Rick Hanson, PhD is an author and teacher about the inner skills of personal well being, psychological growth and relationships. He explores the important of lightenening your load and avoiding picking up unnecessary new burdens.
On the path of life, most of us are hauling way too much weight.
What’s in your own backpack? If you’re like most of us, you’ve got too many items on each day’s To Do list and too much stuff in the closet. Too many entanglements with other people. And too many “shoulds,” worries, guilts, and regrets.
Remember a time when you lightened your load. Maybe a backpacking trip when every needless pound stayed home. Or after you finally left a bad relationship. Or just stopped worrying about something. Or came clean with a friend about something that had been bothering you. How did this feel? Probably pretty great.
Sure, we are no longer nomadic hunter-gatherers whose possessions could be carried in one hand. You know what you really need in this life; personally, I’m glad about good friends and a full refrigerator. But all the extra physical and mental stuff you lug around complicates your life, weighs you down, and keeps you stuck. There’s enough weightiness in life as it is without adding more.
Putting this subject in a larger framework, consider the Hindu idea that God has three primary manifestations: Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer. I can’t do justice in this brief space to this view, but the simple notion that works for me is that there is a lawful and beneficial principle in the universe that is about pruning, emptying, completing, and ending.
This positive “destroying” – very broadly defined – enables creating and preserving, like exhaling enables inhaling, or emptying a cup of something bitter enables filling it with something sweet.
Dropping loads enables lightening up.
In general: Lay your burdens down. And rarely pick up new ones.
Now the details: Pick some place of storage – like a bookshelf, drawer, or corner of a closet – and clear it out of everything you no longer truly want or absolutely need. Give it away or throw it away. Notice how this feels – both anxiety and positive feelings. Sometimes we fear we will sort of blow away in life if we don’t have a lot of stuff. Then focus on the positive feelings and open to a sense of reward in dropping things you don’t need. Keep going with other stuff you don’t want or need, both at home and at work.
Take a hard look at your obligations, responsibilities, and tasks. Maybe write down a list. Ask yourself: do I really need to do all of these things??! Open to that voice of wisdom in you that’s telling you what you can afford to drop. Open to a sense of freedom and autonomy: you get to decide what makes most sense to do, not the “shoulds” yammering away inside your head. Decide what you can give to others to do – and get them to do it. Decide what you could stop doing, whether others pick it up or not.
For a period of time (a day, a week, a year), do not take on a single new major obligation. Regard all new activities, events, and tasks as “guilty until proven innocent” – toss them in your backpack only if you are certain you truly want to or absolutely have to.
Consider your relationships. Which ones feel weighty, entangled, encumbered? Then consider what you could do about that. Could you step back? No longer engage certain topics (e.g., intractable health problems, conflicts with third parties, the past)? No longer perform certain roles (e.g., problem-solving, quasi-therapist, dating advisor)?
Take a look at your mind: what weighs it down? Guilt about long-ago misdeeds? Needless anxiety? High, perfectionistic standards? Grumbling anger? Grievances? Passivity, lethargy? Doubt? Taking yourself way too seriously? Whatever it is, for a brief period of time – half an hour, half a day – totally drop it. At the first whiff, drop it. See what that’s like: probably pretty great! Then ride that great wave of relief and lightness and continue dropping those lead weights in your mind.
Overall: if in doubt, throw it out.
Play with feeling lighter in your body. As if you are lifted up by invisible helium balloons. Lighter in your step. Your head lighter on your shoulders.
Lighter in your heart.
See Rick’s podcast Being Well.4