A few weeks ago, I took on the project of clearing out my supplement drawer. Among other things I discovered: multivitamins from the mid-2000s, a container of supergreens hardened to grayish-yellow cement, some rancid flaxseeds, and three separate unmarked baggies containing a variety of unidentifiable nutritionals.
At the time they were packaged, all these products were arguably good for me. Now, having outlived their expiration dates, they had been reduced to so much dust and clutter.
The truth is, most useful and helpful things have a limited useful lifespan. And once they outlive that window, they become a burdensome waste of space.
Look at any decent perishable food, nutritional supplement, or personal-care product and you’ll likely find some little “best if consumed by” code or “freshness date” on the package.
Beyond this date, you know the product is no longer at its best — and in the event the product has spoiled or become contaminated, it may even do you harm.
The same can be said for a great many of our ideas, beliefs, and habits. Unfortunately, most of them don’t come with any obvious expiration indicator. So how can we know when they are ready for the dustbin?
This was a question I’ve been thinking about since I attended a seminar a few weeks back. The course explored both the history and the modern-day dynamics of man-woman relating.
During one session, an older gentleman acknowledged that he held some rather old-fashioned notions about women — ideas that were limiting his success not just in relating with the opposite sex, but also in evolving his life in happier, more rewarding directions.
In response to one rather revealing comment this gentleman made, one of the instructors suggested, “It might be time to check the expiration date on some of your ideas.”
I loved that phrase, and it led me to realize that our obsolete notions do come with an expiration indicator of sorts. It’s called pain.
Each of us is burdened by certain thought forms — from bigoted notions and prejudices about others to limiting beliefs about ourselves and the way the world works — that cause us a certain amount of trouble and discomfort.
We can continue to recycle our limiting notions long after they have stopped doing us any good — and too often, long after they’ve begun doing us harm — but we’re bound to suffer an increasing amount of pain and frustration as a result of these efforts.
And many times, this is how our outmoded ideas show us they are ready for the trash: They begin limiting our life choices. They weigh us down. They cramp our sense of identity.
At some point, they cost us enough (energy, money, health, happiness, hope) that we become willing to actively review and reconsider them.
That split second when we realize for the first time that maybe, just maybe, some long-stored notion is no longer true for us — that’s a moment of victory, a moment of rebirth.
It’s much like the first time you put on a pair of new glasses (note, most optometry prescriptions have expiration dates, too): You literally begin perceiving the world through new lenses.
That’s why I think it’s worth regularly challenging our own notions, including the ones we hold about past, present, and future selves. (For more on that, see “Rewrite Your Reality”.)
By way of example, here are just a few of the expired beliefs that I’ve elected to toss like so many ancient, stinky fish-oil capsules:
- “The harder I work, the more value I contribute, and the better I do.”
- “My desires are a burden to others; I should strive to minimize my wants and needs.”
- “Healthy living requires tremendous willpower and self-denial.”
- “I am going to get less attractive as I age, and my social value will diminish as a result.”
For as long as I clung to these ideas, they were true for me. Like Richard Bach said: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”
So what happens when we let our stale, outdated ideas go?
Life seems fresher, easier, more fun. Our lives expand in new directions. We grow, stretch, leap, soar.
I can’t think of a better way to head into spring.