Trimming the Dead Branches

I live in a sea of 1950’s ranch brick homes with tall aging trees. Colorado sunshine can be relentless in the summertime and these trees bring welcome relief from the heat. They also bring other emotions—namely worry—if you’re my husband, Randy.
A few months ago we had high winds sweep through our neighborhood and a large branch from one of our backyard trees fell into our neighbor’s yard. Now, Randy had been talking about getting the trees trimmed for months—and probably worrying about them for longer. Knowing that the branch falling into our neighbor’s yard could have been worse was the push he needed. He vetted 3 contractors and hired the one who painted the most beautiful vision of our trees’ potential while effusing passion for his profession.
Today, to the discerning eye, our trees have been thinned, and are now even more lovely to look at. No more dead limbs hanging loosely taxing the trees and subtracting from their natural beauty.
And come this summer, the sun will shine through the branches, and our garden will get the sun it needs to flourish.
This experience got me thinking about what I could trim from my life—primarily personal thoughts, feelings and actions that aren’t serving me. You know, the ones getting in the way of true happiness, joy, meaning and fulfillment.
Here’s what I decided to cut out starting now:
  1. Downgrading compliments.

    I’ve been recuperating at my sister Shelagh’s in Michigan while my house in Colorado is undergoing mold remediation and a rebuild. The other day Shelagh paid me a compliment and unfortunately, my first reaction was to minimize her words. In essence, my reaction said, “No, you’re wrong.“ Upon leaving my mouth my words hung heavily in the air. It hit me how annoying it must have been for her. The next time she said something nice I responded happily with an “I receive” and this put a large smile on both our faces.

  2. Compulsive apologizing.

    This one has been ingrained in me for decades. Years and years ago I played soccer for my high school division 1 soccer team. I was the only girl on the team. If I didn’t do a drill correctly, I’d automatically say to the coach, “sorry.” No one else apologized for their shortcomings during practice. Halfway through the season the coach pulled me aside and told me to stop apologizing, to which I apologized. This need to apologize runs deep! Today I swap “sorry” for “thank you” which feels so much lighter.

  3. Indulging in “I don’t know.”

    The thought ‘I don’t know’ is often rooted in fear—a fear of failure or a fear of rejection. So if you’re feeling confused, let me ask—if you did know, what would the answer be? If you give this a chance, the answer always comes. Test it out. Don’t make it complicated by trying to rationalize the idea of not knowing. Get quiet. Find some space. And ask yourself, what matters most to you? What feels right? You might not like the response, but your intuition always knows.

  4. Arguing with the past or future.

    Last week I had plans to get on a plane and head back to Colorado—Randy and our 2 boys were excited to show me our “just like new” healthy home! The day before my flight I tested positive for COVID. So instead of getting on a flight, I hunkered down. I shared some tears with my oldest son over FaceTime and we allowed the emotion to move through us. About 3 minutes later we both moved on and started talking about other things. Harboring the thought that I was ‘supposed’ to go home would have stirred up all kinds of bitter and sad feelings. I was never going to fly home that day because it didn’t happen. So instead I’m making the best of the present, continuing to laugh daily with my beautiful smart older sister and not dwell on the fact that I haven’t seen my husband since January 1st and our boys since Feb 3. I was never going to fly home that day, it just wasn’t in the cards.

  5. Releasing responsibility for other people’s thoughts and feelings.

    I can’t control the stories others will create in their heads when judging my actions, reactions, or lack of action. From a young age, we hear, “You hurt my feelings”—but this concept isn’t possible as two people can have very different interpretations of the same thing. So where do our feelings stem from? Our own thoughts—both the subconscious and the conscious. So it’s our personal thoughts that are responsible for how we feel. And it’s what we decide to make things mean that ends up leaving us feeling light or heavy. My suggestion is that when in doubt, go light—get curious, instead of critical, about the situation at hand, or decide it’s not worth your time and move on to the next thing. So just like I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings—like bitterness, anger or confusion, no one is responsible for mine—except me!

Want to make the most of the one life you’ve been given?

So do I. And I think part of the secret is cutting out aspects of life that aren’t working well. We have a lot of mental clutter—and none of it is doing us any good, especially the worry—which feels productive, but rarely is.

So release the load. Create time and space to show up for the things that matter most to you. Trim the branches that are weighing you down—and let the beautiful light come through so you, too, can flourish and fulfill your potential.