How I Learned to Stop 'Watering the Dead Plants' in My Life
September 28, 2018
I hate to admit it: I am the queen of dead plants.
It’s never intentional, but somehow, every once in awhile, a cute succulent or ivy manages to wilt in my room without me noticing for weeks. Figuring out the cause of their demise is a sad process of elimination. Were they getting a bit too much sunlight? Was I neglecting to give them plenty of water—or was I watering them too much?
That’s literally the takeaway from the saying “stop watering your dead plants.” Fortunately, the original source was definitely not talking about the sad, dead plants I’ve gathered. The metaphor reaches beyond the confines of my small apartment, and asks us to examine our life as a garden—and demands us to stop pouring our focus and energy into things that aren’t going to grow anymore.
Sometimes, that ask can feel like a lot. It did to me when I first heard it. But with practice, it’s helped me learn how to focus my energy and recognize when relationships or priorities aren’t healthy for me. But to get to that place, I worked through a lot of questions that the short phrase “stop watering your dead plants” raises.
What does my soil look like?
Like all gardens (or pots) soil is so important—just like foundational aspects of our lives. It’s the attitude from which all our plants or trees grow. If you’ve got toxic soil floating around, it might be time to agitate that ground a bit and make way for people or feelings that can help you grow a bountiful garden.
Let’s take interpersonal relationships, for example. Think about the people in your life who are important to you. What are they rooted in? Are they rooted in joy or love, or are they rooted in jealousy or inauthenticity? Are you watering that soil, with energy and focus? Finding what brings you happiness in your garden is key to determining what to grow—and how to grow it.
When do I know to stop watering?
Sometimes understanding what to let wilt can be hard to do. Our lives are filled with a lot of things that don’t really seem fun but are necessary to participate in (lookin’ at you, taxes). Unfortunately, we have to water those things. What makes a “dead plant” different is that it’s something you can actively choose to engage with—or choose to not engage with—depending on how it helps your growth.
For me, that first meant examining what I needed from my friendships, and being OK with asserting whether or not the relationships were reciprocal. Ultimately, for me that meant letting go of friendships that dragged me down, and instead, redirecting that energy into pursuing new passions.
Take psychologist Ellen Hendriksen suggestions and try identifying whether or not something feels “genuine, or like a transaction.” Whether it’s a friend or a side hustle you’re examining, take stock of the last time that “plant” supported you or brought you joy. Checking in with yourself about whether you feel authentic in the things you pursue is a way to start having that conversation with yourself.
OK, but how do I actually say ‘no’?
Saying “no” isn’t easy—I get it. Despite our goals or ambitions, it’s a lot more effortless to continue going with the status quo than to change courses with a “no.”
Breaking out of the comfort of what you know can be hard, so next time you’re in a situation about to water that dead plant, practice what you’ll say out loud. Maybe it’s owning what you need—a night in instead of a wild night out with that friend who never throws you some support. Once you feel comfortable, try it out on a smaller scale. Soon you’ll find yourself feeling more confident in asserting your needs.
It’s easy for us to stay in the habit of giving our energy away to certain things or people—but we have to remind ourselves to ask, “Is this the best use of my energy?”
Remind yourself why it’s important to prioritize feelings or relationships that are thriving, then verbalize or imagine how you’re going to create those boundaries and refocus your power.
Stop watering those dead plants and let the rest of your garden grow.
Read next: How I Learned Not to Pour From an Empty Cup
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