Our ideas and beliefs shape who we are. They guide our actions, set our mindsets, lead us to people who share our same ideologies, and so on. But it’s important to remember that people change—and their ideas change, too. This is healthy and good. Humans need to grow, learn, and adapt. Some of those changes happen naturally: we grow up, gain new perspective, and start to see the world differently as a result. Other changes, however, are more deliberate. Sometimes, we doubt our ideas and make the conscious decision to move on from them. So then the question becomes this: how do you know when it’s time to let go of an idea?
How to know when it’s time to let go of an idea
An “idea” can mean several different things. It can be a long-held belief, a brief thought, a questioning suggestion, or an underlying purpose. You might have the idea to start a new business or create a new product. Ideas might come to you in a flash of inspiration, or they might be formed and refined over an extended period of time.
For all these reasons, it can be difficult to establish a firm set of rules that will tell you for certain when it’s time to let go of an idea. But generally speaking, there are some red flags you can look for that will give you a good indication that an idea is no longer serving you in the way you want it to.
You have to justify it.
Sometimes, it’s a good thing to talk yourself into an idea. Maybe all you need is a little pep talk, a little inspiration, a little push in the right direction. If you’re talking yourself into being brave or going after something you really want, then you’re probably moving in the right direction.
However, if your talking sounds more like justifications or excuses, then your idea is probably taking you down the wrong path. If you’re having to constantly make excuses for why something didn’t work, or you are having to reposition the idea so that it fits into your morals or ideals, then the idea probably needs to go.
It’s affecting your mental health.
If you don’t have your mental health under control, life is going to be a lot harder and a lot unhappier. Preserving your mental health is one of the most important things you can do as a creative, a professional, a partner, a parent, and a human being.
If an idea you have is constantly causing you stress, anxiety, depression, or burnout, or is causing you to lose sleep or adopt unhealthy behaviors, then that idea is not serving you. In fact, it’s harming you. It’s okay to let go of harmful ideas. It’s okay to take care of yourself. Let go of ideas that bring you down; chances are, they aren’t worth it.
It’s not helping you grow.
No matter how “good” an idea is, if it’s not helping you get to where you want to go, then it’s not a helpful idea. This is particularly important for creatives to remember. A creative’s mind is often going a mile a minute, thinking up lots of different ideas and creative solutions. But here’s the thing: if those ideas aren’t moving you in the direction you want to be headed, then they aren’t the right ideas for you to entertain.
This is why it’s so important for creatives to set intentions and goals for themselves. It’s important to define and design happiness for yourself so that you can work to create it, and so you can chase and feed the ideas that will help you do just that. Once you realize that an idea is not helping you become the person you want to be, you can (and should) let it go.
Listen to your intuition.
Your intuition is smart—maybe even smarter than you realize. Deep down, most people intuitively know what works for them and what doesn’t; what they want and what they don’t; and what their personal “truth” really is. Listening to your intuition can help you know which paths to follow, who to listen to, and what to try next.
In the same way, your intuition can provide valuable insight into when it’s time to let go of an idea. Maybe you’ve tried to make something work, over and over, and it’s just never panned out. Maybe you have a bad feeling about the other people involved in the idea. Or maybe you just know that your heart isn’t in it anymore. Learn to listen to your intuition so it can help you separate the ideas that are worth hanging onto from the ones that aren’t.
You’re missing out on other opportunities.
If an idea is holding you back from things that you really want, then it’s definitely not serving you anymore. Ideas that take up too much of our time or energy can end up being overly restrictive; they can keep us from being able to create the life we really want.
Additionally, holding on to an idea—as part of an ideology—can also hold you back or cause you to miss out on happiness. Stubbornly sticking to an idea that hurts you or others might be causing you to miss out on the happiness and fulfillment that life has to offer. Be willing to examine your ideas and consider what might be passing you by because of them.
There’s no room for flexibility or adaptation.
The best ideas rarely start out as the best ideas. You have to allow your ideas room to transform into other ideas that are even more meaningful and powerful. Sticking to your first iteration of an idea can actually be harmful, as it might hold you back from an idea’s true potential
If you have an idea that hasn’t changed at all in a long period of time, it’s worth closer examination. Ideas should leave room for change and flexibility. You might need to let go of restrictive ideas in order to clear the way for other, better ones.
How to let go of an idea
How can you change your mindset so that you can let go of an idea that is no longer serving you? Here are some quick tips:
Replace it with a new idea.
The best way to get rid of one thought is to replace it with another. (Think of it like chewing gum instead of smoking cigarettes.) When you realize it’s time to let go of an idea, take the time to design a new idea that will serve you better. Remember: you have power over your thoughts. You are capable of adopting whatever ideas you want to adopt.
Thank the idea and take whatever lessons you can from it.
In the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo talks about how difficult it can be to let go of material possessions. One suggestion she makes that can help make it easier is to thank the object before letting it go. Realize that it has served its purpose in your life. Find closure with it. You can do the same with an idea you are ready to let go of. Think about the purpose that idea has served in your life. Consider the lessons it taught you. Recognize that you don’t need it anymore, and would be better off without it. And allow yourself to let it go.
Affirmations are powerful tools that can help you shape your thoughts. When you use them correctly, they can help you develop a useful mindset that will serve your purposes and goals. If you’ve realized that an idea is no longer serving you, write an affirmation that will help you combat that thought when it arises, or that will help you maintain your self-confidence or personal peace as you move on from that idea.
Recognize and avoid triggers.
Sometimes things, places, or people can trigger certain ideas. While you’re trying to move on from a harmful idea, do your best to avoid those triggers at all costs. It might be difficult, but it will help you as you work to let go.
Take care of yourself.
Like I said before, your mental health is extremely valuable. Changing your ideas or beliefs—especially those that are particularly important to you—can feel earth-shattering. If you know that it’s time to let go of an idea, be prepared to take care of yourself. Watch what you eat, make sure you exercise, and protect your sleep. Do things that make you feel recharged and whole. Realize that you can still be happy, even if you’re letting go of that thing you once believed in. You are your greatest asset. Recognize this trying time for what it is, and take care of yourself.
Ideas are powerful. They can open new doors, incite revolutions, or bring us prosperity. But they can also cause confusion, harm, and unhappiness. Use this post as a reminder to check your ideas. Learning how to know when it’s time to let go of an idea is the first step. Now, use these tips to release yourself from harmful ideas and to design and create a happier life for yourself.
You are in control—always.
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