Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin - Virtue #3 - Order
Our new Weekly Series explores improving your life through character growth and a new habit of practicing virtues. To read about why we are exploring virtue, click here.
Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin
Virtue #3 - Order
Almost 300 years have passed since old Ben set out to perfectly live the virtue of Order. Yet, our lives today are far busier and distraction-filled than Ben could ever have imagined. People strive to order their lives so that they can have peace and tranquility. An entire industry has sprung up around helping them do that. Books, blogs, magazines, television shows, and consultants offer advice on how you can clean up your clutter. Despite the information out there, people still have trouble living up to this virtue. Why?
We typically strive with good intentions to get our lives, our families, and our schedules in order. Since springtime is here and soon summer will be in full swing, many of us see the need for some “spring cleaning,” the time when we let go of what we’ve been holding onto and create space for the new. Still many of us find it difficult to let go, and while we may have a clean space for a week or two, life happens, and we see the clutter pile up over and over again.
Practicing the virtue of order means practicing the art of letting go. It is possible to organize your things without letting anything go, and often this can happen for a time. But over time we take on more and more, and soon we have less physical space to put it all. Eventually, we will have to let some things go and either sell, recycle, or repurpose them to make way for something new.
This idea can also be applied to our mental and emotional lives. Life is constantly challenging us to let go and move forward, but often this is challenging, and we get stuck. We put off having that difficult conversation with a spouse, partner or friend, or we go weeks without checking in with ourselves, or continue to engage in an unhealthy relationship that is past its expiration date. When we do this, we miss the opportunity to practice order in our lives.
To have order, we must first acknowledge, grieve, and let go. This will make space for order to happen and for new opportunities and relationships to come in and flourish. Start with something small, like a project or errand you are putting off. Acknowledge that you have something you need to address, then grieve letting go of it, and any thoughts that it could have been done sooner. Once you make the space and clear out the mental clutter, you are much more prepared to get organized.
If your need is much more personal, such as the loss of a family member or significant friendship or relationship, the same approach applies. First, you must acknowledge the loss. Then, allow yourself time and space to grieve and heal, however long this takes for you. Often, people who care about us are concerned when they see us distressed. You can welcome their concern, but only you know when you are finished letting go. Take your time, surround yourself with an encouraging community, and the allow space to fully release that relationship.
Sometimes physical items and relationships are emotionally linked. This is why hoarding can become an issue for some. Often, we put off cleaning and ordering our physical spaces when we feel depressed or overwhelmed by relational issues, and you might find that allowing yourself the time and space to acknowledge and validate your own feelings will help you find the energy and strength to start ordering your life once again. Once you let go, you create healthy space for something wonderful and new to positively improve your overall well-being.
A Note From Dr. Andy
I have had clients tell me that after their therapy appointments they experience a kind of positive afterglow or calming effect as a byproduct of talking through their challenges. In fact, in my own therapy experiences I have also experienced this effect. It can vary from 30 minutes to a couple of hours to even a day or more. What I have learned about this phenomena is that when you process feelings or experiences that are overwhelming or chaotic, and do so in a very supportive and non-judgmental environment, you actually begin to rewire some of the neurological pathways connected to those experiences. Additionally, a skilled therapist can help you re-write the personal narrative you tell yourself about those experiences and about yourself. This enables you to shape a new identity - seeing yourself as someone that overcomes challenges and is resilient. To some extent, when you talk about your challenges in a therapeutic setting it’s similar to organizing feelings, memories, and personal narratives that once felt overwhelming and chaotic, but now feel more resolved and settled.
In conclusion, I'm really enjoying this series on virtues. Coach Paul is doing an excellent job of exploring Ben Franklin‘s Art of Virtue model, and I simply wanted to weigh in on how working through your challenges in a supportive and therapeutic environment helps to create order psychologically and emotionally. Furthermore, talking about these virtues and character strengths with my family and emphasizing virtues with my kids has helped to create order and structure in how we deal with their successes and difficulties. Overall, it's been a very worthwhile and meaningful endeavor, and I hope you're feeling the same benefits.
Practicing Letting Go
Mindfully engage with anything you’ve been putting off that is causing clutter in your life, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. Spend 10-15 minutes writing a list of any areas of clutter and disorganization that you want to see change.
First, acknowledge the issue you’ve been avoiding. What are the reasons it’s difficult for you to engage with this? How have you been avoiding it? What do you want to do instead? Accept that you’ve lived without order for longer than you’d anticipated and resolve to get back your life.
Start the process of letting go by honoring and remembering what that thing, person, relationship meant to you. Allow yourself time to feel whatever you need to feel to move past the avoidance and commit to creating fresh emotional and physical space in your life. Order is possible if we acknowledge our need to continually let go.