As we start a new year, many of us focus on the physical things we want to gain—a new job, new house, more money, or six-pack abs, for example. We think about everything that might enhance our lives and create a plan to acquire them.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach—especially if we’re struggling to make ends meet and need more security in life—but I’ve found that equally important is what we choose to let go. In fact, you could argue that letting go is sometimes more important, because none of those things will bring us happiness if we don’t have the mental space to appreciate and enjoy them.
If we’re trapped in our busy minds—lost in our overwhelming thoughts and feelings—no physical thing will ever give us the satisfaction we hope it will. And we’ll end up stuck in a painful cycle of searching for things to free us only to realize nothing external ever can.
I know because this has been my lifelong struggle: how to get out of my head and into the present moment so I can stop mentally torturing myself and enjoy more of my life.
I have a lot of tools at my disposal to help with these things: mindfulness, meditation, and self-care, for example. But like many of us, I imagine, I’ve found it hard to use those tools recently, in a pandemic, with a lot of work and a poor-sleeping toddler—and a second baby on the way, at forty-one!
So this year, I’ve decided to focus on a few of the things that cause us immense emotional pain—all topics covered in the meditation package (valued at $99) I’m now offering as a free bonus with my Mindfulness Kit.
I wrote these meditations two years ago, on topics that have always been highly relevant to me, and I find they’re just as relevant now. Two years later. As I navigate work, parenthood, and a high-risk pregnancy in the time of coronavirus.
I don’t think any of us will ever be able to permanently let go of these things, like we flip a light switch and suddenly we’re completely past these very human struggles. We’ll likely find we make progress at times and fall back into old habits at others.
But I believe a little self-awareness goes a long way. Because every time we recognize what’s going on internally and choose a different response, we create a little freedom to enjoy more of what’s in front of us. Without huge gains or external changes—because in that moment, we have changed, and that changes everything.
So here they are…
4 Things to Let Go if You Want to Enjoy Life More This Year
1. The need for approval
I think everyone struggles with this to some degree, even the most seemingly secure people. We’re social creatures, and we’re wired to feel a sense of belonging to a tribe.
But the need for approval—from everyone, at all times—can be extremely limiting and suffocating. And it just distracts us from what we need to do to get approval where we most need it: from ourselves.
Years ago, when discussing my history as an approval addict, I wrote:
“I’m short. I’m stumpy. My nose looks like a pig’s. My inner thighs touch when I walk. My gums show too much when I talk. I have to change the way I look. Maybe then you’ll like me.
I obsess. I overanalyze. I get caught up in my head. I dwell on things I should let go. I can never simply go with the flow. I have to learn to be laid back. Maybe then you’ll like me.
I’m shy. I’m anxious. I’m dependent on reassurance. I ask for advice way too much. I look for validation as a crutch. I have to be more confident. Maybe then you’ll like me.
Day in, day out, plotting away—that’s how I spent my life. I didn’t like who I was, so I hoped you’d do it for me.
If only you’d tell me I was okay. If only you’d confirm that I didn’t have to change. If only you’d give me permission to be myself. Maybe then I’d like me.”
I think, really, that’s what the need for approval comes down to: we’re looking for permission to like ourselves. To accept ourselves. To embrace our choices. To believe it’s all okay, to believe we’re okay, even if we have room to grow.
So what if we just worked on that instead? What if we recognized every bid for approval from someone else as a need to approve of ourselves—as a call to find the blocks within us that keep us rejecting ourselves?
This weekend I sent a first draft of this post to my long-time designer for feedback. That night I had a panic attack and sent him a ton of neurotic rapid-fire messages, many pertaining to my work here on the site.
When he saw them the next morning, he commented that it was ironic to read the post with those messages in the background. I instantly felt like a fraud and felt this need to hear him tell me, “But it’s okay, you’re struggling and doing your best.”
I felt pretty bad about myself at first, and then I realized I needed to hear those words from myself. So I cried, got all my feelings out, then said them to myself and felt instant relief.
It’s stressful and exhausting—not to mention futile—to try to control people and life, but we do it all the time because we associate control with safety.
If we could just control other people, we think, we could ensure they wouldn’t hurt us, or themselves. If we could only control the future, we could ensure we’d be happy, or at least okay, because we’d know we could handle what’s coming. And ideally, thrive when we get there.
But the thing is, we can’t control people or the future, no matter how hard we try. And trying only creates stress and anxiety, because we end up fighting against the reality that much is simply out of our hands.
The alternative is to trust that it’s okay to allow things to unfold as they will, because even if we think we know best, maybe there’s something better available than what we’re trying to force. And no matter what happens, we will be okay, because we’re strong—and those bumps in the road we’re trying to avoid will only make us stronger.
I wouldn’t have chosen bulimia or depression, or the events that caused my PTSD, but I know I am strong, sensitive, and empathetic because of those things, and they all led me here.
