4 Ways to Embrace the Freedom of Letting Go

 

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This week, I made this illustration for the "Freedom" prompt of the 2017 Gratitude Challenge, and it really got me thinking about how freeing the act of letting go really is. But it's also really difficult to do — at least for me it is. I'm pretty picky so when I let a person / thing / experience / idea / behavior into my life, I find it challenging to let it go (even when I know for sure it's no good for me). But, as I say often, it's often the most challenging things that are the ones worth doing. 

Hanging onto the things you no longer need might feel comforting, but consider what would happen if trees clung to all of their dead leaves? Come spring, the brand new (alive!) leaves would have a pretty tough time finding room on the branches. Same goes for us. When we cling to what's no longer enhancing our lives, we block off possibilities for new things to flourish. 

Releasing our own dead leaves isn't always a smooth and effortless process, the way it seems to be for the trees, but that doesn't mean we can't do it. If we want the freedom that comes with letting go, it's up to us to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of letting go. Here are some of the best ways to get started: 
 

  • Determine what you value most. When you take a step back and think about you truly value in your life, you'll realize that much of you're holding on to isn't as essential as you might've thought. What's essential is being healthy, positive, mindful, and living your life to the fullest (or maybe some other things that matter most to you!). If you are clinging to things or people, you're not experiencing true freedom. You're restricted by beliefs that aren't allowing you to thrive the way the trees do in the spring. Stepping back and assessing what really matters to you will make letting go a lot easier.

  • Reflect on what you're really receiving. We often hang on to things or people because we believe they're add value to our lives, that we're receiving some benefit from them (or providing it to them). But is that actually a fact? Are you actually benefiting from the clutter (emotional or physical) in your life, or do you just tell yourself you are because it's easier than choosing change? Reflecting on whether or not a person / experience / etc. is making your life richer can provide you with a boost of motivation to let someone or something go. Of course, not everything in life is about what you get from it, but if something is taking more than it's giving, it might not be worth clinging to.  

  • Take note of what you're overvaluing. Are you placing high value on a person or thing you're holding on to unnecessarily? Are you giving something way more value than it truly has? More often than not, we idealize people or things and tell ourselves that, for whatever reason, we need it/him/her. Needing something is kind of prison; it keeps you trapped in situations that aren't necessarily beneficial for you. If there's a voice inside you saying "let go," it's a pretty good sign that you should let go. What you truly need in your life is never going to be accompanied by a voice that urges you to let go. Listen to that voice — not the one that overvalues what's no good for you as a way to keep you feeling the false comfort of not experiencing freedom. 

  • Be strong enough to release your grasp. It really does come down to two little words: let go. No matter how hard it feels, no matter what obstacles appear to stand in your way, if you want to experience true freedom, you have to be brave and release your grip. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but, honestly, taking action really is the only way to access freedom and make room for new growth. You owe it to yourself to be brave and release what you no longer need. And keep this in mind: the hardest part is the release; once you're brave enough to take that first step, you'll soon see that you're fine without those dead leaves clinging to your branches. 
     

As you're learning to let go, also keep in mind that, deep down, you know what's best for you. If there's a voice telling you to let go, listen to that instinct. You won't hear that voice when you're doing what's right for you, when you're with people who bring you up, when you're connecting with the very best parts of yourself. It's hard to listen to the voice telling you to do the hard thing, but not listening often makes it harder — you'll either remained imprisoned by what you're clinging to, or you'll drag out the letting go process, making it even more challenging when you finally release that grip. 

Let the trees inspire you, and look to them way they let the dead leaves drop motivate you to release what you no longer need. When you let go, you might go through a tough time — a bare-branched winter, like the trees — but that pain will pass, and you'll have made room for the bright, lively leaves of spring when they arrive (and they will!). 

 

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Hooray! It's Gratitude Challenge Season!


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It's the SEVENTH year of this Gratitude Challenge, and I couldn't be more excited to tune my attention to what I'm thankful for throughout the month of November. It's been a bit of a rough year for me, but one thing that has helped me stay positive and present all year long is keeping a gratitude journal (I used my Every Day Matters diary as a way to track gratitude this year, and it worked so well!). Whether things are good or bad, focusing on what you're thankful for makes them even better, and I'll hope you'll join me in the Gratitude Challenge this year and get some of that gratitude goodness in your life. 

