pruning

The lost art of life pruning

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by Lisa Byrne

Lisa is the bestselling author of Replenish and founder of WellGrounded Life. She's got a big-hearted vision of a world where moms are fully equipped to live calm, healthy, and vibrant lives. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids, and 110 pound yellow lab.

I‘ve been studying about strengths lately.

Why we’re wired the way we are. Why some of us naturally have certain talents, and others don’t. Why some of us seem to have figured out a way to shine our talents brightly in the world, and others are having a hard time expressing them in everyday life.

Turns out the leading research on strengths has surprising neurological underpinnings.

From birth to about age three, our brains are rapidly growing, most especially the number of neural synapse connections within our brains. And when I say rapidly, I mean that each of our hundred billion neurons has made fifteen thousand neural synapse connections.

And then right around our third birthday, something really fascinating happens.

The brain does an about-face and from year 3 to about year 16 in our development: instead of growing, it begins to shrink. The brain spends the next 13 years going through a massive pruning project, slowly but surely decreasing in size and neural connections—because when it comes to synapses, what you don’t use, you lose.

It seems as though, physiologically, an individual’s brain becomes stronger by becoming smaller and more selective.

Our brain actively practices the art of pruning during the very years when we, arguably, develop and grow the most radically. Could it be that the way forward is hidden in knowing what we need to take away instead of what we need to add to our lives?

When we can become skilled at selectively knowing what to prune out of our lives, what remains becomes stronger, brighter, clearer. Our time and attention can be focused to produce beautiful, rich fruits.

But the art of life pruning is hard to strengthen in a busy, loud, and consumer-driven life.

When we can become skilled at selectively knowing what to prune out of our lives,  what remains becomes  stronger,  brighter,  clearer.

I was reminded of this recently when a women in one my courses shared that she finally hit a breaking point with the clutter in the playroom. She took a contractor-sized garbage bag and filled it to the brim with every single toy in the room. Instead of throwing it all away, though, she simply put it out of eyesight temporarily.

Then she gave herself and her child some time to acclimate to the openness, the spaciousness, the uncluttered-ness of the room.  And from that place of clarity and inner calm, she was better able to return a few intentionally-chosen toys back into the rotation, and donate the rest.

Practicing inner calm and quiet is the prerequisite for strengthening the muscle of knowing what needs to be pruned from our very full lives.

What if we prioritized time in our lives to get still and ask ourselves, “What do I want more of right now?”

And then, from that answer, ask, “What things in my life may be inhibiting or blocking it from flowing more freely into my life?”

It’s a bit of a counter-cultural perspective when we’ve been conditioned to immediately solve every feeling of lack or desire with something to “fill up” the gap we are experiencing. The art of life pruning suggests that maybe the wisest action is removing something that’s inhibiting what we want more of, rather than adding more to our plates.

It’s trusting that the seeds of what you want more of in your life are already there. And that the most important job, often, is in the consistent weeding to make space for healthy growth to happen.

What are you being called to prune right now in your life?

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Comments

  1. avatar
    Sarah Westphal says:

    Absolutely loved this Lisa. I can’t be reminded enough to prune things off my plate or clutter out of my house to make the room for what matters most.

    Funnily enough my husband and I were talking over the weekend about how much we enjoy doing nothing. Seriously, nothing. Just kicking back and relaxing and letting our weekends be about family and spontaneity. How do we accomplish this? Being vigilant about getting rid of stuff (who wants to be a stuff manager?) and keeping our schedules clear as well.

    • Sarah,

      I’ve also been having conversations with my husband about how leisure isn’t prioritized in our schedule at all…time specifically just for enjoyment- whatever that means…it needs to be protected and have its place.

  2. That is so fascinating, especially as I look at my 2 and almost-4-year-old boys and think about all the things they are learning. It’s completely counter-intuitive that cutting away healthy bits is actually the path to greater fruitfulness, but I’ve seen it work with our own trees, and Jesus said it would happen to us spiritually (john 15:2), so I suppose it only make sense that our brains would work this way, too.

  3. I so agree. I have spent April decluttering our home to make space for hospitality. I have had so many people over lately (something that really really matters to me) and it’s because the home feels lighter and more manageable and easy to pick up. This is no small feat with six children, but we are doing it. I would much rather host a potluck regularly then spend my time chronically organizing “stuff”.
    Now I need to prune my online and social media life so that I will spend more time doing what matters most…

  4. Is it spring or are we all just going through a rebirth of sorts? I started reading this with the idea that I wouldn’t agree/like it. Which is a bit ironic because the reason I thought I wouldn’t like it was that I often see minds get smaller as people age and have been fighting against this with some of my family (older members are much less tolerant and open-minded these days.)

    I actually love this. We are going through something very similar in my house. My husband and I just recently got some freeing news about y husband’s papillary thyroid cancer (trying to spread the word, hope it’s okay to share: http://disquisitivemama.blogspot.com/2014/04/grateful-for-modern-medicine-and-3rd.html) and, after years of not knowing, we feel like we can move forward. We are ready to show our children the world and live intentionally, as we had always set out to do. Thank you for sharing some science and ideas.

