There is a picture in a photo album of me, about 7 or 8 years old, standing on the back deck of my grandparents’ house, proudly holding a snake skin. I remember the day when I found it, walking in the woods with my grandmother. My grandparents lived in a suburb of Chicago, so their woods were different from the woods I knew from my home in Louisiana, and finding a snake skin made it even more exotic.
I remember her telling me that the snake shed its skin because it had outgrown it, and didn’t need it anymore. It was thin and brittle, and I put it back in the woods so it could decompose, because I didn’t trust myself with something so fragile. I’m one of those people who can’t have nice things.
Fast forward to the present day, and I’m still finding snake skins. This time, though, they are pictures of boxes and garbage bags piled near my back door. Sometimes there is just one or two, sometimes more. They’re filled with shredded paper, old clothes, outgrown toys, and other things that get donated, recycled, or trashed.
Like a snake, every few months I get the itch to shed my skin and streamline my patterns. I take the pictures because I like to document the positive things I do for my life, and getting this stuff out of my house feels really good.
The same goes for mental “stuff.” I value efficiency and work to clear the physical and mental clutter of my life so I can spend my time in the moment. So, with the arrival of spring, it’s time to do inventory on which of my patterns are working well and which ones need to be shed.
If this time of year has you wanting to do some spring cleaning of your life, some shedding of your old winter skin, here are some ways to get started.
Start noticing your patterns. Sometimes we know off the bat when we have a nagging habit that needs to be discarded. Other times we are not aware of the ways we clutter up our paths until we take the time to see it.
All change begins with awareness, so take some time to really notice how you go through your day and allow yourself to discover when something isn’t working anymore. Sometimes this means noticing when you hear yourself thinking, “I’ll do better tomorrow,” or “things can’t go on like this.” Those are signs that you’re done.
It's OK if you don't like what you notice. You're going to change it soon. And if you don’t notice anything you want to change, then go on with your bad self. Everyone else, keep reading.
Let that habit expire. Our habits and behaviors have expiration dates. Do you brush your teeth the same way you did when you were a kid? Do you still stand and talk on a telephone attached to the wall with a cord? No.
We have changed our patterns and habits as the world has evolved and as we discover new and better ways to do things. When you notice that something is not working, it may have reached its expiration date and is ready to be retired.
Now, that is sometimes easier said than done, because habits and patterns make us feel safe, too, even when they are not productive. It may feel silly, but if you’re having a hard time letting something retire, have a little mental retirement party for it. Thank it for its years of service, acknowledge the good things it did for you, and wish it well.
Welcome the new. Sometimes the first day without that old skin feels liberating and exciting. Other times it feels weird and exposed. That’s OK. Things are allowed to be weird. To avoid the temptation to go back to your old ways, keep reminders nearby of what lies ahead.
Visual reminders of your motivation for change, like a photograph, a post-it note on your computer screen, or even a temporary tattoo, can smooth the path while you get adjusted to your new routines. Keep it positive and fun — seeing a picture of the kids you want to run around with on the weekends can inspire you to not have that afternoon soda.
A post-it note in your car with a keyword on it can remind you to drive to the gym or the park after work instead of home to the sofa.
Spring is a time of new beginnings, and the arrival of something new means something old goes away. Shed your old skin and stretch out into a new set of habits.