We all carry emotional baggage.

Usually this baggage sits below our awareness and guides our behavior without us realizing it. It’s like there’s a little demon calling the shots in our subconscious, while up here in the real world we fumble and falter and fall into the same patterns over and over without being able to figure out why.

Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski put it this way:

Although a system may cease to exist in the legal sense or
as a structure of power, its values (or anti-values), its
philosophy, its teachings remain in us. They rule our
thinking, our conduct, our attitude to others. The
situation is a demonic paradox: we have toppled the system
but we still carry its genes.

I think that Kapuscinski was writing about revolutions, but the statement applies to personal development as well. In other words, you might leave a relationship or a job or an uncomfortable conversation – but that doesn’t mean the situation is over. There might be unresolved aspects of these situations still lingering in your psyche and guiding your current behavior. For example, perhaps you break up with a partner, and the relationship ends on reasonably good terms. A few months later you find yourself in a new relationship, and for some reason the same issues that plagued your previous relationship are rearing their ugly heads – even though your new partner is way cooler/smarter/emotionally stable (etc.) than your previous lover.

Or, perhaps you finally got up the courage to leave a soul-sucking job in order to follow your heart’s true purpose. However, after a few months at your dream job, you notice that you’re just as stressed, depressed, and angry as you were when you were pulling all-nighters for your crappy boss – even though your new job is way more fun/flexible/purposeful than your previous twenty-plus years in the corporate world.

How is this possible?

It’s a common psychological fallacy to see others as being more responsible for our negative behavior than we are. @BethanyButzer (Click to Tweet!)

And, as Gabby Bernstein often says, we need to start by cleaning up our side of the street.

Nothing around us is going to change until we have the courage to go deep inside, explore the demons that lie within, and eventually let them go.

Both of the examples above are based on my own personal experience, and while I don’t have this paradox completely figured out, I thought I’d share a few methods I’ve used to explore (and perhaps tear down) some of the deeply entrenched internal systems that no longer serve me.

  1. Be Mindful. One of the reasons that our internal demons can wreak havoc on our external reality is that we’re not aware of the little buggers. In other words, many of us are asleep (and I don’t mean asleep in the traditional sense). We walk around all day with our eyes wide open, but we’re asleep to our own Truth, as well as the untruths that are guiding a lot of our actions. An excellent way to wake up to what no longer serves us is to practice mindfulness meditation. Many people think of meditation as a stress management tool, and while taking some time each day for stillness is definitely relaxing, one of the key purposes of meditation is to help wake us up in this lifetime. Part of this waking up process involves becoming more aware, or mindful, of our thoughts, speech, and actions.
  2. Be Honest. An important part of the waking up process involves getting really honest with yourself about how you feel. Many of us have been taught to suppress our feelings so that we can get through the day-to-day grind of our lives. Breaking old patterns means that we need to be supremely honest with ourselves about how a particular relationship, job, or situation made us feel in the past, and how these circumstances might still be affecting us. The key here is to also be honest about the role that you played in any negative patterns that arose.
  3. Forgive Yourself. Once you’ve gotten honest, you can take any remedial actions that might be necessary (such as apologizing), and then it’s time to let yourself off the hook. Self-forgiveness doesn’t mean that you aren’t taking responsibility for your actions, it means that you’re acknowledging the fact that you’re human, that you’ve done all you can to remedy the situation, and that you are now ready to let it go.
  4. Release Negative Energy (Daily). As you become more well-versed in the steps above, you might become more aware of negative emotions and patterns, more honest about your part in the situations that caused the emotions/patterns, and get better at forgiving yourself, but you might still feel a sense of negative energy. The reason for this is that many of us are like emotional sponges. We take on emotions from other people, places, and situations, often without realizing it. To rectify this situation, I like to engage in a daily “negative energy releasing” practice. For you, this might mean taking up mind-body techniques like yoga or tai chi, or energetic therapies like reiki, or it might involve playing a sport or going for a good run, or it might be something as simple as putting on your headphones and dancing to a great song.
  5. Create a Personal Development Routine.The four tips that I’ve outlined above have become crucial to my personal development process, and over the years I’ve created a routine that incorporates these themes into a daily system that works for me. Right now, my routine looks something like this:
    • I meditate for thirty minutes every morning, after which I take two-three minutes to say (out loud) many of the things that I’m grateful for at that moment.
    • Throughout my workday, I try to bring this sense of mindfulness, self-awareness, and gratitude with me by paying close attention to my thoughts, speech, and behavior. I always do my very best to eat lunch away from my desk, either with a colleague, or going for a brief walk, or dancing as outlined in point #4.
    • After work I do my best to stay away from my computer for as long as I can, by connecting with my husband over dinner, and, if it’s nice outside, spending some time in nature. Before bed I do twenty-thirty minutes of yoga, with a particular focus on releasing any negative energy that I might have picked up that day.
    • It’s important for you to know, however, that my days don’t always look like this! Sometimes life happens and that’s ok. But I try to follow these practices as best I can – even if I can only fit in five minutes of meditation in the morning and three minutes of breathing exercises before I fall asleep.

So here’s my challenge for you. I’d like you to create your own personal development routine to help you recognize and let go of what’s no longer serving you. Keep in mind that it’s important to be realistic. Don’t plan to do a two hour yoga practice every morning if you know it will be impossible for you to wake up at 5am. Your routine might look very different from mine, and that’s completely fine – as long as it includes tasks that help you become more aware of your patterns/behaviors, and let those patterns go, then you’re on the right track. (Check out this article on 13 things mindful people do differently every day for ideas).

I’d love to hold you accountable to your new routine! Post your ideas below. We can implement our self-growth (and fall off the wagon!) together.

Until then, have fun getting to know your demons 🙂

Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.

If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.

Image courtesy of Philipp Reiner via Unsplash.com