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You know how when you go on vacation and you somehow end up having way more stuff when you head home than you did when you left your house? Life’s kinda like that, too. We tend to pick up baggage as we go through life, and, just like when you bring home random souvenirs, if you don’t sort through it and get rid of what you don’t really love, you end up with a bunch of junk that you’ll drag around from house to house for no other reason than the fact that it’s been in your closet for years and it feels easier to just pack it up than to think about whether or not you actually want it.
That attitude isn’t all that problematic when it comes to souvenirs, but when it comes to emotional baggage, dragging around what doesn’t add value to your life will really weigh you down. And, just like the idea of sorting through mementos, the thought of sorting through emotional baggage can feel like such a daunting task that it’s sometimes easier to just put it off. But, unpleasant as the sorting might be, the longer you put it off, the more you’ll have to sort through.
Just as we’ve all likely accumulated a wide variety of knickknacks, we all carry a unique set of emotional luggage. Sorting through it all is an individual experience; it’s something we each have to do for ourselves, in our own time. But I thought this week I’d talk a little bit about five kinds of emotional baggage many of us are carrying around — suitcases of inner burdens that make each of our paths a little bit more difficult to travel.
The first bag we could all benefit from setting down is the past. Yes, there’s value in remembering what’s happened so that you can learn from it, but dragging it around with you doesn’t serve much purpose. Like it or not, the past is over. What’s done is done, and you cannot go back (no matter how much you might want to at times!). Recognizing this — acknowledging the past, learning what you can from it, and letting it go — is one of the best ways to lighten your emotional load. Having a hard time letting go of the past? Read this (super old!!) post, Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Past?, that I wrote when I was really struggling with letting the past go.
The next load of luggage we need to set down is a negative attitude. For many of us (including me!) negativity feels like safety. Imaging what could go wrong (or noticing what is going wrong) can feel like a form of self-protection, a way to cope with (or potentially prevent) bad things in life. But focusing on the negative aspects of life is like lugging around a bag of rocks while trudging up a mountain — all it does is make your journey more difficult. No matter what you’re experiencing in life, focusing on the negativity will always make the situation worse. Check out 5 Reasons to Nix Negativity in Your Life, and you’ll realize how important it is to set that bag down.
Want to lighten your load even more? Then it’s time to let go of guilt. The concept of guilt is closely tied with the past, but it’s not quite the same. Even if you’ve done your best to let the past go, you might still cling to guilt, feeling as if you deserve to lug around the blame for something that’s happened, even when you know it cannot be undone. Guilt is a waste of time, and what is life, really, but doing what we can to make the most of the time we’ve been given. If you’re struggling to let go of guilt (or understand why you should), read the post (with a video!) I Don’t Feel Guilty (And You Shouldn’t Either!).
Letting go of expectations is essential if you want to carry around less weight. Expectations (both of ourselves and of others) often lead to a lot of stress and strife, and quite frequently you don’t even realize how much they weigh you down. They might seem like something beneficial — guidelines that should you what you do and don’t want — but they are heavy. It’s not until you begin setting them down that you realize down cumbersome they are. Struggling with the weight of expectations? You might want to read Love Without Expectation or Why You Need Lower Expectations.
Finally, something many of us carry around that we really need to set down? Others’ mistakes. The past of others might not seem like something you’re carrying, but you’re likely doing so without realizing it. Whether it’s parents, siblings, colleagues, friends, or children, many of us drag around the weight of what others have done (either because we feel partly responsible for it or because we’ve been hurt by it), and, just as with our own pasts, the pasts of others cannot be undone. Do yourself a favor and set that extra weight down! (Not sure how to separate yourself from the baggage of others? Check out Preserving Your Perimeter: 4 Steps to Set Boundaries and Live and Let Live: How Detachment Can Improve Relationships.)
Setting down one (or all!) of these things is no easy feat, but the effort it takes is so worth it. Life is a tough climb sometimes and lugging around extra weight only makes the ascent more difficult. These five types of baggage are the first that came to my mind, but I’d love to know: what else would you like to set down? Let me know in the comments below!