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Mental Packing: Lighten Your Load

Applying the one carry-on limit to everyday life

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In a society that demands us to keep up with anything and everything (i.e. social media, unfiltered news, constant flow of notifications on our phone) we exert more energy than we should on things that don’t serve our optimal self. The result is a snowball of mental baggage.

Airlines have mastered baggage restrictions, and while the one carry-on limit can be inconvenient – especially when we just need to bring both of our favorite shoes – it does prevent us from overburdening ourselves. Unfortunately, we don’t typically put restrictions on how much baggage we’re allowing ourselves to lug around. We’re accumulating more mental baggage than we have the time, energy, or resources to process. While we’re not paying for these extra bags monetarily, we are paying in physical burnout and chronic stress.    

The same way we prepare for our travels, we can approach our day-to-day:

1. Check in

We can’t get onto a flight without checking in. Similarly, we shouldn’t start our day without checking in with ourselves. We often check in with just about everyone else in our lives except ourselves. So, let’s get in touch with ourselves. Maybe we set an intention for the day, or just have an open dialogue with ourselves. Maybe a mantra helps us kick off the day (i.e. I am right where I need to be). Maybe we remind ourselves of something we’re grateful for to help ground us. The goal is to be open and specific with ourselves.  

2. Pack a carry-on

When packing a carry-on, we typically pack the necessities: prescription medications, electronics, toiletries, etc. We can translate this to the way we pack our mental carry-on for the day: what is necessary to focus on today? We should make our to-do list manageable by prioritizing what needs immediate attention. Sometimes we create unrealistic to-do lists that make us feel unaccomplished and anxious if we don’t complete it. Instead of thinking 3,4 or 5 steps ahead, focus on one main thing (and maybe we only get one thing done today – that’s ok!).    

3. Weigh the checked bags

In addition to a carry-on, sometimes we check a bag. We usually pack everything else into our checked bag: clothes, shoes, liquids (over 3.4 oz), etc. When thinking about our lives, try to visualize what our checked bag looks like. Would it exceed the 50 lb limit? What are we lugging around in that checked bag – all the stuff we think still belongs to us, that we continue to pack and have to claim? Is it the hurt we’ve been carrying from a breakup? Is it the feeling of failure after not getting a job? Or the anxiety of a future deadline? To improve our clarity, productivity, and ability to problem solve it’s helpful to conduct our own baggage inspection to determine what is weighing us down and no longer serves us on our daily journey.

4. Unpack

When we return from traveling, we unpack, put the bags away, and do a load of laundry. If we care about our things, we don’t just shove them away. We notice if they need cleaning or ironing. We consider what we need to bring or leave at home next time. Similarly, we should unpack our mental baggage and take care to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings. Are you sad? Hurt? Overwhelmed? Exhausted? Our emotions can be a guide to restore balance and reset priorities. By regularly unpacking and looking at our mental baggage, we create space for our present self.   

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