The Art of Pruning: Letting Go to Grow

A metaphorical look at pruning in the garden and life, focusing on removing what no longer serves us.

What does it mean to prune?

Pruning is “the deliberate removal of tree branches and limbs to achieve the specific objective of altering a tree’s health and form.” It’s often known in the context of trees, but we can apply this same process to other plants. For example, pruning my elephant ears is an annual task of mine to help the plants through the winter and into the next season. I cut away old growth that dies in the cold, so the plant can focus its energy on its roots and grow strongly as the temperatures warm in spring. 

As I pruned my elephant years several winters ago, I was struck with a thought:

We routinely need to prune ourselves to maximize our growth. 

Similar to a plant, our needs change over time. What serves us in one season may hold us back in another. If we aren’t conscious of the changes in our well-being and in our conditions, we may stunt ourselves. 

The art of pruning yourself

Pruning yourself looks different for every person, but the basic principles are the same. When we prune ourselves, we review the different aspects of our life, including our:

• Relationships

• Hobbies 

• Habits

• Routines

We consider how the things in our lives affect us, and we consequently “prune” away what holds us back. We refine our focus so we can concentrate our energy on what will support us in mind, body, and spirit.

There are some aspects of our lives we may not be able to completely cut away, such as work relationships or certain chores, but we can still benefit from the self-evaluation that pruning offers us. Have you ever felt low energy, frustrated, depressed, or unenthused about life without a clear understanding of why? Often, it’s because there is something in our lives that is weighing on us, and sometimes, the thing that weighs on us has been part of our routine for so long that we don’t realize it’s the problem.

If we identify something that is troubling us but we can’t completely remove it from our lives, we can instead adjust how we respond to it and find ways to manage its presence in our life. And, by refining our focus to the things that support us, we can come to be less bothered by the things that stunt us by deciding we won’t let them control our growth. 

My elephant ear coming back in spring

How to prune yourself

So what does it mean to actually get to pruning? It may not be as straightforward as chopping off a tree branch in one swift swing of an ax, but the concept is the same. 

We look at our friendships. Where is our energy going, and from where are we getting energy back? Is there someone in your life who isn’t putting in the same effort to the relationship, and doesn’t seem interested in maintaining it? This could be something to put less energy into, so you can put more energy into the relationships that serve you. 

We look at our hobbies, habits, and routines. It’s easy to get caught up in how the days pass us by, and we stop thinking critically about our regular activities and processes. Are you bored? Are you doing something that is actually inefficient, but you haven’t had the brain power to address it? Do you know something needs to change, but you’ve been putting it off? To prune yourself, you must take the time to make the change you want to see. Say goodbye to the “I’ll do it later” mindset, and do it now so you can grow. 

Journaling is a great tool for you during your pruning process. You might not know exactly what is keeping you from growing, and not know how to begin identifying the points of contention in your life. If you don’t know how to journal, try this. 

A few times a day, jot some notes into your log. This is to collect data, and you can use this data to help with your self-evaluation. 

Then you can use what you learn from the self-evaluation to do your pruning!

We can see here where a tree branch was pruned

A personal experience with pruning

It can be challenging to prune yourself. I think of times in my life when I realized I had to separate myself from friends of several years. It became clear they were in the way of my growth, despite how hard I tried to grow with them. After being disrespected and undervalued with no change in sight, I had to stop putting energy where it wasn’t appreciated. 

Years later, I know I made the right decision because I began to grow in new ways, and learned the important lesson of pruning away old growth for the new to prosper. 

The Soil of the Soul: Nurturing Your Inner Garden

Think of yourself as a garden

Have you ever thought of yourself as a garden? It may seem strange, but follow me on this thought.

Your mind is like a garden, your hobbies, habits, and routines are like plants, and your thoughts are like the water and sunlight you give your plants to grow. 

When the plants are tended to, the garden flourishes. When the plants are neglected, the garden suffers. You, as the gardener, are responsible for the success of the garden. You choose what grows and the level of care the plants receive. When invasive weeds (such as negative thoughts) pop up, it’s your job to manage them. If an infestation (like a depressed mindset) develops, you need to address it; the longer you wait, the greater the problem will become. 

Now you can see that you have more in common with a garden than you initially thought. So, how do you nourish the soil of your soul?

Nourishing the soil of your soul

Your soil is the foundation of your garden. The quality of soil and amount of nutrients present determines the health of your plants, if they can get what they need to grow and flower, and if wildlife can be sustained. In the perfect garden, the soil is rich, the plants are strong, and the wildlife has healthy sources of food (some people consider wildlife to be enemies of their garden; for me, gardening is about life coming together in a balanced way). 

Where do the nutrients in soil come from? Believe it or not, they come from “what has come before.” Dead leaves, old sticks, grass clippings, and compost are full of the nutrients necessary to healthy soil, and they pass them onto the soil as they decompose. This is why it drives me mad when I see plastic bags of raked leaves on my neighbors’ lawns, left out to be picked up by the trash collectors. By taking away the leaves, we take away a key source of the soil’s health! And, insects and critters need the leafy environment over winter to prepare for spring. 

Anyway, soil is constantly building upon itself in the cycle of life. The old becomes the new, and this is what happens with us. 

Think of all of your experiences, positive and negative, as the dead leaves, sticks and compost that nourishes soil. You can learn from your past experiences and use those lessons to grow in the future – the same way your food scraps as compost support the plants in your garden. 

