You don’t have to wait until the new year to decide which things to let go of. The best time to make life-changing choices is now. Today, the present, is the only time you really have, so use it wisely.
You will find 33 things to let go of that will help you improve your mental and physical health, and live a more fulfilled, creative life.
Fair warning: This list is long. I’m not asking you to let go of all of these things—in fact, I recommend you don’t let go of all of these things. Instead, go through the list and find the one thing that resonates most strongly with you. The thing that you feel would make the biggest difference in your life. Cut that one thing out of your life—and only then move on to the next thing to let go of.
33 things to let go of for a better life
So without further ado, let’s get to it:
- Fear of failure
Failing sucks. It never feels good to fail. You know that as well as I do. But sometimes failure is the price of admission to get into the arena of success. Be willing to try things that don’t come with a guarantee of success. Be willing to experiment. Attempt to do many more things and fail at them, because that’s where you find your zone of learning; it’s where you learn what you’re capable of and what your limits are. It’s where you might surprise yourself, and where you might find new ideas. Listen, give it your best shot, and if you fail, then brush yourself off, review the lessons you just got taught, and get back in the saddle.
Is there anything in life you’ve ever done perfectly? No. And neither has anyone else. Perfection doesn’t exist in the real world. Everything is just somewhere on the spectrum of “good enough”, and at some point, you just have to accept this is the best you’re capable of right now, and decide this is the point where you regard your work as completed. Embrace the imperfections. Let the imperfects be your teacher. Let them point you in the direction where you either hone your skills further, or where you accept that these are just your weaknesses, and thus you won’t spend much time on them because you can do so much better work by focusing on what you’re great at.
- Mindless social media
Think of all the time you spend on social media. How much of that time are you living your life well? For most of us, around 90 percent of the time we spend on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook & co is just mindlessly wasted time. The most impulsive and erratic part of your brain takes charge and eats up lifetime. How many times did you fall into a social media hole, only to emerge feeling depleted much later, and at the end of your day you wonder: “What happened with my time today? How did this day go by so fast?” Social media has an almost hypnotic grip over us. It literally changes our state of mind, and not in a good way. You don’t have to delete all apps and never visit social media again. But let go of mindless social media consumption. Nir Eyal has been helping a lot of people break their social media addictions and regain their focus, and his book Indistractible is a good starting point.
- Your comfort zone
Life is tough enough, and we all want a little comfort here and there. But there’s no growth in the comfort zone. You don’t change your life for the better in your comfort zone. If you live an active life and push yourself and do your best, then yeah, by all means, grant yourself some chilltime in the comfort zone to rest and recover sometimes. But too many people get stuck in their comfort zone and barely ever move out of it, unless they’re forced to do so by external circumstances—and that’s not how you want it. Get out of the comfort zone by your own choice. Be the kind of person who consciously chooses to move out of their comfort zone and embrace challenging situations that require you to show up as your best self.
You and your this old friend of yours, Old Overthinking, you two have grown too accustomed to each other. And does it do either of you any good at this point? I don’t think so. The benefit of overthinking is that it prevents you from doing things you’re afraid of doing. It offers you safety. The downside is that a lot of the things it prevents you from doing are probably things you should do! Look at your life: There are many things you wish you would have done many years ago, but you didn’t do them for all kinds of reasons, but all those reasons were simply the result of overthinking. You’ve listened to the voice of overthinking long enough. Better listen to the voice of doing.
You deserve this. And you don’t want to miss out on this. And you definitely don’t want to let this go to waste. But overindulgence, in whatever area of your life, comes at a much higher price than you think. If you’re overindulging with food—yes, it might be a waste not to finish all that food, but you know what’s even a greater waste? Stuffing too much into your body which will not only make you feel sluggish for hours but also lead to long-term negative health consequences if you keep doing it. It’s ironic to refer to John D. Rockefeller for the concept of “enough”, but Rockefeller lived to the age of 97, and here’s what his doctor said about one of the healthy habits he practiced: “he gets up from the table a little hungry.”
- Toxic relationships
Do you have people in your life that pull you down, create unnecessary drama, cost you more energy than they give you? If you’ve attempted to improve the unhealthy relationship, but they keep engaging in the same negative behavior patterns, it’s time to move on. Do not tolerate toxic people in your life. Ultimately, it’s better for you and for them if you draw a hard line in the sand.
- The need to be right
I love being right. It feels good to be right. And it feels bad when I’m wrong. I’m sure you’re the same way. Some people need to always be right, and that’s when it becomes a problem. But for both of us, what we ultimately have to do is to care less about being right, and care more about reality: What’s actually true? What can you learn from this? What’s the best way forward? If there’s compelling data that shows we’re wrong, we should reconsider our stance. Marc Andreessen used the phrase strong opinions, weakly held to describe this attitude: He’d have a very strong opinion on something, but he was also willing to change his mind quickly when the data told him he was wrong.
