“You can check your emotional baggage at the curb and aspire to become the gentle warrior or you can carry it on and continue to be the wounded soul." - David Roppo
It’s the last week of January. Now that you’ve had the opportunity to create some new and lasting habits, let’s take some time to clear out the emotional clutter that’s been stored in your mental closet.
What is emotional clutter? Emotional clutter includes things in your past, the regrets of what you wish you would have done or wish you didn’t do, those feelings of rejection, and the pain of insensitive statements made by others and you. They can go as far back as your childhood or be as recent as the last conversation you had with someone.
If you choose to hold on to these emotional experiences, it’s like storing things in your closet. Over time, you hoard these emotions till your closet is so full that nothing else can fit. This clutter can weigh you down and consume your thoughts. It can also cloud your ability to be present, to experience joy, to accomplish your goals, and to dream big.
Here is one way to start reducing that clutter and to clean out your mental closet:
1. Write down a list of thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that weigh you down. Write everything that comes to mind, especially the things that are bothering you emotionally. This includes how you were mistreated and even how you mistreated others.
a. Interpersonal, like disagreements with friends, family, or teammates.
b. Situations, like a poor performance, frustration with a project at work or school, or getting injured in competition.
c. Global, like feeling angry with social injustice or how to manage the covid virus.
2. Reflect on everything you just wrote down. Identify the source of each experience. Then, define how each affect you. This is a way to acknowledge those painful memories and not to get stuck wallowing in them.
3. Compassion and forgiveness. Show compassion for the old you, the one that made those mistakes and got into those situations. Then, find a way to forgive yourself.
Start by write letters that are addressed to yourself and to the other people you mentioned. Say what you need to say and don’t hold back. Then, write how you forgive yourself and others for those actions. These letters aren’t meant to be given out, it’s just a way of expressing yourself and airing it out (cleaning out the emotional clutter).
With some things, you can just let it go and move on. With other things, you may need to resolve it by addressing it head on. This includes being hurt by others and how you upset others as well. These letters can give you the insight and words to speak with people and let them know how you feel. If it feels too scary to talk to them or if they are no longer in your life, writing a letter is a way of having those conversations. The important thing is to be able to express yourself. These letters are a way of closing a chapter and releasing the feelings you are carrying. It’s a way of showing empathy and connecting with your heart.
4. Find the silver lining. Find at least one thing that is positive in each hurtful experience. For example, maybe your coach’s style of critiquing with criticism taught you the importance of focusing on the positive versus always pointing out what went wrong, especially when you are critiquing yourself.
5. Create affirmations to foster change and to counteract negative thoughts. Create affirmations based on what you wrote in those letters. Start each affirmation with “I will…” This puts the focus of your thoughts and actions in the present moment and it creates expectations for the future. If you can live in the present and set your sights on the future, it frees you from getting stuck in the past and rehashing those negative experiences and expectations.
6. When you are ready, sign and date those letters. Then, get rid of them one by one, by tearing them up and throwing them in the garbage, shredding them in a shredder, or by burning them. It’s a physical way of acknowledging and letting go of those emotions.
It’s not easy to change habits and to work through your emotional clutter. Check in with yourself on a regular basis by journaling. Letter writing is a form of journaling that allows you to recognize and acknowledge your emotional clutter, and then to let it go. In this way, you can transform negative thoughts into positive actions. It will allow you to be present in the moment and to be hopeful when thinking about the future!
These actions will allow you to practice patience and mindfulness. When emotions are rooted in negative emotions, behaviors, and experiences, it can be hard to let go. Remember to check in regularly with yourself by journaling. Don’t let your emotional closet get filled up with negative and excess baggage.
The following is a process that will allow you to replace negative thoughts with positive actions. It will also allow you to live life in the present and not in the past.
a. Take time during the day to just breathe and to clear your mind. Shut down the technology, the chatter, the thoughts, and expectations. Even if it’s just for a minute. Find a quiet place to breathe and focus. Apps like Headspace, Ten Percent, Calm, and Work Mindful are phone apps that can help you to clear your mind and take a break. Schedule it in as a consistent part of your day, be it first thing in the morning, a mid-day break, or at the end of the day.
b. Positive messages, pictures, and quotes. Post messages and quotes on the walls in your room, in your bathroom, in your car, in your locker, on your phone, and / or in your car. The more you see it and think it, the more you will believe it and want it.
c. Take time each day to learn something. For student athletes, you are probably thinking that you already do that. DO it the old fashion way, read a book. It can be fiction, non-fiction, whatever. Like taking a moment to breathe, reading a book stimulates imagination, gets you to focus on just one thing or moment at a time, and allows you to take a timeout from the day. Even if you just read a few pages, just take a timeout to learn and imagine. .
d. For non-athletes, remember to get active by getting your 10,000 steps in or by getting to the gym. Getting active is a stress reliever. Even if its as little as taking the stairs each day versus taking the elevator, or parking your car a little further away and walking, just get active! Getting active and getting outside for fresh air and sunlight are the best stress relief and keeps you healthy.
e. Eat healthier. Like posting affirmations, surround yourself with healthy food options. The more you have good food to eat, the more you will be likely to grab something healthy vs unhealthy. This doesn’t mean you have to give up junk food, just balance it out. This can include packing a lunch or cooking a healthy meal a few times a week.
f. Journal. Sometimes, the best listener is you. When you write it down, you can say anything you want. So remember to get it all out there, vent, and release. It’s the one safe space to say anything.
Journaling is a great way to get perspective as well as stress relief. By getting it out, you clear your emotional closet because it will help you to recognize what’s upsetting you, where the source of that emotion is coming from, and how to take steps to find a solution. It helps you to recognize what triggers you, to identify your feelings, to work through and create solutions, and to allow you to stop ruminating on those thoughts and feelings as well. It's that insight that allows you to learn and to move on.
g. Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude each day is a way to increase happiness, manage depression, and to be resilient. An app like 365 Gratitude is a way you can take note of what you are grateful for each day.
h. “Friendships are the sweetest influence.” Remember to make time to spend with those who are important to you. We are social creatures and we need to spend time with others. It helps us to find inspiration and to feed our soul.
In the end, emotional experiences help to defined you as a person. They are the emotional scars that serve as reminders. However, it’s your choice to decide if you wear those emotional scars with pride, the pride that propels you forward, to rise up, and to strive to be the best version of you; or to wear them with shame, guilt, and regret.