This year is going to be a little different for me. As you might have noticed if you follow me on Instagram, I've been doing a lot more illustrating since I got my iPad for Christmas last year. It's been a game-changer for me, and I haven't posted photos on Instagram since the spring. So, while I encourage you to share whatever you want in your personal Gratitude Challenge, I'll be focusing on sharing my gratitude through illustrations. 

 

THE CHALLENGE DETAILS

  • “Challenge” is just a word.

    The goal of the Challenge is to take and/or share something (a photo, illustration, quote, etc.) every day using the prompts to help you feel more appreciative. Feel free to get creative, make up your own prompts, etc. And don’t feel pressured to attain perfection, either. Thankfulness is what it’s all about; no need to be a professional photographer or artist!
  • Join in at any time.

    The point of the Challenge is to focus on staying thankful for thirty days. You can start the challenge on November 1 and do it for the whole month (as I am doing), or you can start the challenge any day that works for you and follow along at your own pace. I see people discovering and partaking in the Challenge all year 'round so don't feel limited to November!

  • Use the hashtag #Gratitude30.

    Sharing your pics on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.? If you tag them with #Gratitude30, others can see them and you’ll be able to see all of the other cool things that other people are sharing. It's one of my favorite things ever to look through all of the posts and see the various ways people interpret the prompts. 

  • Save or print out a reminder.

    Keep up with the prompts by downloading the photo above (save it to your phone, perhaps!) or, if you’re more of a IRL type, print out a version to post wherever you'd find a reminder helpful so you can stay on top of the prompts. Of course, you don't have to do them all in a row, but there is something special about spending 30 days focusing on what you're thankful for. 

 

THE 2017 PROMPTS


Day 1: Beauty

If you pay close attention, you can find beauty almost anywhere. Today, make seeking beauty your goal. Strive to find something beautiful in every situation, and share as much beauty as you can with others.

Day 2: Happiness

What brings you happiness in your day-to-day life? We all find happiness in unique places! Consider, today, what brings you joy and why you find it so enjoyable. 

Day 3: Nature

Nature is one of life’s great gifts. Pay attention to the nature around you today and how it makes you feel. Is there an aspect of nature you feel particularly grateful to experience?

Day 4: Inspiration

Tune into the world around you, and you'll have a pretty hard time not being inspired by someone or something. What inspires you the most right now?

Day 5: Amusement

Laughter is the best medicine, they say, and it's often true. Today, focus on what you find entertaining, amusing, or comical and, if possible, share some of that with someone else!

Day 6: Kindness

When have you experienced (or shared!) kindness this year? In addition to sharing this experience with #Gratitude30, consider adding a kind act to today's to-do list.

Day 7: Comfort

Today, focus on your favorite form of comfort. Do you love the physical comfort of a hug or a blanket, or is emotional comfort (a good listener, wise advice) your go-to? 

Day 8: Self-Love

No matter what you're experiencing in any given moment, the one thing you can always count on is yourself. Spend the day reflecting on your positive traits and embracing the amazingness that is YOU.

Day 9: Feeling

Feelings can evoke positive or negative vibes, but try, today, to embrace all of the feelings you're experiencing, and celebrate both the good and the bad. What's your favorite feeling?  

Day 10: Nourishment

What nourishes your mind, body, or spirit? Today, tune into what provides you with energy, enjoyment, or excitement, and be grateful for the ways they add positive value to your life.

Day 11: Music

As Nietzsche said, "Without music, life would be a mistake." What music are you most thankful for right now? What sounds have shaped your life this year? 

Day 12: Freedom

What are some of the freedoms you're thankful to have in your life? Pay attention today to the activities in your life that make you feel the most free. 

Day 13: Optimism

Attitude is everything, and even if you're not always optimistic, you're likely to have experienced a positive perspective at some point. Today, be thankful for all the times you've found the good. 

Day 14: Challenges

Struggles always make us stronger. Be thankful today for the challenges you’ve encountered, and, if you’re in the midst of a difficult period, be thankful for the lessons you’re learning now.

Day 15: Health

This is one almost always makes gratitude lists, and for good reason! Reflect on (and be thankful for!) all of the ways in which your mind and/or body is working well today.

