We spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to be happy—but do you ever think about what holds you back? Here are 7 things to let go of if you want more joy in your life this year.
The past decade has taught me a lot about letting go. As a minimalist, I’ve decluttered over 80% of my belongings, and it has been life-changing.
But honestly? That was just the beginning for me. Ultimately, it was letting go of certain thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that had the biggest impact on my happiness.
It hasn’t been easy, and I’m still learning every day, but I can say with confidence that I’m happier than ever before. Here are seven things that you can let go of to make space for a brighter tomorrow.
This post is based on my lived experience so take everything with a grain of salt—and please seek out professional advice if you need it. Take care and thanks for reading!
7 Things To Let Go Of In Life
Pretending you don’t care when you really do
When I was young, I learned that an easy way to protect yourself is to pretend you don’t care—because if you don’t care, nothing can hurt you.
It’s a simple strategy that works in the short term, but ultimately, you pay a hefty price. In exchange for what’s usually temporary feelings of safety, you give up hopes, dreams and meaningful relationships.
For example, in college, I had almost no friends. I didn’t go to parties on the weekends or catch up for coffees on campus.
Of course, it hurt and deep down, I desperately wished for the college experience you see on TV. But the thought of putting myself out there and possibly being rejected was unbearable.
So instead, I worked two jobs and told myself I didn’t have time for friends. I was bitter, angry, and I resented everyone—but at least I avoided the sting of rejection.
Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to open up my heart and be honest with myself. Yes, it means I get hurt sometimes, and it’s never fun.
But you know what? It’s better than the alternative: settling for a life half-lived.
Goals that don’t serve you
At any given time, I’m sure you have a long list of goals that you’re working towards.
You want to buy a house, you want a promotion, you want to lose weight, you want to remodel the kitchen—maybe this list doesn’t resonate with you, but regardless, I know that you have some goals. Or, at a minimum, you have thoughts about who you should be and things you should do.
But where does that list come from? Is it a reflection of the life you truly want for yourself? Or is it a reaction to external expectations and arbitrary rules that do nothing but cause you stress and anxiety?
Ultimately, that’s a question you have to answer for yourself. There are no right or wrong answers, but I encourage you to take a long look at the goals you’re striving for. Ask yourself, why am I doing this, and who am I doing this for?
You might find that you can make your life so much easier and more enjoyable by simply deciding what things to let go of.
Feeling guilty about self-care
We all know that self-care is important (or at least, I hope that you do!) But how often do you act on this belief?
Are you really able to switch off and take care of yourself? Or do you spend most of your “me time” feeling guilty and thinking about all the other things you should be doing?
I’ll be honest and admit that I was definitely in the second category for most of my thirties. (And before that, self-care wasn’t even in my vocabulary.) I wanted to put myself first, but it was just so hard to do with work and kids.
But you know what? My 40th birthday isn’t far away, and with it, I’m noticing a shift. I know that I deserve self-care—and it’s not because I worked hard to earn it.
Instead, it’s because I’m intrinsically worthy. After all, I don’t ask my children to earn my love, care and respect. So why should I treat myself any different?
Related Post: Doing Less + A Lesson in Self-Worth
People-pleasing is when we repeatedly sacrifice ourselves to make other people happy. And theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with being kind and living in service of others.
But in reality, we have to ask ourselves where this desire comes from. Is it truly an act of generosity? Or is it because of low self-esteem, fear of rejection, or a trauma response?
For me, my people-pleasing was often rooted in perfectionism and insecurities. I wanted to prove to the world that I could “do it all”, and I thought that people would like me if I just worked harder.
But you know what happened? The more I did for others, the more they expected me to do (especially at work). Of course, I’m sure this isn’t the case for everyone, but for me, it was a cycle of working to the point of exhaustion followed by constant burnout.
I’m not perfect, but I’m slowly learning that saying no and setting strong boundaries is better for everyone. I’ve become intentional about what I commit to, and as a result, I bring my best self to the table when I do.
I believe that happiness comes from living true to ourselves. Sure we’ll make mistakes and stumble along the way, but even when life is far from perfect, it’s comforting to know that we’re playing by our own rules.
This is why constant comparisons are a problem. When we spend too much time thinking about other people’s lives, we lose sight of what matters. Instead of living in a way that reflects our own hopes, dreams and values, we start following someone else’s playbook.
And that, my friend, is a game you can’t win.
So sure—look around and let others inspire you with their lives. But if you start to feel like you’re losing yourself, it’s time to let go and stop comparing.
Letting fear of failure hold you back
“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd.
Of course, no one likes failure. It’s not fun to try new things and fall flat on your face (especially when you fail in public). But do you know what’s almost always worse than failure?
Regret and settling for less than you know you’re capable of.
And look—I know this is one of those things that gets thrown around on inspirational posters. But I promise that it’s more than just fluff.
I’ve spent half of my life taking chances and the other half playing it ridiculously safe. I know that failure can be painful, but at least it’s proof that you’re alive. You’re trying, and even if you only hit the mark a handful of times, those are wins you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
And by the way—I know that risking failure is easier when you have support and people or resources to pick you up again. Unfortunately, the world isn’t very fair, and the stakes are higher for some people than others.
But at a minimum, we can change the narrative. Let’s stop mocking people who try and miss the mark. Instead, let’s celebrate the stumbles and then watch as this shift in beliefs trickles down to our own lives as well.
Related Post: When Life Gets Hard: 6 Things Your Soul Needs to Hear
The ‘either or’ mentality
Generally speaking, the ‘either or’ mentality believes that everything in life is black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. I’ve struggled with this, and it has led to a lot of unnecessary stress and conflict in my life.
Here are a few examples of what the ‘either or’ mentality looks like:
- He either comes to see me tonight, or he doesn’t love me.
- I either succeed at this new project, or I’m a complete failure.
- You either support me 100% on this decision, or you don’t believe in me.
Do any of these sound familiar? I used to tell myself stories like these all the time (and in full disclosure, it’s still something I still struggle with).
But slowly, I’m learning to hold space for the duality of life. Someone can cancel plans and still love me unconditionally. I can fail over and over again while still making progress. He can believe in me and still have questions or need clarification about our plans.
Of course, there are some things in life that aren’t up for debate (like basic human rights). But in our daily lives, we need to stop jumping to conclusions and at least start considering that life has many shades of grey.
What Things Do You Need To Let Go Of?
I hope this list inspires you to think intentionally about letting go. Of course, there are nuances to life, and not everything here will apply to everyone.
But ultimately, it’s a starting point, and I encourage you to look at your life with fresh eyes. What’s moving you in the direction of happiness (whatever that looks like for you)—and what’s holding you back?
If it’s something that you can control, then why not take a step in a different direction? It might feel small or insignificant at first, but day by day, month by month, year by year … the choices we make weave the fabric of our lives. Make yours bright and beautiful.
Let us know in the comments—what things will you let go of this year?