- The need to impress others
Do you often feel a need to impress others? Again, this is a normal human trait—look at children. They love to impress their parents and peers with a newly acquired skill. But when you’re an adult and the desire to impress others becomes dominant, it’s time to ponder why you care so much. For many people, the answer is that they feel like they’re not enough. Bestselling author James Patterson revealed one of the core motivations in his life in his memoir: “The idea I had growing up—and I held on to it into my forties—was that my folks only cared about me as long as I was number one in my class.” Ultimately, if you feel you’re not good enough, you will seek external validation. Instead of impressing others, discover your value for yourself.
- Unhealthy habits
The ancient philosopher Confucius said: “A healthy man wants a thousand things, a sick man only wants one.” This is ultimately true. Your health is the most precious thing you have—yet we often treat it neglectfully. Getting rid of unhealthy habits is difficult, but it can be done. Whether it’s poor eating habits, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, not enough sleep—all these are things within your control that you can improve, and there’s lots of expert advice out there to help you find the right approach.
It’s good to keep yourself in check and evaluate the choices you make with a critical eye every now and then. But if you let insecurities and self-doubt prevent you from doing things you want to do, then it’s time to start believing in yourself. And when you act, you absolutely should act with a sense of confidence—otherwise you’ll just get in the way of yourself.
- Limiting beliefs
Sometimes it’s not just insecurities that hold us back from living out our full potential. Sometimes it’s what we believe to be true about ourselves or the world that limits our growth and prevents us from being the best version of ourselves we can be. Limiting beliefs are stories we tell ourselves. Replace your limiting beliefs with empowering narratives.
- Unrealistic expectations
Unrealistic expectations come in many flavors. Maybe you set impossibly high standards for yourself that you’ll never be able to live up to. Maybe you have unrealistic expectations towards others that will always set you up for disappointment. You need a reality check. Talk with someone you trust or whose opinion you respect, ask them for feedback, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
- Bullshit busyness
Do you feel you never have enough time to get everything done you need to get done? Welcome to the club. I feel the same way. Want to know something else? So much of what I do every day isn’t really the stuff that moves the needle. It’s so easy to keep yourself busy with low-impact tasks, because there’s an endless supply of them, just like grains of sand at the beach. Focus on the big rocks first, to paraphrase Steven Covey.
Sometimes it’s good to be lazy. For a limited amount of time, cut yourself some slack and recharge your batteries. But chronic laziness is something completely different: It’s when you want to do things, but can’t overcome your own laziness. It’s time to let go of laziness. But that’s easier said than done. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a real thing. Find something you love doing, and then do it a lot. Begin your own prolific practice—this doesn’t mean you want to switch gears abruptly from one moment to the next. Instead, you want to start consistently building momentum towards doing more of the activity that you want to do.
You can come up with excuses for everything. But that doesn’t help you improve or change things. The people who grow in life are the people who let go of excuses, and instead focus on what they can control.
I always used to put off my dental checkups. One day, on my long overdue checkup when I showed up at the dentist, they informed me that I needed a pretty complex procedure. I ended up spending hours in the chair, paying thousands of dollars—and I could have avoided it if I’d just not postponed my dental checkup and caught the issue early. We all procrastinate sometimes in life—but some more than others, and it comes with a price. According to Dr Joseph Ferrari (not a dentist), around 20 percent of adults in the US are chronic procrastinators. Stop procrastinating, and start tackling that project you’ve been putting off.
- Victim mentality
If you see yourself as a victim of circumstances outside your control, it’s really hard to shift your perspective. And there’s a reason you adopted that victim mindset in the first place: you probably had a traumatic experience where you were actually victimized. Maybe it takes therapy to overcome this victim mentality, or maybe you can make the mindset shift on your own, but you have to take back your power.
- Negative thoughts
The first step to stop negative thinking is to become aware of your thought patterns. Once you identify the most common negative thoughts, you can scrutinize them. That alone helps reduce the power they hold over you. If negative thoughts persist, you can come up with ways to respond to them more consciously.
- Negative feelings
You shouldn’t try to completely get rid of bad feelings, but don’t wallow in them. Don’t build a home out of bad feelings. Face them, learn the lesson they have to teach you, and then let them go. Move on. This might sound overly simplistic, but when you feel stuck in a rut, often the best thing you can do is vigorous physical activity. It’s scientifically proven that exercise can boost wellbeing, and I know this from personal experience as well. Whatever it takes for you to let go of negative feelings, just do it!
- Low self-esteem
It’s time to stop looking down on yourself. Hold yourself in high regard. Many people, especially creative personalities, struggle with self-esteem issues in their life. If you have a low self-esteem, you will shy back from challenging situations, and won’t give yourself the self-care you need and deserve. You’re more likely to surround yourself with people who put you down. Don’t let this go on forever. There are many ways to improve your self-esteem.
