Updated: Apr 15
My alternate title for this post is “Unpacking Your Cosmic Backpack”. But...we’ll get there in a minute!
When I’m in coaching sessions, it astounds me just how much everyone carries with them. They come to a session, ready to focus on moving forward towards their goals, and as we unravel what’s going on, there always comes a moment of realization that they are managing not only their own forward progress but doing it while simultaneously carrying and managing a million other things. Family concerns, unresolved issues at work, house projects, car problems, volunteer commitments, dealing with violence, navigating social media, fostering friendships, caring for pets...the list is endless.
The image I always get in my head of this is each of us is carrying around our own “cosmic backpack” - I visualize a giant bag that we strap onto our backs each day, and we stuff all of those things that are taking up space in our head into it. Over time, that bag can get heavier and heavier, and we usually don’t stop to take inventory and re-evaluate whether or not we actually want to be carrying all of it around with us.
I find it’s necessary to stop occasionally and lighten the load of this cosmic backpack. At the very least, take some time to intentionally examine what’s in there so you can make more informed and conscious choices about how you spend your energy and your time. I’ve got a guided reflection that can help you do this, but I often find that just the act of inventorying and re-packing this backpack intentionally can help you lighten the load.
I recommend doing this exercise (or listening to the guided reflection) at least once a month to help keep your pack light and keep you nimble on your feet. It’s a fairly simple but powerful process. You’re going to start by first taking off the backpack. This means getting some quiet time to yourself (I frequently do this in my truck in my driveway before I go back into the house). I want you to intentionally lighten your own load by allowing yourself to just set down the backpack full of all of those things that are on your mind. You don’t need to list them all out (yet), and you don’t need to examine them closely or justify them, and you definitely don’t need to criticize yourself. Just take a deep inhale and then exhale allllll the way to the end of your breath, imagining all of those concerns just existing outside of you. You get to set them down for a little bit. You’ll pick (many of) them back up again, but for now- imagine that feeling of taking off or setting down a heavy bag you’ve been carrying. Breathe into that sensation and enjoy the lightness for a little bit.
Now, it’s time to inventory. Snag a piece of paper or open a document on an electronic device. You’re going to get everything that’s running in that internal monologue out of your head and into a format you can visibly see. And I mean everything. No editing. Dump the thoughts, the to-do items, the fears, the celebrations, the critiques- you can categorize it, or you can just spit it out onto the page. (I just let it free flow at this point.) Once it’s out, it’s time to sift! Is there anything on that list that can be deleted? Anything that either really doesn’t need to be done or that can be done with more ease? Is there anything that can be delegated to someone else? Asking for help is one of the most powerful ways to lighten our loads, and yet, we often overlook it as a strategy. Next- is there anywhere you’re adding to your own load? Sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. This might look like artificial deadlines that are adding pressure, standards that are higher than reasonable, or additional tasks that don’t really move the needle or carry the ROI that makes them worthwhile.
Once you’ve assessed what you’re carrying around, now you get to decide what to put back in your backpack and carry with you. You might repack all of it exactly the way it was when you took it out. You might leave some items out altogether or commit to asking someone else to carry them. Or, you might modify some of the items, lightening the load a bit at a time. What’s most important here is that you pay attention to the weight of the backpack - sometimes it’s heavier than others (and sometimes it’s heavier than you think!). As you build awareness of the totality of what you’re carrying around all day, respond accordingly. If it’s an extra heavy load, try giving yourself a little bit of grace. If there’s room for more, maybe you can reach out to someone who might need a little bit of help. The bottom line is to keep tuning in and cultivating that awareness so you can best manage your energy to keep moving forward.
Nicole Lance is a women’s leadership development expert, facilitator, executive coach, speaker, strategic planner, and promoter of self-care. She is passionately committed to helping organizations and individuals succeed in reaching - and reaching beyond - their goals.