If you want to nourish the soil of your soil, pay attention to the choices you make and the experiences they yield. Learn from those experiences, and use them to guide your choices in the future. Turn every experience into a lesson, and your soil is sure to be nutrient-rich and healthy. 

Using your soil for continued growth

With a healthy foundation, you can focus on your plants. What do you want to grow in the garden of your mind? Kindness, patience, and positivity are good “seeds” to plant. Seeds of negativity are likely to take over your garden and stunt your overall growth, so I recommend doing your best to keep these out of your soil. 

Remember – your plants grow together, just like your mind, body, and spirit. Plant seeds of dedication to your well-being, resilience in the face of challenges, and perseverance to finding solutions to problems that develop. The seeds you plant and the sprouts that ensue represent the person you want to be and the level of well-being you seek to maintain. 

As you tend to these growing seeds, remember to continue nourishing your soil with the lessons of your experience so your soil is constantly getting new nutrients. After a plant absorbs nutrients from the soil, the soil needs new nutrients for future plants. 

A good practice for learning lessons from your experience is journaling. Write down what you learn from your experiences so you always have them to review, and I bet you’ll find a new lesson in each experience as time goes on!

The benefits of a vibrant garden

By tending to the garden within, you set yourself up for success in mind, body, and spirit. You will notice that you are less intimidated by challenges because you are energized, confident, and motivated. You will have improved relationships with those around you because you are focusing on positivity, which yields patience for others. Have you ever noticed how people are drawn to genuine positivity like moths to a light?

If more of us took the time to tend to the gardens within, I think we would have fewer problems in the world, happier people, and a healthier planet. Thankfully, this reality is more than possible. It starts with us, and it starts now.

The Growth Mindset: Applying Gardening Principles to Personal Development

What do you think of when you think of gardening? Do you think of watering plants, growing carrots, and pulling weeds? Maybe you’re a seasoned gardener, and you think of the complexities of soil health and seasonal adaptation. Or, perhaps gardening is new territory to you, and what comes to mind is a pretty space with food and flowers. 

When I think of gardening, I think of all of the above as well as how gardening presents us with an opportunity for personal growth. The skills we use in gardening can be applied to our own lives, giving us what I call a “growth mindset.” 

This mindset prepares us to face life’s challenges with creativity, and to enjoy the fruits of our labor with appreciation. It supports our positivity, which is linked to a variety of well-being benefits

How gardening helped me grow

When I started my garden in 2015, it was just a backyard with a couple trees. The ground was mainly dirt without much growing from it. I didn’t buy the house with starting a garden in mind; I liked the house and was happy to have an outdoor space with it. 

Over time, as I share in this blog post (link post 1), I began to add plants and fill the space. It was a slow process, but I transformed the yard into a place of beauty, and in doing so, I felt myself transform, too. 

I began gardening when I was in a low place; burnt out from work, dealing with social isolation because I worked so much, and in need of something to lift my spirits. The more time I spent caring for my plants, the better I felt. Did you know gardening is proven to be good for you?

The joy gardening both helped me improved my mood and made work less taxing. With fewer things weighing on me mentally, I had more energy for going out and meeting people. Most notably, gardening showed me that I had been neglecting myself, and my mental health suffered as a result. 

The lessons I learned from my plants helped me create a new routine for self-care. Like the seeds I planted, I was ready to grow and bloom. 

Gardening for Personal Growth

What does gardening have to do with personal growth? Quite a lot, actually. We set goals and work toward achieving them. Trying to germinate seeds is similar to trying to start a new habit. They require practice, because we won’t always get it right the first time around. We need to be resilient, because giving up when things get tough means we’ll never achieve our goals. If we aren’t successful after week and decide to stop trying, we won’t see seeds grow into mature plants or establish that hobby. We need to be persistent, because gardening and growing take continuous work, and finally, we need to be patient because gardening and growing take time. 

These are the key elements to a growth mindset: Practice, resilience, persistence, and patience. 

I often hear people say things like “I can’t keep anything alive,” or “I can’t keep plants alive,” or “I have a black thumb.” I always think: “You probably haven’t practiced enough, and gave up when you lost a plant!”

Can you imagine if I had given up after I killed nine of my original houseplants? You wouldn’t be on this website today! 

It’s true that some people are born with a knack for plantcare the way some people are born with a mind for playing chess, but most people develop their skills with the key elements I have outlined. 

When you think about it, “I can’t keep anything alive” is a lot like “I can’t quit smoking,” or “Pull-ups are too hard for me.” How long did you try to quit smoking or do a pull-up? How often did you practice? Did you keep trying when you struggled? Why weren’t you patient with yourself? Did you ask for help? 

It’s worth noting that one of the main reasons we give up on a goal is comparison. We see the perceived success of others, and feel so far behind that we decide it’s not worth it for us to even try. Remember: Everyone starts somewhere. If you spend your journey, whether it’s for gardening or personal growth, thinking about others, you waste valuable energy you could be directing at yourself. 

Focus on yourself, and keep these key elements in mind. Growth will follow. 

Are you ready for growth?

A growth mindset is invaluable. Once you embody practice, resilience, persistence, and patience, you will begin to access your potential, and the potential for growth is unlimited. 

My book, “How to Grow: Nurture Your Garden, Nurture Yourself,” provides a more detailed explanation to developing & maintaining a positive growth mindset. Get your copy today.