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How to Let Go of Painful Emotional Baggage (eBags)

The picture of these rocks, and the emotional baggage they each represent, was taken just before they were sent to swim with the fishes in the Mississippi River


Why is it so hard to set aside emotional baggage (eBags for short) that causes one so much pain, distress and that can be the root of so much procrastination and self-sabotaging behavior?

One reason is that it’s invisible, and how do you let go of something that you can’t see? That’s why we’ve incorporated a variety of Metaphorical Visualization™ techniques into our courses on values-based life and leadership skills: a metaphor creates the mental picture that is worth a thousand words. Letting an ugly rock represent your emotional baggage is an effective way to make it tangible – and thus defeatable.

Step 1: Identify the painful eBag as specifically as possible. For example “The bully who made my life miserable in the ninth grade” or “The fear that is preventing me from filling out an application to graduate school” or “The feeling that no matter what I do, I am never good enough.”

Step 2: Pick up an ugly rock (the size of your fist is ideal) and let that rock represent the eBag you want to leave behind. For best effect use a sharpie to write words on the rock.

Step 3: Carry your rock around for a week (longer if needed). Keep it in your briefcase, backpack, purse or pocket to represent the dead weight of the emotional baggage that has been burdening your life.

Step 4: Talk to your rock – and I mean literally carry on a conversation. Tell it why it is not longer welcome in your life and will no longer have a place in your heart, mind or soul.

Step 5: If you do Step 4 in good faith, you will eventually hear the rock talk back to you, trying to rationalize or justify why you need to keep it, or mocking you for not being strong enough to kick it out of your life.

Step 6: Talk back to your rock (you will probably want to do this step where no one else can see or hear you). Tell it in no uncertain terms that it has a very short life expectancy in your life. For best effect get your body into the act by shaking a fist at it.

Step 7: At the end of your week (longer if needed) have a purification ceremony of some sort. Haul your rock up to the top of a mountain or out into the woods and bury it in a deep hole. Take a boat out onto a lake or river and toss the rock into the water.

Step 8: When that emotional baggage tries to worm its way back into your life, as it surely will, remind it that you’ve buried it in an unmarked grave or sent it to swim with the fishes. Tell it to go back to where it belongs so you can get on with your life.

Step 9: Put a triumphant smile on your face, take a nice deep breath, cross your arms, and take the stance of a victorious warrior. Then move forward into the rest of your life.

You might think that this is silly – many people do. But the fact that you have read to this point suggests that what you are doing now isn’t working, and you know that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If so, why don’t you give this a try?

Do it together: This technique is most effective when a group of people do it together. When I conduct my 4-day Certified Values Coach Trainer (CVCT) course, on the first day I lay out a big pile of ugly rocks and explain the exercise. On the last day I invite newly graduated Values Trainers to leave their rocks at the front of the room with the promise that I will dispose of them. The picture above is of some of the rocks that had been carried by team members at Children’s Hospital New Orleans last week shortly before I sent them to swim with the fishes in the Mississippi River.

One more thing: I long ago lost count of the number of toxic rocks I have disposed of, but I vividly remember the emotional scenes when people unburdened themselves of their eBags at the front of our classroom, and the messages I’ve received, often months later, describing the life-changing emotional freedom people have achieved when they realize that they no longer need to carry around those ugly rocks.

PS: If you are a parent, please share this technique with your kids, because I can assure you they are not learning how to cope with emotional baggage at school.

Help Us Help You Help Your Team!

To learn more about how preparing a team of Certified Values Coach Trainers to teach The Twelve Core Action Values can help you build a more positive Culture of Ownership in your organization, call 319-624-3889 or email me directly – Joe@ValuesCoach.com. Before you do, download this one-page fact sheet. Thanks!

Fact Sheet on The Twelve Core Action Values

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