He gazed longingly into her eyes as he held out his gift. It was a … pen? Seriously?
I was spellbound for a moment, then cracked up laughing as my client returned to her normal voice, saying, “Yeah. I never liked him anyway.” She tossed the old ballpoint pen in the trash.
Why the all the drama around a pen?
It was dirty and useless to write with, but resided at the front of her desk drawer for a very long time until I arrived to help her organize her office.
She had been reluctant to part with much in her cluttered office. I wondered how the day would end; it felt futile. Would she be pleased with what little we’d accomplished?
In my final try to encourage her to part with it, I personalized the pen.
Forget logic. Go with the emotion.
As she held the pen, I began sonorously, “It was a dark and stormy night….”
She picked up the scene, “…the wind howled as the clouds roiled across the lightning-lit dark. He gazed longingly into her eyes as he slowly offered his gift. It was a pen. But not just any pen, it was….”
The rich story grew until she remembered who had given her the pen. His sour memory appeared, and she tossed the pen in the trash.
We moved on to the next item, and the day turned into a fun story fest. She opened space in her office by letting many things go to donation, trash, and other homes.
Letting go can be challenging, no matter how inconsequential an item seems.
If it were easy, you’d have done it already.
Read that again. If it were easy, you’d have done it already.
It explains why we get stuck on a bazillion things.
The first time the pen dragged flecks of dried ink across the paper, you may have tried to get it to work and then trashed it. It was an easy, logical choice. The pen doesn’t write, so toss it in favor of one that does.
Think of how uncluttered your spaces and your life would be if all choices were as easy.
You’d have nothing broken, unused, or outdated. You’d be logically decisively efficient, keeping nothing without a utilitarian purpose, and lots of organizers, coaches, and therapists would be out of work.
But for many people, letting go is hard for reasons known only to them. Sometimes even they don’t consciously know what’s in the way.
Motivations aren’t logical.
No, they’re not. I know you might think so because you can assign a logical (utilitarian) reason to something you do or don’t do. But the underlying cause is emotional.
Don’t believe me?
You’re sentimental about a few objects, aren’t you?
The too-much-trouble-to-wind-up watch your parents gave you when you graduated, the garish oversized trophy that’s been stuffed at the back of your closet for 30 years, and the piece of cloth from your grandfather’s armchair aren’t useable, but still meaningful. You can tell someone a story about why they’re meaningful to you, and most people will understand why and not argue with you about storing them unless you are taking up someone else’s spaces.
But what if you’re emotionally attached to something and can’t explain it? You’ll get little sympathy from those that want whatever it is to be gone.
We have names for why we can get attached to objects: pareidolia and anthropomorphism.
Pareidolia is seeing patterns in random places, like seeing a face in the headlights, bumper, and grill.
Anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics to non-human entities.
Combine the two, and you’ve got a typewriter with a darling face that’s hard to give away.
Admit it, this typewriter is kind of cute, even if it doesn’t work. and is taking up space.
Cute is hard to resist. It’s hard-wired into us.
Product designers use these tendencies to create an emotional attachment that entices us to buy.
Imagine waking up to Clocky, the roving alarm clock, and how that cute face might make it difficult to discard it when it’s no longer needed.
A way to make change easier
Organization, improvement, and creation require change, the opposite of movement: preservation, stasis, and inaction.
For some, simply identifying what they’d like to change starts the process toward their goal. They want this and not that and start on their path of action. They’re not overly attached to their current circumstances.
It’s more complicated for others.
Change is scary, complicated, and emotional. They say what they want but what they do to get it isn’t linear. It’s circuitous and can be hard to understand. There are conflicting actions and emotions, supported by inaccurate imaginations.
Shift into healthy detachment
Reducing emotional attachment is essential to change.
Just like the client who had a tight hold on a grubby ink-less pen that was taking up prime space in her drawer, tell someone the story aloud. It can be about a pen, a relationship, an opportunity, or any other decision.
Listen to yourself narrate the story, embellish and dramatize it, and hear the truth or the fallacy of it.
And then you can keep the pen, let it go, and move on to what’s next.
It’s unique, interesting, and the starting place for the improvements you’re looking for.
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