Feel like you can’t get out of your own way? Join the club. Struggling with personal growth is part of the human condition—but so is your ability to stop holding yourself back.
When you’re stuck, burnt out, and far from your deepest desires, it may be time for a “life detox”: eliminating the thoughts and behaviors that don’t serve your highest self so that you can create space for ideas and activities that do.
“Our minds are filled with chaos and clutter,” says master meditation teacher Guru Ranjit Deora, 82, founder and head of Charlotte Meditation, in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Detoxification is important for real personal growth.”
“Habits are formed through years of domestication, starting with our families, then our schooling and education, and finally through the work we choose to do,” he says. “In all those areas, we have learned and held on to those things that we think give us comfort.”
Clinging to comfort, which is often fed by our fears and anxieties, keeps us on a mental hamster wheel,” Deora says. “Thus, we go around and around.”
The good news is that you’ve already got the tools you need to clear a fresh personal path. You might just need a nudge to use them.
“It takes commitment to ourselves, emotional well-being, and self-care practice to release the urge to stay caught up in old bad habits. Leaning into self-trust here is vital,” says wellness coach Alexandra Elle, author of After the Rain: Gentle Reminders for Healing, Courage, and Self-Love. “As someone who came from a pretty traumatic upbringing, it was much easier for me to lie in that role of victim, of someone who had things happening to them.”
It took Elle, who grew up feeling unloved, years to change her narrative. Over time, she shed numerous limiting beliefs by testing them through self-reflection, often in the form of writing, and with direct action: standing up to a temperamental supervisor, quitting an unsatisfying job, pursuing her passions for a living.
“For me, change has always been a source of annoyance but absolutely necessary,” says the 31-year-old mother of three, who lives outside Washington D.C. “Change stretches us, and it’s not always in this lovely, whimsical way we see on social media or that maybe we see from someone who’s been in therapy or what have you, for years. It’s always a process.”
It’s also unique and lacks a universal prescription. “It’s really hard to say, ‘Do this, and then this,’ because we’re all so very different,” Elle notes. “But I think one thing I would say as words of encouragement is that we are our own inner experts, and if we dig deep enough, we will be able to tap into what we need.” Elle’s personal transformation has paved the way for her to lead self-exploration workshops globally, helping others recognize where they are stuck, so that they too can recast their stories and evolve.
“Letting go allows us to make room for new things and new beginnings, so we have to make space, we have to let go,” Elle says. “Not everything deserves to or should journey with us for the rest of our lives.”
Ingrained patterns show up in practical ways too.
Instagram blogger Cadie Piecuch (@naturallycadie) spent much of the past decade focused on simplifying her life in order to exist more sustainably and healthfully. She adopted a plant-based diet and cut back on consumerism, for example. The process allowed her to identify and discard ill-serving tendencies and manifest her dreams.
To wit, in her early 20s she wrote a letter to her older self. This year, on her 30th birthday, she opened it to discover she’d realized many of her hopes, including getting married and starting a blog that gained a following.
“I’m constantly looking for ways to be better,” says Piecuch, who lives in Vancouver Island, Canada. Recently, that aspiration took the form of decluttering her clothing collection and earmarking items for donation that didn’t spark joy or hadn’t been worn in a year. The next day, “I just felt like a huge weight was lifted, and now I actually know what’s in my closet rather than having a whole bunch of pieces everywhere.”
She also recently cut about nine inches off her hair. Piecuch, who hadn’t gotten “an honest-to-God” haircut in a decade, gave herself two years to prepare for the change—despite the fact that her locks, which reached her low-back and had thinned as a result, “didn’t even look good,” she says. “I was like, ‘Why am I even holding on to this? What is the point?’” she recalls.
Both experiences reminded her of what truly feeds her well-being: nature, eating good food, taking hot baths. “I felt like I needed to have long hair to be beautiful and be feminine. But having healthy hair is so much more important than having dead length. It’s kind of a symbolism for life, isn’t it? Getting rid of things that no longer serve you, in every aspect: toxic relationships or things in your house that are unneeded—or anything, really.”
Out with the old, in with the new—for a better you
Here are three strategies to spur your life detox:
Limit social media
Social media is useful when it comes to connecting with friends or learning new things. But too much of it is counterproductive.
Piecuch says excessive screen time is her worst habit, one that yielded another bad habit: comparing herself to others. “It’s so unhealthy,” she says. “Why would I do that? There’s absolutely no point in comparison because people will always be at different places and stages in their lives.”
To keep herself in check, Piecuch puts her phone aside at night, which slowly has helped her cut back on staring at feeds.
Keep a Journal
Journaling allows you to create a safe space for inner dialogue, which can unearth patterns you’ve long had but would benefit from ending.
“Get close to yourself in the pages of your journal,” says Elle. “Ask yourself some reflective questions, and then answer them: Why am I avoiding this thing? Why am I refusing to face this thing?”
If you’ve never confronted yourself on the blank page, it can be daunting at first. But as you put pen to paper, insights begin to emerge. “We are able to get close to our change by just starting somewhere,” she says
Practice mindfulness meditation
Present-moment awareness spawns clarity because you aren’t inventing stories about the future or ruminating on the past. Over time, the ritual cultivates the ability to undo tendencies you might not have even known you had.
“When you see clearly, you can focus, and your thoughts will change, and so your life will change,” Deora says. “Your reality and life are of your own making through the thoughts you have.”