Day 16: Creativity

Regardless of whether you consider yourself a creative person, you've created your life up to this point so far! Today be grateful for your own abilities or those of someone you admire. 

Day 17: Memories

Staying present is usually ideal, but that doesn't mean you can't be grateful for good moments in your past. Focus on one of your favorite memories and be thankful for the opportunity to have experienced it.

Day 18: Home

What comes to mind when you see the word "home"? Home can be so many things — a place, a person, a feeling. Whatever the word means to you, take time to embrace the comforts of home today.

Day 19: Friendship

Friendship is priceless, and today’s the perfect day to be grateful for the loving, supportive relationships in your life. (And to say "thank you!" to your friends!)

Day 20: Innovation

The world is filled with amazing innovations (especially in the realm of technology!) that make our lives better. What innovation are you most thankful for in your life right now? 

Day 21: Love

Love comes in so many shapes and forms, but regardless of how it arrives, it brings with it a bit of magic. Today, be grateful for every bit of love you've given and received (and share more today if you can!)

Day 22: Awareness

Staying in the moment is tough a lot of time, but try carving out some time today to be fully engaged in something — your work, a conversation, a moment in nature — and appreciate how it feels to do so.

Day 23: Family

Regardless of whether, for you, "family" means blood relatives, a partner, your friends, or all of the above, it’s a wonderful thing to have. Be thankful for your family-filled moments today. 

Day 24: Solitude

Not everyone loves alone time, but it's often during time spent alone that we grow closer to understanding ourselves. If possible, spend some time alone today and be grateful for the solitude.

Day 25: Generosity

What was the last thing you gave or received? The generosity of others is something to be thankful for (and you can pay it forward by being generous to someone else today!).

Day 26: Wonder

Out of all possible scenarios, here you are, in this life, being you. Spend time today pondering the wonder-filled things in your life, and be thankful for all that's wonderful.

Day 27: Meaning

We choose what we give meaning to, but meaning itself is something we should all be grateful for. Without it, life would be pretty hard to get through! What means the most to you? 

Day 28: Peace

In today's crazy world, peace isn't always easily attained, but reflect, today, on the last time you felt truly at peace. What made you feel peaceful? Could you recreate that feeling today?

Day 29: Knowledge

If you're truly living, you're probably always learning. Use today to reflect on what you’ve learned (maybe focusing on the past year) and share some of knowledge with #Gratitude30.

Day 30: Growth

Consider all of the ways you've grown in the past year. What growth have you experienced recently? What growth was most important? Be thankful for your ability to keep flourishing!

 

I'm so thrilled to be doing this challenge for the seventh year, and I can't wait to see all of your photos and creations this year! As you might know from social media / previous posts, I'm currently recovering from surgery (ugh!) so I might not be as on top of it this year as I've been before, but I'll be doing my best — and I'll definitely be checking on the #Gratitude30 hashtag for inspiring and uplifting content as I recover! 

 

    

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Mastering Mindfulness (No Meditation Required!)

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When many people hear the word "mindfulness," what comes to mind is a serene-looking yogi chanting mantras softly from atop an embroidered cushion. Many people equate mindfulness with meditation — a nice activity to aspire to, but one that, for a variety of reasons (time, cultural expectations, etc.), often feels unattainable. Meditation, while it does offer many incredible benefits to those who practice it, isn't the same as mindfulness. Meditation can be a wonderful way to cultivate a more mindful life, and with its rise in popularity in recent years, there are tons of sites and apps to guide those interested in it, but mindfulness is about so much more than meditation.
 
Mindfulness isn't just about deep breathing and motivating mantras (though those can be wonderful!). Mindfulness is, as Masters of Mindfulness founder, Monica Ortiz, says in this video, "just about being present, about being aware of where you are, what you're doing, how you're feeling, what you're thinking, and what's going on around you without being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on."
 
Of course, we all know that's way easier said than done. Staying in the moment, being aware of what's happening but not feeling reactive or overwhelmed, is really challenging for most of us. It's so difficult, in fact, that most of us would rather not do it, choosing instead to hurry through our days, numb ourselves from awareness, or distract ourselves so we don't have to master the art of being mindful. 
 
But, as with most things in life, it's the really challenging stuff that offers some of the greatest benefits. Here are just a few of the positive things that mindfulness has been proven to do: reduce stress, offer insights into the self, discover deeper a understanding of life, experience better health, enhance job performance, improve relationships, and enjoy how we're spending our time. If mindfulness offers so many benefits, why are so many of us avoiding it? 
 
