The Art of Pruning: Letting Go to Grow

Half Circle

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. 

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