I grew up on an apple orchard in rural minnesota and pruning was what my father and grandfather had to do every year to keep the trees in the best shape for picking. They climbed tall ladders, wielded poles with saw blades attached, and more often than not got poked in the face by branches. It sounded worse than the grading and hauling I had to do, but I was a small kid with small hands. Pruning kept the trees producing their best, and was far easier than planting new trees and waiting for them to bear fruit.
Like so many of you I’ve gone through phases where I've desperately wanted change in my life. I was unhappy with the old habits I’d accumulated and wanted things to be different, I wanted a whole new me. It’s ok to dream, but it’s even better to acknowledge the reality of the situation. A brand new me wasn’t going to arise and take over just like that. I wanted a new tree, but in reality I just needed some pruning.
Just as it’s easy to accumulate stuff that no longer suit you, it’s easy to accumulate habits and behaviors that don’t reward you like they used to. And as tricky as it is to pare down our possessions, our habits can be even more reluctant to go. These are the branches we need to prune away. As much as we wish we could drop everything we’re doing and start fresh, we risk throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
The change we wish for is sudden and easy, but the best lasting change comes gradually and not without difficulty.
Here’s some small tips to get started pruning your life.
- Investigating your life. Look, with a critical eye, at your daily habits and behaviors. Do they still work for you, do they bring you joy, or are they purely automatic?
- Trim the small branches first. Halt an old small time wasting habit, and instead of filling it with a new task immediately, get a sense for how much time you just freed up. Sit with the normal discomfort this newfound freedom brings. By starting small you will build up momentum to tackle the bigger stuff.
- Cultivate pruning as a habit. With enough practice at trimming away the excess in your life, it will become a helpful habit in and of itself. This skill will suit you the rest of your life.
- Acknowledge mistakes and adapt. You might find you miss an old habit you trimmed away. If that persists and you feel in your gut it was good for you it’s ok to go back to it. We often realize something is valuable only when it’s no longer in our lives. There's no right or wrong to this, other than what you decide is best for yourself.