When life has to be a certain way in order to be good enough for us, we close ourselves off from all the real and present opportunities available.
On the contrary, when we let go of the way it “should” be, we free our minds to deal with life’s unexpected changes, challenges and chaos in the most effective way possible…
We create space for acceptance, learning and growth.
We learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.
We see the world through an unbiased set of eyes.
And gradually, we allow ourselves to step forward with a clear and focused mind.
With that said, I don’t always let go when I need to. I don’t always have a clear and focused mind. Because I’m only human, and human beings have the tendency to hold on too tight. Sometimes life slaps us really hard and we attach ourselves to the pain, even when we know better.
When I’m holding on too tight, I can really feel it in my gut. I feel anxious, frustrated, irritated, and upset. There’s an aching for things to be different than they are – a feeling of rejection and betrayal and hopelessness.
I’m sure you can relate. We’re all struggling through this one together, in our own unique way. And the vast majority of our torment is the result of being caught up in whatever story we’re telling ourselves about how life “should” be.
So for starters, here’s what I try to keep in mind…
Mantras for Letting Go of How it “Should” Be
- Life is change. You must accept the fact that things may never go back to how they used to be, and that this ending is really a new beginning.
- Even though you cannot control everything that happens, you can control your attitude about what happens. And in doing so, you will gradually master change rather than allowing it to gradually master you. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Every difficult life situation can be an excuse for hopelessness or an opportunity for growth, depending on what you choose to do with it.
- Daily effort is never wasted, even when it leads to discouraging results. For it always makes you stronger, more experienced, and more educated in the long run.
- If you want to be effective and bright, let go of your need to always be right.
- When you hear only what you want to hear, you’re not really listening. Listen to what you don’t want to hear too. That’s how you grow. (Read Loving What Is.)
- Be humble. Be teachable. The world is bigger than your view of the world. There’s always room for a new perspective, a new step, a new possibility… a new beginning.
First Steps for Coping with Unfavorable Outcomes
Reflecting on the mantras above can be incredibly grounding when life doesn’t go as planned. But what can you do if the immediate tension inside you is spiraling out of control?
Here’s a brief outline of some initial steps Angel and I actively take (and cover with our course students and live event attendees) to cope with the immediate tension that arises from unfavorable outcomes in our lives:
- Acknowledge the tension inside you. – If you notice yourself getting angry and flustered, it’s a sign that you need to pause, take a deep breath, and practice the remaining steps.
- Resist the urge to act in haste. – The greatest harm comes whenever you act out of anger – actions that might include giving up too soon, consuming unhealthy substances, or even attacking someone else. So whenever you notice anger building up inside you, try not to take any form of destructive action. Instead, turn inward and mindfully assess whatever it is that’s arising.
- Sit with your feelings, and give them space. – Turn directly towards the tension you feel, and just be a witness. See it as something that’s passing through you, but is NOT YOU. It’s a feeling, a dark cloud passing across a vast sky, not a permanent fixture. Treat it that way. Instead of obsessing yourself with the dark cloud’s presence, try to broaden your perspective – give it the space it needs to pass. Sometimes you need a little distance to see things clearly again.
- Be OK with not knowing. – Now that you’ve given yourself some necessary space, tell yourself, “I don’t know why things are this way.” And be OK with this unknowing. Give yourself full permission to not have concrete answers in this moment. What would it be like to allow this moment to unfold without knowing? What is it like to not know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of others? What is it like to not know how to respond to life’s chaos? What is it like to be here right now, without jumping to conclusions?
The bottom line is that when life dishes you a harsh dose of reality, the best first steps involve sitting silently and witnessing the thoughts passing through you. Just witnessing at first, not interfering and not even judging, because by judging too rapidly you have lost the pure witness. The moment you rush to say, “this is absolutely terrible” or “things should be different,” you have already jumped head first into the chaotic tension.
It takes practice to create a gap between the witnessing of thoughts and your response to them. Once the gap is there, however, you are in for a great surprise – it becomes evident that you are not the thoughts themselves, nor the tension and chaos influencing them. You are the witness, a watcher, who’s capable of changing your mind and rising above the turmoil. (Angel and I work through this with our students in the self-paced Getting Back to Happy course and at the annual Think Better, Live Better conference.)
We would love to hear from YOU.
So let us know:
- In what way are you holding on tightly to how life “should” be?
- How is it affecting you?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place February 18-19, 2017. You can get info and tickets here (discounted early bird tickets are now available, while they last). Note: you can watch short clips from our 2016 event here and here.