At the beginning of this year, I decided to commit to something I call emotional minimalism—or, in other words, finally taking stock of everything I allow into my life and evaluating whether or not it's a positive or negative influence on my psychological well-being.
The first day I sat myself down and decided to take a look at this inventory of influences, I felt my whole perspective on life begin to shift. We've got a HUGE catalogue of things we consume on a daily basis. We have relationships of all kinds: family, friendships, colleagues. We have foods we consume: healthy, unhealthy. We have activities we enjoy, online content we devour, and a whole host of other subconscious influences—like the way we respond to a messy house, or the color scheme of our offices, or whether we love or hate the car we're driving.
Ask yourself, "What does this thing (or person) bring to the table? Is it worth my energy? Is this a boon or a dementor sucking away my life-force?"
Be honest with yourself and when you've arrived at a solid answer. Begin to slowly weed out the negativity, the toxicity, the stagnant. It isn't often realistic to simply say, "Boom! Okay. I have just weeded you out of my life. Byeeee." This is especially so if it's a person. A long time ago, I heard an analogy that really resonated with me: supposedly, in preparation for fall, trees begin cutting off the energy they give to their leaves months in advance, allowing the slow denial of energy to be what triggers them to eventually wither and fall off.
The same rule applies for most things in life, particularly relationships. If you're no longer feeling as though a friendship is serving you anymore (say it's one-sided, or toxic, or jealousy-ridden, or that person's just overall a downer), it's easier to simply begin titrating the amount of energy you offer them, slowly decreasing it more and more over time. At first, it'll appear as though you're a very busy person, unable to return calls or every single text message. And later on, when you've reached the "fall" of your friendship, they will have likely glommed onto somebody else who will tolerate them and have forgotten about you altogether.
Because that's the thing about most negative influences: They live to influence, and if you refuse to allow them to influence you anymore? They leave. You're useless to them. And for years after, all you'll do is kick yourself for not getting rid of them sooner.
I won't lie, this is a time-consuming process that requires no small degree of in-depth, objective analysis of everything we allow to influence us emotionally, but it's so worth it—and once you've culled the crop, ridding your life of the stagnant, the unforgiving, and the negative, you're free to move onto Stage Two: rethinking your approach to what's left.
Now that you've narrowed down your true friendships, for example, it's time to stop asking what they bring into your life and instead, turn the tables. Ask yourself, "How can I be more proactive in this relationship? What do I bring to the table?"
This is even more satisfying than culling the crop, honestly, because now that you've cleaned up the consumption of your life, you've got more time than ever before. And now, you're totally free to offer that energy elsewhere. You can cultivate new friendships, revive old but precious ones, or even invest in self-betterment by trying a new hobby, etc.
I've found this new perspective to be single-handedly one of the biggest growth-spurts I've ever experienced in my (nearly) thirty-two years of life. As we grow up, there are so many influences that are simply grandfathered into the continuation of our lives, rendered worthy by time alone—and that is honestly bullshit.
Have you ever tried something akin to emotional minimalism? I can say with confidence that now that I've done it once, I'll do it again. I may even do it every six months. Life is ever-evolving, and ever-evolving rapidly—and you never know when something that once felt healthy, that once was able to fill your cup, just doesn't anymore. It's not personal. It's just life.
And if we aren't doing everything in our power to make ourselves happy, then what's the point?