- The desire to buy more stuff
What if instead of shopping, you actually faced the feelings that are causing you to feel the need to buy something new? I realize this isn’t the most compelling proposition: but if you act on it, you’ll not only declutter your life and let go of things, but also become a much more powerful personality.
- Unspoken assumptions
Assumptions are lenses through which you see the world. If you assume things are a certain way, you’ll act accordingly. And sometimes it’s your false negative assumptions that actually cause negative things to happen. And sometimes it’s your false positive assumptions that set you up for failure. You want to give your assumptions a reality check every once in a while, spell them out, especially those you have in your relationships to other people, and see if they’re valid.
- Fear of the unknown
There might always be fear of the unknown. That’s healthy, because there can be dangers in the unknown. But you don’t want the fear of the unknown to be so strong and overpowering that you let it get in the way of pursuing your dreams. Learn to develop a sense of adventurous anticipation and tolerate uncertainty.
Others might have wronged you, but if you keep harboring anger and resentment, it will further harm your mental health. Stop holding grudges—let go of the past, and move on.
If you’re envious of someone, it’s not about them: it’s about you. You lack something, whether that’s a material object (a fancy car, a dope apartment, money in the bank) or something intangible (exceptional friendships, love, an exciting job, an amazing vacation). You know there’s no point in envying the other person—but you can’t just switch that feeling and the accompanying thoughts of. Fortunately, there are things you can do to let go of envy.
If you harbor feelings of resentment, face the thing you feel resentful about. Your first impulse might be to brush it away, but if you don’t resolve these issues, they will silently fester within and be in the way of a happier life. Sometimes this involves looking at a past issue and accepting responsibility for things that went awry, and sometimes that means forgiving someone else who treated you unfairly. Ultimately, the sooner you can truly let go of resentment, the more emotional energy you free up to live fully in the present moment.
- Guilt and shame
Whatever you feel guilty about—it’s in the past. Nothing good comes out of blaming yourself. The only positive way forward is to constructively use what you have now: your intelligence, your energy, your time, your resources. But if you’re bogged down by feelings of guilt and shame, then you’re much less likely to act as a force for good in the world.
Would you want others to spread unsubstantiated private stories about you? I have yet to meet anyone who answered that question with “yes”. So stop doing it. It’s a normal human instinct to be curious about other people’s lives, especially about the aspects of their lives they don’t want us to know about. But be a person of integrity. When the people around you gossip, don’t throw more wood into the fire. Either remove yourself from the situation, speak up, or be just don’t contribute to it. I have a vivid childhood memory of my uncle, who was generally a very calm, quiet man. One day his wife was telling stories about a neighbor over the breakfast table, and after a few minutes of this he interrupted her and said: “She’s not here with us. If you object to her choices, then talk to her, but don’t gossip behind her back about her.” That was the end of it.
The amount of mental energy and time we spend worrying about things is immense. So much wasted potential. Fortunately, worrying is basically a psychological habit. And the good thing about habits is that you can change them. The folks at BetterUp share 11 strategies to help you stop worrying.
- Holding back
Yes, we’ve all learned not to stand out. It’s safe to hold back. You’re much less likely to be judged, attacked, or ridiculed when you hold back. But do you really want to go through the rest of your life holding back? Do you think one day when you’re on your deathbed you’ll think: “I’m glad I held back and didn’t risk making a fool out of myself”? No. It’s worth to go all in on things that are important to you, that you care about. It’s scary when you put yourself out there—but the thought of living your life too small, and missing out on all the wonderful experiences you could have, should be even scarier. Master the art of creative expression and bring your full self to the table.
- Comparing yourself to others
There’s always someone who is better at something. Comparing yourself to others won’t help you lead your best life. The only person you should compare yourself against is the person who you were yesterday. Are you better than your past version? Focus on yourself, your own life, and the choices you make in your daily life.
Have a hard time saying no and setting healthy boundaries? It’s tough to stop people pleasing and stand your ground if you’re not used to it, but you should learn to do it not just for selfish reasons, but also for the sake of your loved ones. When you learn to say no, you free up a lot of time for what really matters.
Which of these do you feel the strongest gravitational pull towards? What do you feel would enable you to live a fuller, more creative life? If you find it difficult to choose, then let the difficulty be your guide: Letting go of the things that are the hardest to let go of is often the right choice.
Master the art of letting go
It’s in our nature to hold on to things. Even things that harm us, for reasons we still don’t fully understand, and maybe never will. There surely is a bit of “the devil you know” in it, but there’s also more to it.
Letting go is never easy. It’s simple, but it’s never easy. And even if you successfully let go of something, you’ll find that it will often come back to you later in time, just like a boomerang. Accept that this, too, is part of the process. It doesn’t mean you failed. It simply means there’s more work to be done. And that’s good. We all have more inner work that awaits us.