The reasons for avoiding mindfulness are plenty, but one of the main reasons, I believe, is that people don't know what to do to be more mindful. Mindfulness requires practice and repetition. It's kind of like exercise. We know it's good for us, but some of us aren't interested in going for a run. The thing is: running isn't the only way to get some exercise, just like meditation isn't the only way to practice mindfulness. 
 
When it comes to mastering mindfulness, the trick is to find what works best for you and incorporate it into your life as often as possible. You might have to play around a bit, trying different activities to see what feels right for you. Here are some ways you can play around with adding more mindfulness to your life. 
 
 
SEEK OUT INSPIRATION
 
You're already on the right path, just by being here on Positively Present! Seeking out inspiration is a great way to connect with a mindful experience. Just think about the last time you saw or read or experienced something that made you feel inspired. It caused you to stop for a moment and reflect, didn't it? Inspiration can be anything — a stunning piece of artwork, a glorious sunset, a smile on a child's face, a quote that feels like it was written just for you at this exact point in your life. Whatever inspires you, seek it out often because every time feel inspired, you're mindfully in the moment. 
 
 
GENERATE MORE GRATITUDE
 
Practicing gratitude might sound like cliched advice, but, trust me, it works. Nothing has helped me more in my quest for a positively present life than learning to be grateful for everything (even the not-so-great parts of life). I've been keeping a gratitude journal consistently for the past year (in my Every Day Matters diary!), and I've seen a huge difference in how I feel about the world around me (and about myself too!). There are many ways to practice gratitude, but a gratitude journal is an excellent place to begin. 
 
 
MONITOR YOUR MOOD
 
Paying attention to your mood is one of the best ways to not only be more mindful, but to use that mindfulness to create a more wonderful life. Knowing how you feel in certain circumstances, around certain people, and when doing certain tasks allows you to make adjustments — to include more of the positive aspects of life and to remove more of the negative aspects — and, while these adjustments aren't always easy, it's amazing what you can do when you remove what's not working. Get yourself a mood tracker, and you'll find yourself becoming more mindful of how everything makes you feel. 
 
 
REVERE RELAXATION
 
Relaxation isn't exactly revered in Western culture. It's usually reserved for vacations and lazy Sunday mornings. But learning how to relax leads to great moments of mindfulness. For many of us, relaxation can actually be really tough. We feel like we should be doing something. One way to give more reverence to relaxation is by surrounding yourself with things to sooth your five senses — soft melodies to listen to, calming scents to take in, comforting items to touch (a dog's fur is my favorite), serene images to look at, and foods that make your tastebuds rejoice. Make time for relaxation and you're making time for mindfulness. 
 
 
 
These are just a few of the many ways you can practice mindfulness without meditation (though meditation can be really amazing so definitely give it a try if you haven't!). There's also a great new app, Masters of Mindfulness, that's an excellent resource for exploring a variety of mindfulness techniques. The app includes everything you'd ever need to master mindfulness all in one spot: a mood tracker, a gratitude journal, healing songs, mindful living videos, upspirations (inspirational quotes with insights on applying them to your life), and, of course, meditation! Mindfulness isn't about adhering to one strict idea of what it means to stay in the moment; it's about using the techniques that work best for you so you can reap the benefits of being more aware of what's happening in your life. 
  
 
 
Blog-post-marketing-imageThank you to the new Masters of Mindfulness app for sponsoring today's post!
 
Masters of Mindfulness is the world's most complete mindfulness app, now available on iOS and Android. The app brings all the tools you need to become a master of mindfulness. Meditate with others in a live stream meditation, or on your own time with a library of recorded meditations. Track your Mood daily and discover what is affecting you negatively / positively and become empowered to change things up. Cultivate positivity through your very own Gratitude Journal. Relax and destress with healing songs in the Soothing Sounds section. Browse Upspirations, quotes meant to inspire, and learn how to apply them to your situation. Enlighten and expand your mind through video interviews with health and healing practitioners, mindful living teachers, and more in the Videos section. This app has everything you need to cultivate mindfulness.
 
Visit their website to learn more about the Masters of Mindfulness app, or download the app to get started today and watch your world change!