saying? Where’s that coming from? Whose voice is it? Is it guiding you or berating you? Encouraging you or criticizing you?

If you follow the direction of this internal monologue, what will your life be like? If your answer is anything less than joyful, time to rewrite the monologue.

5. Take inventory.

Make a list of any one of these categories:

  • physical possessions
  • beliefs
  • values
  • obligations
  • habits
  • hobbies
  • goals
  • relationships
  • connections
  • commitments
  • goals

Then pretend you have to eliminate 30% of the list.

What 30% do you eliminate? Go with your gut. Make quick decisions. Mark them off. Now, maybe follow through in real life: let some relationships drop, throw some habits out, give away some possessions, get rid of some goals, end some commitments.

6. Choose not to succeed at anything you don’t love.

Success at something you don’t love is not success. It is failure wearing a different outfit.

If you hate your job, say, but you’re ‘succeeding’ at it, are you succeeding at work or are you failing at life? I’d say it’s more the latter than the former.

Success at something you don’t love is failure.

It’s a failure that doesn’t serve you. Even failure at something you love is success. Failure at something you love is you, learning how to get better at this thing you love. It’s skill-enhancing, it’s insight-producing, it’s consistency-creating, it’s teaching and learning and lifting you to the next level. It’s growing you in a direction you love.

What are you currently striving for?

Of those things, what do you actually love? I bet it’s less than 50%.

Maybe 20% of what you’re trying to succeed at is something you love. Want to lose a lot of deadweight in your life? Quit trying to succeed at what you don’t love. Whatever it is. Let it go far away from you. Bless it, release it, and move on to what you do love.

7. Get the weeds out of your garden.

Life is a garden. You plant the seeds and you nurture the plants and you reap the harvest.

A weed is any plant growing where you don’t want it. A weed is any plant producing a harvest you don’t like.

“But it’s producing a crop!”

That means it has worth, right?

Well, yeah, okay, but if it’s not the crop you want, it’s a weed. Other people might value this fruit, but if you don’t, it’s worthless to you. And it’s taking up space in your garden and energy from your soul.

Take stock. What are you planting? What are you growing? Decide if it has a place in your garden. Other people valuing a particular crop does not mean you have to value it.

8. Think about enjoyment versus value.

So, I enjoy eating a bag of potato chips, okay, but I don’t value it.

I value having a relationship with my kids but I don’t always enjoy playing Legos with them.

What keeps you from enjoying the things you truly value?

Ask yourself that question and plunge in deep for the answers and you will find some interesting stuff. You’ll probably find a cache of outdated beliefs and fears and defenses that you aren’t even aware of.

Become aware of them and do the work of rooting them out, naming them, and then SETTING THEM ON FIRE AND WATCHING THEM BURN.

(Too much? Okay. So, bless them and release them or something spiritual like that.)

Anyway, if you do the finding and rooting out process, you’ll open yourself up to a lot more enjoyment of what you value.

You can also do a reverse: ask why you do enjoy the things you don’t value. Another interesting set of questions and answers.

Sometimes it’s a simple answer, like dopamine. But once again, you can ask why. It may be that there’s less real enjoyment than you think.

It may be you seeking the comfort that comes from the habits of familiarity. Nothing wrong with that, but once you understand your motives, you can decide if there’s a better way to get that comfort you want.

Or just eat the bag of chips.

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Photo by Rich Dahlgren on Unsplash

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