A few weeks ago, I attended a retreat at our college with our new president. Our first speaker asked us to write down on cards stories about our work and our past at the college. After we finished, she brought out a suitcase. Then she asked us to put the stories that were either no longer accurate or no useful into the suitcase and say goodbye to them.
I have to admit that I am someone who usually shuns activities like these at meetings and retreats. But I found this one interesting for several reasons. One, I had been thinking of something similar for myself over the past few months. I wasn’t thinking in terms of suitcases, but I didn’t want to bring old baggage to a new day. Two, as I looked around our group, I was surprised at how much people were writing. For whatever reason, this was not an activity where people rolled their eyes, jotted down one thing, and then checked their phones until the leader called time. There were some strong emotions in the room, and it was clear that they needed to be expressed. Three, even after we put the feelings and thoughts that no longer served us in that suitcase, for some of us, it was still hard to let them go.
Even so, for many of us, the day really did bring a sense of making a new start, and I know that I was not the only one who went home exhausted but energized.
It occurred to me that a version of this exercise might be in order for the beginning of the semester. Let’s make a list of the ideas and feelings that haven’t helped us get where we need to be. I recommend index cards, but any scrap of paper will do. (A word document, unfortunately, will not. Deleting a document doesn’t give the physical effect that you need.)
And in many ways, it’s really not about whether the thoughts are true or false, fact or opinion. The key is that they are no longer doing you any good.
For students, it may be something like this:
- I’m not good at math.
- I’m not college material.
- Professors don’t like me.
- Only losers have to ask questions and meet up with the professors during office hours.
Or it could be more general things that could apply to anyone, no matter what the circumstance:
- My colleagues don’t respect how hard I work.
- I’m too old to change my (career, marriage, location, etc.)
- If everyone would just do things my way, we could get some things done around here.
You get the picture.
After you finish, then take the cards and destroy them one by one. You can burn them. You can shred them. You can rip them into tiny pieces. You can give them to the cat.
And then, you let those thoughts and feelings go. When they reappear (and they will), you just say, “Sorry. I left you at the trash can or at the mercy of Boots’s claws a week back. You’re done.”
There will always be obstacles that get in the way of our goals and our happiness. Let’s not let useless thoughts be one of them.