"I Can't Believe I Hung Onto That For So Long"

forgive moving on release Mar 04, 2024

“I can’t believe I hung onto this for so long.”

What does that mean for you?

I worked with a client, let’s call her Nicole, over the course of a few years. We organized and coached together, and she even attended one of my retreats. She put a lot of effort into making some big changes in her life, and I really admire her for her diligence and hard work.

After years of accumulating everything in her house, like many, Nicole was overwhelmed by too much stuff and not enough organization and systems. Sentimental items were particularly challenging. Throughout our work together, though, she built up her decision-making muscle, she was able to release what she no longer needed or wanted with a lot more confidence and ease, and began to see her vision for her home come together. It was wonderful to witness this shift!

So, after all of this practice…it came time to tackle the garage. It was to the point where she hadn’t parked in the garage for several years. Packed with everything you’d expect, like yard and driveway maintenance stuff, seasonal decorations and more, it was certainly in need of purging and organizing!

Here’s the thing about the garage, though…

Nicole's parents had passed away several years earlier and she and her siblings had gone through the daunting and difficult process of emptying their parents’ house so it could be sold. What remained from her parents' house was stored in Nicole’s garage. She had simply run out of energy to deal with it on her own, so we dug into the project together.

I don’t recall at what point it happened, or what she had in her hands at the moment, but I think it was one of best moments I've witnessed working with her. It was the moment that it all solidified for her. It was when she looked at whatever was in her hand and said:

“I can’t believe I hung onto this for so long.”

I could see in that moment that something BIG had just happened.

Nicole had been working on purging things in her house for several years, and while she recognized that her house felt a lot better afterwards, THIS was the moment that sealed the deal for her. Nicole had truly moved past her need to hang onto physical objects as tokens of happy memories or people she loves.

Reflecting on that moment and her statement later, it really hit me just how many things – well beyond physical stuff – that this can apply to in life.

Take a few minutes to consider these questions for your life…

  • Why am I still pursuing this career, even though it doesn’t excite me?
  • What habit do I have that’s really standing in the way of my progress?
  • Who am I still feeling heartbroken by, even though it’s been years?
  • Who triggers uncomfortable feelings when I hear their name?
  • What’s that one conversation that I replay in my mind over and over again?
  • Why do I always stay at home when I take time off, even though I dream of traveling?
  • Who am I still upset with for that one thing?
  • What relationship pattern do I keep repeating?
  • What do I keep telling myself – about myself – that may not be true?

Now ask yourself…

  • Do I need to continue to hang onto this?
  • What do I gain by continuing to hang onto it?
  • What am I missing out on by continuing to hang onto it?
  • Is this true? What’s another way of seeing this?
  • What would it be like if I stopped carrying that around and simply left it in the past?
  • What new belief or action could I replace it with?
  • What if what they said or did was actually about them and not me?
  • What would it be like if I forgave them and stopped retelling the story?

It’s easy to hang onto our past painful stories when we choose to continue ruminating and reiterating, repeating internally and with anyone who will listen. But what this does is it keeps us stuck in the past and cut off from the future we actually want.

Yes, of course, tell your stories as a way to process and release emotions. Processing with a therapist or coach, with a trusted friend and journaling can all be helpful options. Keeping difficult emotions inside can end up creating even bigger issues down the road. However, it's also important to be able to recognize when it’s keeping you from moving forward.

You can begin by looking at what you get out of hanging onto the story. Do you even realize that you’re continuing to repeat the story? Have you begun to enjoy (whether consciously or subconsciously) the attention that you get when you tell the story? Is it more comfortable to remain with the story than it is to take action towards your goals and dreams?

Think about that. Does it feel more comfortable to swear off dating after a heartbreak than to risk being hurt again? Does it feel safer to continue to complain about how bad your job and boss are than it does to pursue your dream job or business? Does it feel safer to not try again after a so-called failure or to take what you learned and try again?

(If you are dealing with any kind of trauma and feel like you need support in working through everything, then you may consider consulting a therapist.)

When it comes to forgiveness, it’s important to remember that forgiveness is entirely about you. It has nothing to do with the other person. Forgiveness is part of your journey. It's up to you whether you think it would be productive to talk with the other person, however, you can forgive someone without ever talking with them. Sometimes that’s a faster way towards healing.

Try this powerful visualization exercise:

Close your eyes and visualize standing face-to-face with the emotion or person involved. Feel yourself hanging onto a backpack or bag of some kind that is filled with the story, emotions and everything that goes along with it. Notice the weight of the backpack. Then look at it/them in the eye and thank it/them for the opportunity. Share that you're grateful and that you’re ready to move on. Then set the backpack down, and see yourself – and really feel yourself – walking away. Feel the power you have over your life.

We're all working to figure things out. We're each on our own journey and we’re lucky enough to cross paths with each other. Whether we assign a positive or negative value to our interactions, relationships, activities, belongings or anything else is entirely up to us. There are lessons for us each day, and often the lessons are found in whatever generates the strongest emotions within us.

Can you see where some of these lessons may be showing up? Can you see a pattern? Is it possible that this situation was presented to you so that you could finally find your voice? Or so that you can get clear on what you don’t want so that you can become clear on what you do want?

And it's okay to change your beliefs about anything. For example, think about all of the beliefs you adopted growing up about how your life should be as an adult. It’s pretty typical to learn that one goes to college, finds a good paying job with benefits, buys a house, gets married, has a baby… Sounds familiar, right?

Those were my adopted beliefs, too, until they became too uncomfortable. I figured out that I needed my own beliefs, but I had to ask the questions before I could see what I had to stop hanging onto. By releasing the old beliefs and getting clear on my own beliefs, I was able to make space for some pretty incredible stuff to show up.

What I've experienced in my own life, and what I've seen for so many years working with my coaching and organizing clients like Nicole is that letting go of what doesn’t serve you can be hard work, but it's always, and I mean always, worth the effort. It doesn’t have to take years of therapy to get there either. It's possible for it to happen in a moment.

In a moment when you…
…decide to let it go and move on.
…decide that your happiness and your goals and dreams are more important.
…simply stop – the habit, responding, being triggered or getting mad about it.
…choose to do something different.
…realize the past is in the past, and the present and future is where you can make new choices!

Whether it’s physical stuff, an old belief, an outgrown habit or something else, what do you think could show up in your life if you freed up some space?

Oh, and it took some time and effort, but Nicole met her goal of parking in her garage that winter! Once she had that amazing ah-ha moment and released the struggle to hold only the past, the momentum really took off. Now she enjoys having family over to her house to continue making memories.

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