And speaking to my current situation: Recently I find myself trying to control the outcome of my new business venture because I know my partner is going to pitch more kits to retailers in the spring, and that would be incredibly helpful to me as a provider for a growing family.
I’ve put a lot of stress and pressure on myself to try to make it all work out, but I’m trying to remember all the times in the past I had my eye one specific prize only to be rerouted to something equally, if not more, fulfilling. My job isn’t to make things happen; it’s to do my best, see what happens, and then make the best of whatever that entails.
3. Stress and pressure
Building on the last point: Many of us put far too much pressure on ourselves and create a lot of stress in the process. We tell ourselves we need to accomplish certain things by certain times, or hurry up to catch up with other people, or do more in our day because we haven’t accomplished enough to relax.
This creates this constant sense of rushing against time, like there’s a persistent ticking in the background reminding us of the race we’re losing. Like a bomb about to go off, creating this ongoing sense of anxiety that makes it hard to ever truly enjoy the present.
I used to fantasize quite a bit about international travel because in my mind, that was freedom. Whenever I imagined myself strolling through a park in Paris, I was always completely present in the vision, totally immersed in my surroundings and both happy and at peace.
It never occurred to me that if I didn’t practice being present right where I was, I would likely be caught up in my mind when I eventually went there, worried about my work or my bills or my thicker waistline, courtesy of cheese and wine.
And that’s exactly what happened—I smelled the flowers, but not all of them, I tasted the local cuisine but only some of it, because that ticking in my mind was always there. The bomb that might go off if I didn’t think, worry, or stress enough to disable it.
Now, when I sense this inner tornado—this frenzied feeling of needing to be or do more—I remind myself that the freedom I’m fantasizing about is always available to me, wherever I am, but I need to consciously choose it by letting of the pressure. Only I can do it for myself, and I deserve it. I deserve to enjoy life now, regardless of what I’ve achieved.
We all judge ourselves at times and often don’t even realize we’re doing it. It can feel natural to narrate our day with a cruel inner monologue that assesses everything we do as insufficient.
For a while when I was a kid, I used to do this strange thing after speaking—I’d silently mouth the words to everything I’d just said, to scrutinize whether it sounded stupid. I was probably around five at the time, but even at that young age I was constantly afraid of messing up, whether that meant saying or doing the “wrong” thing.
As an adult, this evolved into a persistent fear of accidentally upsetting other people, making a mistake, or appearing somehow “less than.” My self-judgment became a misguided attempt to ensure I didn’t do any of those things so no one else would judge or reject me.
So basically, I judged myself to prevent other people from doing it—which is crazy, because that’s never been within my control. And my own self-judgment hurt far more than the potential for judgment from someone else because it was constant, and in my own head.
Perhaps it’s been more subtle and sporadic for you—an occasional “I’m so stupid, I can’t believe I did that,” or a periodic “I should be past this by now.” And maybe for you, it’s not about protecting yourself from potential rejection, but rather motivating yourself to do better—though it rarely works, because how can anyone do better after making themselves feel worse?
I grappled with this over the weekend when I was judging myself as a fraud. On the heels of panic attack, when I was really hurting and needed my own compassion. So I told myself I’m not a fraud, I’m human. And I don’t need to feel bad about it or hide it. If I want to create to space to enjoy life’s highs, I need to embrace the lows and love myself through them.
That’s what we all need to do: recognize the fears that are driving us when we’re beating ourselves up, find the lies under our self-critical thoughts, and offer ourselves the empathy we want from other people. That doesn’t ensure they won’t judge us, but nothing will, so we might as well soften the blow of that realization by being good to ourselves.
None of these things are easy to let go, and as I mentioned before, it’s an ongoing practice.
So throughout January, I plan to write more detailed blog posts on each of these topics, offering practical suggestions to help us all let go, even when it’s hard.
Also, as I mentioned before, I am currently offering a meditation and EFT tapping package, covering each of these four themes (valued at $99) as a FREE bonus with my new Mindfulness Kit.
These are the only meditations I’ve ever written and recorded, in partnership with EFT Universe Certified Trainer Naomi Janzen and award-winning composer Stephen Fearnley.
Each of the four broadcasts—originally released weekly over a monthlong period—begins with a short chat on the topic at hand, builds to a tapping session to help you absorb the messages and let go, and ends with the guided meditation.
The kit itself includes four aromatherapy-based products, including:
- A Relaxing Pillow Spray (to help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply)
- A Soothing Bath & Shower Gel (to turn your tub into a cocoon of calm)
- A Lychee Flower Scented Candle (with an invigorating smell that’s perfect for morning meditations)
- A Calming Essential Oil Roll-On (to help you create peace and relief anywhere, anytime)
It also includes a daily meditation practice guide and three free expanded digital guides to help you create pockets of peace morning, noon, and night.
You can learn more about the kit here—and if you decide to grab one for yourself or someone you love you’ll get instant access to all four meditation and the three digital guides.
I hope this package helps you find peace, calm, and healing so you can be more present and enjoy more of your life in the year ahead—whatever it may bring!