What Does It *Actually* Mean To Let Go Of Anything That Doesn't Serve You?

Photo: Joanna Nix

In autumn, there's a lot of talk about releasing anything we don't need before the year's end. We are told, "Like the leaves on the trees, just let things go."

And...then what? Will the patterns that have plagued us really be gone, just because we "let them go"? What are some practical steps we can do to actually release the things keeping us from changing our lives—the old, tired stories about how we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or outgoing enough, or whatever enough.

When just saying "I'm letting go" isn't enough, here are some approaches helping me let go of my old, heavy stories this season:

1. Spend some time digging up your stories.

You may already be aware of some of the ways you are holding yourself back, but diving into your own darkness and shadows will definitely help you discover some new patterns. Mid-autumn is the ideal time to do this work. The energy is all about turning inward, looking inside. I’m using Debbie Ford’s book The Secret of the Shadow to really dig in to uncovering my stories. You can also just spend some time journaling and asking questions like:

  • How do I hold myself back?
  • What stories do I tell myself when things go wrong?
  • What's something that's fallen apart in my life? In what ways did it feel like my fault?
  • When I get down on myself, what do I say? What insults run on repeat in my mind?

I have to warn you: It can be pretty intense to see a list of all the hurtful things you say to yourself sitting right in front of you. But when you start understanding what some of your stories are, you begin the process of recognizing how ridiculous they are. And mean. And, at the end of the day, totally untrue.

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2. Love yourself like it's your job to do so.

Decide that this is your work right now. That's the only way to begin to actually, concretely, let go of all the crap you carry around.

In perfect seasonal timing, in autumn we enter the feminine/yin/dark side of the wheel of the year, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This energy is about really taking care of yourself—nurturing yourself in a deep, powerful way. Our work in the coming months is to rest and use this darker time to heal. Your spirit needs you to be gentle and compassionate with yourself right now. Take hot baths, get massages, sleep whenever you can, snuggle up as much as possible, read good books. Whatever you need to nourish your soul right now, do that. And don't judge yourself for a single ounce of it.

3. Embrace your shadow.

There's a flip side of this self-care coin too. You also need to acknowledge that your "mean brain"—the one whispering those abusive things all the time—is a part of you, too, and you can't just wish her away. When you try to ignore these parts of yourself, they only yell louder to try to get your attention.

So if you want to release the old stories you tell yourself, really let go of the ways you hold yourself back, you have to truly embrace the part of yourself that’s doing all the yelling. Think of her like she’s just a super scared little kid, too.

4. Remember this work takes time.

Creating real change and healing on a deep, soul level takes time. Often, it can feel like nothing’s happening. But I have found that when you stop daily to tell yourself, "You are safe. You are strong and brave. I see you. You are protected and supported. I love you," profound shifts can occur. Integrate these daily practices of journaling, acknowledging your dark side, and celebrating your light, and one day soon you may come to realize that, all of the sudden, your stories aren’t standing in your way anymore.

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Here's what this actually looks like in practice.

Here are a few practical steps you can take to integrate these principles into your life this fall:

1. Spend time journaling on the questions above, studying how the answers play out in your life.

2. Plan a lot of self-care over the next few weeks and months. This means putting weekly baths on your calendar and scheduling a massage (or two!). What makes you feel deeply nourished? Commit it to your schedule so you're more likely to actually do it.

3. This season, adopt a new mantra like, "Self-care and rest are not lazy. I am doing important, powerful inner work." Write this down, and place it somewhere you can see it. It's so easy to tell yourself that you don't deserve to take a break every once in a while, but taking time to slow down allows you to keep moving forward.

4. Practice being an observer to whatever feelings, emotions, needs, stories, etc., emerge from the darkness this winter. When you feel judgment start to creep in, pause, take a breath, and tell yourself, "Shhhh. It’s OK. You are safe. I love you. You are strong and brave. You are protected and supported."

This four-step mental and physical cleanse will help you further ease into fall.

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