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  • Writer's pictureSheena Sullivan

How I Shred Negative Beliefs—Literally

When I was 28, I sold and gave away everything I owned.

I went on a life-changing, 10-day, silent meditation retreat that spurred me to return home, clean house, and move from Chicago to Denver with just a carry-on suitcase. Since then, I’ve continued to clear clutter like my life depends on it. And I know it does, so I try to be very intentional about what I choose to have around me.

Today, I’m sharing a practice that applies clutter clearing in a new, life-changing way—shredding negative beliefs, literally—with a shredder.

If I had to name one key to my success in all areas of my life—running nonprofits, owning businesses, personal relationships, and so on— it has been making powerful incremental updates to my mindset. Mindset work outweighs any other professional or personal development I’ve participated in.

My latest practice, the one I’m sharing here, has accelerated my mindset evolution to a new level.

Mental Clutter

First, let me back up. Did you watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo? If not, you’ve probably at least heard of it. I didn’t know about Marie when I gave everything away, but I loved her and the show when I watched it years later, and I think her principles are the perfect metaphor for the shredding exercise I’m going to teach you.

The premise of Marie’s show and decluttering philosophy, in a nutshell, is that you should get rid of anything in your home that doesn’t spark joy. Keeping a bunch of junk around keeps the energy from flowing in your space and life.

The same is true for mental junk.

Just like that ugly sweater in your closet, there are ugly beliefs in your head that create clutter and hurt your energy. (Beliefs are just thoughts you keep on thinking.) Teachers, parents, friends, and other important figures inadvertently planted many of these beliefs when we were very young.

For many of us, outdated patterns of thinking sabotage us from creating the things we want in life. We might want to get healthy, but having experienced food scarcity in childhood keeps us overeating. Or we want more professional success, but doubts about our competence started by a 6th-grade band teacher keep us from going for it (or was that just me?).

The negative idea may have even served us at some time, much like that old sweater we needed or wanted when we first got it. Similarly to cleaning out the closet, we need to move along outdated thoughts to make space for new ones that will serve us now.

Clearing Negative Beliefs

As a lover of personal and professional development, I’ve heard several times about the power of writing down negative beliefs to get them out of my head (better out than in). However, I’ve never acted on it because I didn’t like the idea of my biggest insecurities floating around in the world on paper. How unsettling! Affirmations and things I’m trying to manifest, sure. I’ll keep list upon list of those, but not the yucky and shameful stuff.

The game changed a few weeks ago when I heard the recommendation again by the Chillpreneuer and Money Mindset Coach Denise Duffield-Thomas. Denise’s advice was to write down as many negative or limiting beliefs as possible and then say a little “prayer” for each of them. The process is similar to ho’oponopono, the Hawaiian practice of forgiveness.

Again, I hesitated to try the practice until the solution occurred to me. I could do this exercise if I could get rid of the list. I thought about burning the paper, but it seemed impractical (and smoky). So, I opted to shred. I love the metaphor, as well as the physicality of the act.

The Science of Forgiveness

Let’s talk about the forgiveness part of the process before you write me and the practice off as woo-woo. (To be clear, I love woo, especially when backed by science.)

Research tells us that the act of forgiveness positively impacts overall health, decreasing depression, anxiety, and pent-up anger. At the same time, forgiveness increases self-esteem and life satisfaction. Forgiveness changes our physiology.

In case science isn’t enough, I’ll also remind you that the decluttering queen, Marie Kondo, also recommends saying a little blessing before sending your old or ugly clothes back into the world.

How to Shred Negative, Limiting Beliefs

Here is the process for shredding negative beliefs:

1. Decide Where to Start

My first thought decluttering session was around finance. I lived for a long time with limiting beliefs around money rooted in my childhood, and changing that area of my life is the work I’ve been doing lately.

You might know right off which part of your life requires some mental housekeeping, but if not, here are some questions to consider:

  • Where is one area of life where things don’t seem to be going well?

  • What is a project that you’re struggling to get ahead on?

  • What big dream or desire would you like to move toward?

You can eventually clear thoughts in several areas, and you’ll probably notice once you get going that the negative beliefs in ALL areas of your life have significant similarities. More on that later. For now, start with one life department.

2. Set the Scene

You’ll need a shredder. I use a manual mini-shredder that I got from Amazon for $12. I like the physical act of turning the handle as I say my forgiveness prayer and shred the thought. Any shredder will do, though. You will also need notecards or strips of paper to write on.

I set the scene when I did my first money clutter clearing session. I poured a glass of wine, played meditative music, dimmed the lights, and lit a lovely-smelling candle. Your setting may include heavy metal music and a lava lamp, and that’s okay. The point is to set a mood for the first shredding session so you can get into it.

3. Write the Thoughts

Without overthinking it, start writing down any possible negative beliefs that could be holding you back on your topic. You’re not shredding yet, just writing and creating a pile.

Some of the thoughts I wrote were “it’s hard to make money” and “there’s never enough money.” If you’re unsure what some of your negative beliefs might be, it could be helpful to spend a day or two building awareness around your thinking. Keep an eye on your thoughts and notice when one pops up that is less than helpful. Jot them all down for your shredding sesh.

3. Shred the Thoughts

Once you have a healthy stack and no more negative beliefs come to mind, it’s time to shred. Read each one and then say your forgiveness statement. Mine is:

I forgive you. I’m sorry. Thank you. I love you.

You can say whatever you want, but the point is to thank the belief for how it has served you (however twisted), forgive it, and let it go.

4. Keep It Up

I’ll return to the closet-cleaning metaphor one last time. Clearing mental clutter is not a one-and-done project. Negative thoughts and beliefs continue to accumulate on the daily, much like stuff does in our homes. I have adopted the mantra in my home that when something new comes in, something has to go out. The practice keeps everything from piling up on me while I’m not looking.

As you go about your days and life, striving to grow and evolve, you’ll notice limiting beliefs pop up left and right. Shred them, when possible, in the moment. If you can’t clear a thought in real time, jot it down and shred it later.

I shred pretty much every day and expect to keep doing it forever. Yes, forever. That’s how committed I am to the harmful thought shredding practice I’m gifting you. It’s so powerful, and I cannot wait for you to give it a go.

If you’re excited about the shredding practice and want to have more conversations like this one, I encourage you to reach out for a coaching discovery call. I work 1:1 selectively with high-achieving women leaders ready to bust through their limits and work and live on their terms. You can learn more about 1:1 coaching and request a free call here.

With your guidance, I was able to accelerate my progress. After each discussion, I either felt more confident about the plans I had formed, or I was able to work with you to form a better plan for success.”
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez, Washington DC


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