“Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are a part of your history, but not a part of your destiny.” – Steve Maraboli, American writer and decorated veteran.
We all want to feel happy, don’t we?
Change is inevitable, but yet we struggle against it. We fight for relationships, jobs, and for things to stay the same. We hold on because we have a sense of obligation or devotion. We fail to realize that the very things we are fighting to control or hold on to aren’t putting in the same effort that we are expending.
So, why is it so hard to simply let go of things?
Table of Contents
The need to hold on
At work, we apply ourselves and work hard, which could lead to recognition for our efforts. That hard work may lead to receiving a promotion and more responsibility. We hold on to the feelings of pride from our accomplishments. We feel that we are appreciated for our efforts and that we are given some form of respect. This chain of events can cause us to form an attachment. We hold on to how it made us feel.
Later, someone may challenge a view we have expressed in relation to a project or meeting. We see this as not showing us the respect that we thought we had. In turn, we react to a feeling of being attacked. We defend the attachment we once had and try to justify our needs.
We have held on to a feeling that outlived its usefulness and as a result, has created a negative attachment.
It is believed that we create and keep problems because it reinforces a sense of identity. This may be the very reason why we hold onto pain well after the benefit it can provide. But why do we let problems and negativity define our self-worth?
The why’s of holding on
We have all been in instances where we have been hurt, either by others or the event. After they’re done, we’re left with feelings of pain and hurt. Then we start to wonder what we did wrong to have to go through them and what we could do differently. It all becomes a bunch of “ what if’s” and “if only.”
Sometimes we even get to the part where we are able to put it behind us and start to move on. Out of nowhere, something happens that dredges up those feelings and we relive them in stark newness.
The primitive brain and survival instincts.
There are theories that this is hardwired into our primitive brains. We have a need to be right. Being right means we are safe and being wrong means we aren’t safe. This creates the fight or flight aspect to kick in.
In our minds, and sometimes with other people, we try desperately to dream up ways to prove we are right and the other situation is wrong. We just can’t get past the need to be right.
There are other times when letting go of things seems like we are trying to get rid of our past. Since we often feel that our past is what makes up who we are, it feels close to denying who we are and saying we were wrong. This changes expectations of how things should have been. Those things are in the past and cannot be changed, no matter how much time or energy we spend on reflection. All this drama is in our own minds, trying to prove we are right and safe.
Control: The big lie
Holding on creates attachments for your brain. An attachment is simply fixating on something we think we need. The attachment we create is out of a fear of losing what we have deemed important to us. If we lose them, then we will be unhappy.
The strive for these attachments creates a belief that they will help us control our lives. This allows us to try to manipulate people and events the way we feel we want to reinforce this belief of happiness. This collecting of things and people gives us a false sense of security and only feeds into the big lie of control.
As a result, all this leads to disappointment. The reality is that nothing in our lives is permanent. Things break, people can pass one from our lives, and jobs can be changed. And the truth is that the only thing we have control over is ourselves and the emotions we give to things.
A change in perspective
Judgment is the root
If you feel you were wronged, you are the only one that has the power to make you feel that way. You passed judgment on the situation that someone is at fault for how you are feeling. When we assign blame to those feelings, we start to create a narrative to support those feelings.
These actions are passing judgment on the person or situation. And the why’s of passing that judgment is to feel like we were right in the situation and they were not. But why do we need to pass that judgment and thereby create the feelings we have on it?
Here is a simple truth, the only meaning that anything has is the meaning you place on it!
That seems really simple and you are probably thinking that it cannot be correct. But here is an example. You are given a toy for your birthday. The only meaning it has on it at that moment is that a person bought it for you because it was either something you wanted or they thought you would like. You are the one that attaches emotion to that object and why it is important to you.
Switching your viewpoint
Is there any other way you could have handled that situation? Can you look at it and try to find a lesson you can learn? Is it possible to create a different type of narrative about the event? Think about how that could change your perception of the event.
Here is an example. You are in a meeting at work and find out that someone has decided to enter into a contract with a provider to change your phone system. You may have worked with the person to try to meet their needs with your current system, but they decided to make a change without your consult. You see the contract and realize the change isn’t going to work how they have perceived. You voice your concerns only to have them say let’s try it and see how it works. You take offense to this and become mad. You feel like you aren’t being respected. You have just passed judgment on the situation and assigned blame. The person involved was only looking out for the needs of their department, not to intentionally hurt or make you look bad.
What if you instead looked at the event differently. You can see that maybe your recommendations may have needed a stronger case or that maybe you overlooked something in their needs. You can now that that and use it as a tool for your next assessment. You can also simply let the situation progress on its own accord and see what the outcome may be. You can look at it as a way of being there in the future to help support your company and if it doesn’t work, help correct the issue.
This becomes a healthier way of looking at the situation.
Steps to let it be
The reality is you will never be able to fully let go of a situation. Your mind will always keep it as a memory. What you can do is change how you view it and simply let the memory be. This comes from looking at the situation you are in without passing any judgment. Just seeing it for what it is, an experience.
But, how can you learn to let go? Here are 7 steps to learn how to let go.
