I hit the delete key and he was gone forever.

The last piece of a past that’d haunted me. But more than just removing a toxic person from my life, I’d put aside another hurdle. That’s a concept that’s been percolating awhile for me, and have been putting into focus more over the last year or so.

Remove hurdles. The “right” goal isn’t always to be so strong you can overcome any obstacle or to be so cunning you never have any obstacles. Both of those are fiction. You will have obstacles and drama sprout up, and whether you can swiftly push them aside or not is often times where the real hangups occur.

Two weeks ago I pressed delete on an old friend. We’d had a falling out several years ago, and then eventually a lukewarm reconnection of sorts. But it was never the same — not even close. He became one of those friends we have on Facebook that I didn’t ever talk to but for whatever reason was reluctant to unfriend. The finality of that is irrationally intimidating.

We may not really talk, but there isn’t a good reason to disconnect.

But in this case it was baggage. Every time I saw one of his posts it reminded me of how little we knew each other anymore, standing as stark contrast to memories I had swirling around. I’d comment occasionally to things he shared in a simple attempt to maintain some kind of connection. Always fruitless. And anything I ever shared of import? Ignored. It’s not the kind of negativity that ruined my day or anything, but from a purely logical standpoint there was nothing to be gained, so even the smallest loss was more than it was worth.

As much as I knew rationally that our friendship would never really repair — and thus never be worthwhile — nostalgia kept me hanging on. I don’t have his phone number anymore. I clicked unfriend and it was done. I felt a mix of regret and release. The regret passed.

Why am I telling you this?

I think it speaks to something larger that goes on with all of us. Something a good friend said in a recent discussion of learning and consciousness applies here. He said, “Learning is as much about choosing what to forget as what to remember.”

Each time we learn our brains make decisions about which facts are needed, discarding the rest for efficiency. Bogging your mind down with loads of useless data dilutes the real meat we’re after.

Think of that with anything in life: our jobs, our businesses, our personal relationships, etc. We can liken our growth to a runner going around a track. The simple go-to answer for improving our lap time is usually “run faster” or “build stamina”. I used the word hurdles above, and I think it’s apt here. Imagine being that runner and tripping and falling on your butt trying to leap hurdles each lap. Maybe you clear some of them, but others always get you.

No matter how fast you learn to run, your lap times will always suffer from falling over those hurdles. You can commit a major effort to building speed and maybe improve your time subtly, or you can remove some of those hurdles from your track and improve your time far more.

Negativity and fluff affects our creativity and problem-solving skills. Every time we remove a stressor from our day, cut a toxic person out, fire a terrible client that wastes our time, we remove a hurdle from our path and maintain momentum.

Conventional wisdom tells us to make specific goals. You can’t hold yourself reasonably accountable if you don’t get specific or quantify your goals. But as James Altucher points out in I’m Afraid All The Time:

“The more expectations you have the more you will be disappointed. A goal (make a million, lose 100lbs, get someone to love me, etc.) is an expectation. A theme (eat healthy, make friends) is a way to live.”

It’s simply about building habits that make you better — piece by piece with consistency.

Example? Remove something that dampens your spirit even 5% — big deal, right? But find a dozen of those things and you’ve avoided a 60% detriment, which is the same as +60% efficiency. Numbers are of course for illustration and were never the goal itself.

For me, hitting the delete key was a small win. One less subtle bit of negativity each day. I’ve also cut loose a few business contacts and a client or two in the last few months. Good things. There will be other things that drain my happiness or creativity in the future, but at least it won’t be any of those again.