March 20, 2018

Oh my gosh, I’ve been hanging on to this shirt for 10 years.

That was my first thought the other day while digging around in my closet, looking for something to wear that wasn’t my obligatory wrap-me-in-anything-warm-please winter wardrobe. I came across a “fancy” tank top that had somehow escaped the clutches of Goodwill for a full decade. I haven’t worn this shirt in many moons, but it’s somehow followed me though five apartments and a few career changes. It’s resilient, and also very unwanted.

Our mental habits are kind of like those clothes we previously loved and can’t bear to get rid of. We hang on to them because they’re known entities, they’re comfortable, and they represent a part of ourselves we’re not ready to leave in the past. And yet, I've recently started thinking: How nice would it be to have a little bit of extra closet space—and mental space, too?

The beginning of spring is the perfect time to assess what is—and isn’t—working with your emotional thought processes. Snow is thawing! Flowers are blooming! You’re ready to make a change!

Here are four mental habits I recommend shaking up this spring:

1. Release Criticisms—But Hold On to Compliments

It’s time to take out the dust rag and clean up your mental China cabinet full of criticism, little slights, and anxious moments. It’s easy to hold on to a negative performance review or a scowl on the subway from a stranger. But when you do this, you overlook all of the positive comments that are flowing into your life.

Of course, it’s difficult to completely erase negative self-talk in one fell swoop—we’re not magicians, after all. One quick way to counteract those feelings is by keeping a “Nice Things & Compliments” folder in your email. Every time someone sends you a bit of praise, file it in your folder, and dip back into it the next time you receive a criticism. Or, if you're getting praise outside your inbox, type out the compliment and send it to yourself. When you revisit the folder, your mood will instantly improve.

One added bonus: You’ll have evidence of exactly what you’re good at. As Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, advised in his book The Start-Up of You, “Think about the things people frequently compliment you on—those may be your strengths.”

2. Match Your Actions and Ambitions

A frequent source of unhappiness: not matching what we do with what we want. Think about it—it’s like asking why you’re not selling out stadiums like Beyoncé, when you haven’t been to your dance class in months.

The action vs. ambition question is one entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk asked himself when he was 30 years old. He realized his actions didn’t match his ambitions and he told himself that going forward: “Your behavior has to back up your words.”

"Your behavior has to back up your words."
- Gary Vaynerchuk

From there, he changed his entire mindset and became a serial entrepreneur and best-selling author. So instead of constantly thinking about your future in terms of “What’s next?” reflect on the question, “What can I do right now?”

3. Toss Aside Your 'Expert' Hat

Do the same task enough times and you’re sure to burn out. Maybe you’re not ready to put in two weeks’ notice at your job, but as you slowly incorporate new habits into your life, you can replace those old, stale feelings.

In her podcast "Happier," author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin says that people should become a minor expert in a subject that interests them. By doing this, a whole new part of the world can explode with excitement.

Her advice? Start with a lot of reading about a subject—part of the fun is not knowing where it will lead. This is also a sneaky way to cultivate your passions or find out what truly interests you.

Being a beginner at any age is hard, but if you harness a new season—or fresh start to a month, or friend pushing towards a similar goal—you’ll have momentum and accountability that will help you replace old habits with fresh ones.

4. Seriously, Let Your Brain Rest

Research shows that working harder isn’t necessarily working smarter. Building breaks into your routine can actually rejuvenate your motivation and lead to those creative “a-ha!” moments that Oprah loves.

If breaks aren't a habit for you yet, try it out. Going for a long walk, calling a friend, or even taking a quick nap can help you press reset in a much-needed way. Watching a few episodes of The Crown after a long, hard day of work shouldn’t get you down—in fact, it could lead to your next brilliant idea.


Read next: How to Declutter Your Mind With 'Mental Minimalism'