Make a decision and let it go
People often say that they want to make changes to their lives, mostly they just make half-hearted attempts as the change. Saying you recognize something needs change is the first step, but you also have to be active in that statement to create the change.
If you really want to make a change in your life, you have to be serious in the effort.
A great way to help ensure you move in the right direction is to write out that decision. “I have decided that I need to let go of _____. This feeling is preventing me from being happy and growing. “ This is only a small example. You can make it as inclusive as you need it to be and list the steps you want. Just remember, for effectiveness to keep it short. Then hang this message somewhere that you will see every day.
You may be thinking that this is some new-age nonsense, but there are plenty of studies that show it can help us calm our emptiness, gain some clarity, and even inner strength to let go. Continued and frequent meditation can aid in keeping us calm and positive when things in our lives seem to get out of control.
Meditation allows our mind to take a break from all the sensory overload in our lives. The overload can lead to maintaining an agitated mind and in turn, can lead to feeling overwhelmed. Take a break from that allows us to reduce the thoughts that can tribes the negative emotions.
Not all meditation involves sitting around with our eyes closed. Taking a walk is another beneficial way of meditating. The same rules apply, you stop thinking about the situation and focus on the acts you are performing, in this case walking. Take notice of the grass, flowers, trees, and clouds. Breath deeply from time to time to get full breaths into your lungs and enjoy. You can also read or listen to music. These types of things reduce all the multitudes of distractions going on and allows us to focus on a simple act for a given time.
If you would like information on how to meditate, check out Meditation for beginners.
Don’t invest in the outcome when it comes to people or events, it is often misleading
We must accept people and events for who/what they are at this very moment, not some lofty ideal we place on them. Things are rarely as we think they will be and as time goes on they will continue to change. It is better for us to learn from them as we go.
Becoming aware of yourself and your part in the relationships/events in your life can help improve your interactions. You also have to accept facts about people and events that may be contrary to your wants. It is better to practice gratitude, appreciation, and trust in the process. Gratitude for having those events, appreciation for the lessons you can learn, and trust that it is going to help you grow.
Only worry about your opinions of yourself
Let go of the need to be validated by someone else, how you view yourself is much more important. Grandiose once said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
The only truth is that no one will care more about your survival than you should. That may sound selfish, but it means you should look out for your welfare first. When you are on a plane and they go through their crash procedures, you hear them say to put your mask on first before helping others. There is an immense amount of truth in that. You will never be able to ensure your survival or even help others if you don’t take care of yourself first. Doesn’t sound as selfish when you say it that way.
Accept that there are things you cannot change
You can wish all you want that things should be a certain way, the truth is that they very rarely are going to happen that way. Life happens in the present and that is where you should focus. The past has already happened and no amount of focusing on it will change what has been. The future isn’t here and if it was, it would be the present. You cannot feel responsible for something that hasn’t happened.
And know that you will make mistakes each and every time. You know what? That is perfectly okay. We only learn through mistakes, learning is knowledge. It is perfectly okay if you said something stupid, that doesn’t make you stupid. It makes you human. Take those awkward moments and make a joke out of them and use them as a learning experience.
Stop blaming others
In almost all events that we fixate on, we blame the other person for how we feel or what was done to us. That is giving someone a lot of power over who you are and the truth is, you are the one that is assigning the blame. This allows us to become victims and to feel sorry for ourselves. This is not to say that others cannot harm us and aren’t at fault for their actions, they can and often times are. But we cannot wait around for them to accept the blame or try to repair the damage. Those people may not want to take that blame or simply not able to.
Don’t wait for others to “fix” you. You cannot put your life on hold waiting for them to act. We are responsible for our own healing and wellbeing. We are the ones that need to release the attachment we have and start focusing on becoming better.
Learn the lesson and move on
There is no grand design for life. From the day we are born and until we reach the end of our life, we are given circumstances and situations to learn from. It is our ability to learn from them. If we refuse to let go of a situation because we are fixating on how it could have been different, it is from us not being able to see what it is that life was trying to teach us. This prevents us from growing.
When you start to feel like you can’t let go of something, ask yourself what can you learn from it. Questioning why we feel a specific way about an event or person can open up to learn what may actually be the real cause of our feelings. You may think you are mad because a person made you look bad but when you start breaking it down you could realize it was more about the embarrassment of appearing wrong. That feeling challenges our safety in the situation. When we feel unsafe, our brain kicks into fighting for protection.
You can also ask yourself what is the benefit of feeling how you do and what do you hope to accomplish out of it. If you want to prove the other person was wrong, how will that actually look once you arrive at your result? You could make yourself look petty and that you were retaliating out of anger. That can lead to making you look much worse, or in a job setting cause you to get fired.
There is no easy way out
There are plenty of self-help books that tell you that it is better to have this positive attitude. To note focus on the negative emotions but only on the good ones. That is more or less impossible. Bad things happen to us, there is no denying. The better way of viewing it is by not letting it have control over us. To only give it enough attention to learn from it and to be better the next time.
You will never fully forget events that have happened to you in your life, but you can control how they affect you. Remember that they are in the past and cannot affect you now. Just like what may happen has no control over you because it has not happened. Focus on the now and how you can use your emotions and memories to have a better interaction in the present.