How to Drop the Extra (Mental) Weight and Set Yourself Free

“Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Most people I know are carrying extra weight—and I’m not talking about gaining a few pounds.

I’m talking about the mental and emotional weight we lug around with us. We carry it everywhere—like a backpack full of bricks—and it weighs us down.

Personally, much of my extra weight comes from the expectations I have for myself to be more—more present, more productive, more enlightened. Although these might be wonderful things to work toward, wanting to be more can easily translate to not being enough now.

In that way, each desire to be more than what I currently am equates to a few more bricks in my backpack. An extra load to haul around on my back, making life a little harder to navigate.

For me it happens to be expectations, but our habits can weigh us down too. Watching television that doesn’t nourish our souls, eating foods that don’t nourish our bodies, and holding on to thoughts that don’t nourish our minds. The effects add up.

And let’s not forget the hand-me-down beliefs. Beliefs like “Good things don’t happen to people like me,” or “I’m just not lucky in love.”

Or the old memories we replay, or the feelings we refuse to feel that bubble under the surface.

They are all heavy, needless weight.

So what?

Maybe you’re wondering, what’s the big deal? So what if you’re a little weighed down; it could be worse.

Or maybe you’re thinking that backpacks and bricks go hand-in-hand with responsibility. It’s your burden to bear; best to suck it up and carry on.

You certainly can go about your life with your backpack loaded up. The weight is rarely debilitating—and that’s exactly when it can be most harmful.

It’s when we are carrying a little extra weight but we are still functional, we become complacent, content, or “fine.” We become used to the extra weight, we tell ourselves its part of life, and we stop noticing it.

But make no mistake: examined or not it’s there, on your back, making everything you do harder. Casting a shadow on your spirit. Making life less fun and less joyful than it was meant to be.

The Impact of the Weight

The weight from those bricks is what distinguishes children from adults.

It’s in how we move. Have you noticed how adults often hunch over a bit? They are struggling under the weight of their invisible backpacks.

The way they sometimes slog to work, schlep through the grocery store, skulk to the gym, as if they are literally dragging themselves through life?

How often do you see children schlep? Not very often, I bet.

Children bounce. They stand up a little straighter, walk a little lighter, look a little freer. You can see the difference from a mile away.

It’s in our laugh, too.

The weight from those bricks (yes, the ones you think are “part of life”) is what transformed your laugh from the deep, loud, belly laugh you had as a child, to the chest-up, shallow, copycat version you often hear from overloaded adults.

The weight from those harmless, “it-could-be-worse” bricks is also what keeps you up at night. It’s what keeps pharmaceutical companies in business.

It’s what led you to miss the subtle change in the air between September and October, and the way your dog gets so excited when you enter the room.

For me, my bricks are responsible for that rush to fire up the laptop first thing in the morning when there is so much to love in the raw, unscripted morning routine with my family. My bricks lead to me to feel stress where there is none and make choices that feel like self-betrayal.

Becoming Lighter

I can’t say for certain—and I sure hope I’m wrong—but there’s a good chance you’re wearing a backpack with at least a few unnecessary bricks in it.

Are you ready to take it off?

Step one: Open the backpack and take a good look at what’s in there.

What are those bricks, anyway?

They are different for everyone. What are your bricks?

What specific judgments, limiting beliefs, painful memories, unchecked thoughts, harmful habits, or denied emotions are in your backpack?

Take them out. Go ahead, it’s safe. Dump your backpack on the floor like a bag of Halloween candy. Spread the bricks out so that you can see everything.

Sort through them, just like you would with your trick-or-treating loot. Just like you might make separate piles for the chocolate, the gum, the quarters, the stuff you want to trade and the stuff you want to just throw away, do that with your bricks.

Your Good-People-Do-X bricks? They go over there where you can dig into them and explore what they’re all about when you have the time and energy.

The Must-Work-My-Way-To-The-Top-Of-The-Company bricks? They go in a different pile. Maybe they are grouped with some Hard-Work-Is-Noble bricks, or some Respect-Brings-Security bricks or some What-My-Parents-Always-Wanted-For-Me bricks.

Your I’m-Not-Loveable bricks—perhaps they go into their own pile, a pile you don’t want to touch just yet. That’s okay.

Taking stock of what is in your backpack is a big step. Sometimes, just knowing what’s in there lightens the load. Start with opening the backpack and taking a good look inside.

Step two: Let go of the bricks you can let go of now. Leave the rest for later.

Since I’ve opened, dumped out, and sorted through my own backpack, I’ve been able to let go of several bricks.

I have totally released my I-Should-Have-The-Perfect-Diet-And-Exercise-Regimen bricks, and my It’s-Not-Fair-That My-Dad-Is-So-Difficult bricks. As heavy as they were at one time, they are long gone now. They don’t weigh me down at all today.

There are other bricks of which I am fully aware, but I still carry from time to time. Bricks like Good-Moms-Love-Playing-With-Their-Kids and Time-For-My-Hobbies-Takes-Away-From-My-Family.

I know these bricks are still in there. I acknowledge them when I feel them weighing me down, and I have faith that my awareness is enough for now. That someday I’ll be able to fully leave them behind, but that day is not today.

I’m sure there are still more bricks weighing me down that I haven’t uncovered yet. I don’t know any human being with perfect brick awareness.

For those, I simply trust that when they are ready to be released, they will become heavy enough to catch my attention.

As long as I’m doing my part by staying aware, I will become aware of those bricks when I’m meant to.

Step Three: Remember that the bricks aren’t real.

Those bricks in your backpack aren’t real.

This might feel like a moot point because they feel real. We treat them as if they are real, and we behave as if they are real.

But they aren’t. You can’t literally spread them on the floor. You can’t physically weigh or measure them.

They are just perception—just thought. Like all thoughts, they come and go, wax and wane, feel consuming and then float out of your mind just as swiftly as they floated in.

When your thinking changes—which it always does with time—the weight of the backpack changes. When you see things in a new way, or you have an insight, or you gain new awareness, you just might realize that what felt like heavy bricks are actually more like foam bricks.

Or like imaginary bricks. They aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, as long as you remember that they aren’t real.

So when you are feeling particularly weighed down, take off the backpack and dump it out. Do what you can with what you see and set the rest aside. And remember, even the ones that feel very heavy are fleeting.

Photo by apparena

About Amy Johnson

Dr. Amy Johnson is the author of several books, including The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit. She is also the creator of The Little School of Big Change, an online school that helps people find lasting freedom from habits and anxiety. Please go here to get a free sneak preview of the school.

See a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it!