We drove upstate from Manhattan for a while, parked, and headed out into the forest. The first two hours were just fine.
We had an enjoyable late lunch. I didn’t want to litter, so I put the empty root beer bottles back in my pack, and we set out again. It was not so fine after that. My shoulders ached. My arms felt as if they were dropping off.
Finally, I discarded my inhibitions about littering along with the root beer bottles. I found out “who did it” in the thriller because I finished it after lunch, but I never discovered why the upright, aristocratic family disintegrated after two generations. I paid a fine for both “lost” books. And somewhere in the Adirondacks, a four-hour hike from I-95, nestled in the hollow of an evergreen’s roots, is a white casserole dish with a bright blue flower motif.
I understand why experienced hikers pay hundreds of dollars for super-strong, lightweight rope and a tent that weighs a pound less than another brand. You don’t want to carry any extra stuff on a long journey when you’re on your own. The manager of the space shuttle program cheerfully forks out tens of thousands of dollars to lop a few ounces off the payload and considers it money well spent.
You too are on a long journey and are on your own. It is called life. You came into it alone, you will depart it alone, and in between — even though you may be surrounded by others — you are essentially alone.
The mental detritus that you insist on carrying around on this journey is every bit as enervating and debilitating as the physical stuff that slows you down on a long hike.
A marriage counselor I know was speaking about the reasons couples split up. “The number-one reason they are unable to come to terms is that they never let go,” he explained. The wife remembers in startling detail, including dates and times, all the sarcastic remarks her mother-in-law has made. She cites all the times her husband has forgotten birthdays, spoken slightingly of her friends, disparaged her efforts to beautify their home.
The husband recalls, equally accurately, the number of times she has prevented him from going to a game he really wanted to see, the friends she froze out of his life, and the numerous occasions she “had a headache.” “Crap happens in every relationship,” the counselor went on. “The ones who survive are the ones who can drop it, clean up, and move on.”
You also are carrying heavy burdens, and the odds are quite good that you don’t even recognize it. Is there a colleague at work whose presence fills you with distaste and a feeling of dread? Do you find yourself reacting viscerally to a relative? Do you “know” that a meeting your boss has called is going to be a total waste of time? Are there people who rub you the wrong way, social situations that make you uneasy, tasks that bore you to death?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re bowing under the weight of your load.
“Whoa!” I hear you say. “This is just knowledge. I didn’t create this stuff. I merely recognized it.” This is a common reaction. A jerk is a jerk. When you have had many experiences of the “jerkiness” of an individual at work, it is easy to label him a jerk and treat him as such.
But I am not really concerned with that individual. I don’t even care whether he is or is not a jerk. What matters is the feeling you have toward him. The groaning expectation when you meet him that the interaction will be distasteful. The dread you feel beforehand. That is the burden you carry. That is the sum total of the experience that you have not let go.
It is possible that at least some of that person’s “jerkiness” comes from the prison in which you’re holding him — and yourself. The Pygmalion effect has been well documented. In one study, teachers who were told that randomly selected students were “very bright” developed expectations that those students would perform at high levels. Lo and behold, they did far better than their peers. Other researchers have found similar effects in a variety of settings. Your expectations do affect the outcome you observe.
Watch a baby gurgling happily and chugging milk from his bottle. Now take the bottle away. He screws up his face and bawls. He turns red. There is no doubt at all that he is really angry. Now give his bottle back. In seconds, he is back to a state of contentment as he drains the bottle.
Babies know how to let things go. When they are angry, they are angry. When they are sad, they are sad. When they are finished playing with a toy, they are done with it. They don’t carry anything around. Each thing that happens to them is something new to be experienced in the moment.
Your problem is that you carry stuff around. Over time, the accumulation becomes burdensome indeed. Drop it.
Drop the Useless Baggage You Carry Around
Are there troublesome people in your life? The next time you meet one, forget the history. Don’t expect that the interaction will be unpleasant. Expect that it will be delightful, and if it isn’t, then let it go. Don’t carry it over to the next time you meet.
Do the same with unpleasant situations. Note how many times your existing expectations sour your experience. Consciously drop the past. It’s hard, but with practice, you will get the hang of it.[Ed. Note: This essay is an excerpt from Dr. Srikumar S. Rao new book, Happiness at Work — Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful, No Matter What. Visit www.srikumarsrao.com for more of Dr. Rao’s articles and to buy the book. You can also follow him on Twitter: @srikumarsrao.
And for more practical – but life-changing – strategies like the one you just learned, check out Dr. Rao’s Personal Mastery Program. Dr. Rao can help you tap into your hidden potential to achieve personal and professional success and boost your spiritual well-being. Find out more about the program here.]