  5. Beautifully put.

  6. Things that are important to me: enjoying outdoors, ecology and the way the world works, spending time with friends and family and my 2 girls. ages 2 and 4. My office is my home (SAHM) and my husband works from home 75% of the time as well. Our home is small… 2 bedrooms (our bedroom is actually doubling as an office/study) and we have very little storage. That means that a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. cluttering the house is gone. My daughters are learning how much stuff is manageable and how to take care of their things. I tell them almost daily that if they love their stuff (clothes, toys, artsupplies… you name it) they need to take care of it. If it’s too much to take care of (like in piles on the ground untouched for days or under furniture or underfoot/getting broken), we donate it. We donate things almost monthly. No joke. And they know exactly what’s going on and why and they actually support it! Then we go outside to play with our friends!
    I should add: We have 3 sets a grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a great-grandma CONSTANTLY buying them stuff :-P

  7. My husband and I used to play lyric tag on-line because we dated long distance.
    One line that come to mind that we wrote during the process and give and take lyris was this.

    I see a thousand yesterdays in a room that you held dear.
    But now I can’t find today.
    I just need to keep what holds your memory
    and release the rest, because I need today so that I can see you tomorrow.
    sappy, but do you get the meaning.

    In the end the lyric was cut down to
    I see your face in my face
    I see your smile in my smile
    I see your face in a thousand blesseed memories
    But, I have to let go. ( now it just sounds sad, lol)

  8. I love this post. Right now I’m being called to prune outgrown baby/kids clothes, toys and art supplies. It’s all multiplying like crazy and taking up too much time to take care of.

  9. I loved this post. In my life it’s not so much the things I need to prune, but people. A little over a month ago I went through a broken engagement only a week before we were to get married. It has devastated me and in this past month, we have both had a hard time letting each other go. And just whenever I think we are on a healing process and going to get back together, his indecisiveness always rips the wound back open. I know that God has shown me he is not the one for me, and that this is unhealthy, and I just keep battling it. These have been some of the darkest, yet most reflective days I’ve ever had, and I believe it’s going to take me getting out the pruning shears and severing all ties before I can move on. Doing so is the hardest part.

    • Oh Melanie,

      I am so sorry to hear you are going through this- I can only imagine how difficult it all must be. And yes, pruning is a huge skill we need in our relationships as well sometimes- it takes a strong heart to care for your own well-being enough to draw firm boundaries.

      Hoping you find peace through this season.

  10. This article came at a perfect time for me. It completely validated exactly what I have been spending the last few days doing. You see I have been feeling utterly overwhelmed by a flurry of ideas, to dos and and inspiration. I felt like my wheels were spinning and I was getting nowhere fast. I had too many balls in air and had way too many things that I wanted to do. Instead of trying to do it all, I made the conscious decision to focus my energy on just five things. It was so hard deciding what to let go of…what to prune. However, in the end I know I will be better off. I already feel lighter.

  11. Yes! We are actually contemplating a big life change of moving to the country from the city. We’re an adventurous/outdoorsy family and are feeling pretty burned out by the rat race right now. For the longest time we’ve felt that living in the city and going to public school is what we’re “supposed” to do. This situation is great for many people. However, we’ve come to understand that as a family, our personalities and values lead us towards more rural life. I’m learning that just because one way of life works for my friends, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best for my family. I guess you could say that in addition to pruning out the busyness and noise, I’m also pruning others’ opinions and expectations (even when they come from a place of love) when I know that deep down they’re not meant for me.

  12. Love this Lisa – you are so right that we so often focus on adding more stuff rather than pruning the unnecessary. It is such a balance between letting go so we can let in and gain strength from the good stuff. Really interested to learn that we are wired this way.

  13. So often it’s the counter-intuitive action that brings us the results we seek, and this is a terrific example. I recently visited my daughter whose disorganized kitchen was a real thorn in her side.

    We emptied every cabinet and pruned away many of the contents. Once she intentionally chose what to keep, we decided upon the best place to store them for flow and accessibility. What a refreshing change! Not only does everything now fit easily into the storage areas, but the kitchen is much easier to keep neat, and my daughter loves being able to work in the space.

  14. Lisa,

    Thank you for this post. It is something that I am working through in this season of life – letting go of baggage from the past to make room for new life and fresh opportunities. You described a key element in achieving this: “practicing inner calm and quiet” — reducing the noise that surrounds us so we can focus on the beautiful music of our lives.

    Blessings,
    John
    http://www.thehillofbeans.com

  15. I absolutely love this!!! I plan to do the big “open space” project in both boys’ rooms this summer after reading this! Thank you for sharing. Isn’t God wonderfully consistent? His plan for growth always includes pruning.

  16. I find it hard to prune but like anything, practice helps!

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