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The cost of mental clutter

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Emotional dead weight, wasteful thinking, mental clutter. We're all guilty of it.

  • The investment gone bad.
  • The boss that criticized you.
  • The relative who didn't invite you to the party.
  • The big business that ripped off your idea.

You know what it's like: something happens, it hurts, and you just can't let go. But what really happens? You often end up hurting yourself.

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I remember the time when, after negotiating with a major television network for an investment in a company I had started, the market went bust. The network decided to pull out; I understood: after all, many of their own companies had suddenly dropped in value.

But not long later, I looked online and there, before me, were some of the very ideas we had shared with them as part of our deal. I was stunned – beyond sad and, yes, even mad. For my own protection, I took screenshots of what I saw.

I didn't tell the story to many, except to one particular CEO, who asked why I wouldn't take them to task and perhaps sue them? I figured it wasn't worth it, unless I was going to remain in that very business (or wanted to take on their poor ethics).

The effort would take up enormous time and energy – depleting my bandwidth -- and for who knows how long? And, what could we really gain? In the end, we quickly decided it wasn't worth the time. Much better to use my bandwidth on new priorities – and the ones I still had to tend to, like helping others build financial security.

It was similar to advice I had given my mother when she worried for years why her niece wasn't inviting her to family gatherings: I told her to either ask directly or let it go. "Life is short," I said. "It's their loss. Time to move on."

She fretted a good deal. In the end, about two years later, the niece apologized after realizing that her own perceptions were flawed.

Carrying baggage or wasting time on things we can't fix impacts us in so many ways, financially and emotionally. It can impinge on our productivity and sound decision making - so needed in today's rapid-fire world. It can impact our sleep, even our relationships, and of course, our happiness.

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The baggage we hold onto can mount up, creating less mental space for the things that really matter.

Often, the best thing we can do when we're faced with a disappointing situation is to learn from it. If it's something you can fix or control, take action. But if not, you might be best served if you moved on and saved your bandwidth for more important things and enjoying what you do have in life.

Of course, every situation is different. And, sometimes, it does make sense to use our energy to fight for what can make a difference, in your life and the lives of others.

I'm curious: How many of you are carrying dead weight that would be better tossed? Is it impacting your success, your happiness? Where does it mostly come from - Work? Home? Other?

At the very least, be sure to weigh whether the loss of bandwidth is worth the gain, financial or otherwise.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Jennifer Openshaw is a nationally known financial expert. She's the author of three books, including The Millionaire Zone, and has been a longtime columnist for Dow Jones' MarketWatch. More about her here.