“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
— C.S. Lewis
This morning, I received a long email from a reader named Evan who is struggling with letting go of a failed relationship. In his email he explains, in rather vivid detail, the signs and symptoms of a toxic relationship that has been heading south for many years. He admits that he needs to let go, but he struggles with it, because doing so means he must finally face reality, which requires him to let go of the idea in his head about how his life and relationship were suppose to be.
One particular line from his email really summed it up well: “I’m learning the hard way that the hardest thing in life is simply letting go of what you thought was real.”
Isn’t that the truth – for all of us, in all walks of life. We all have an idea in our heads about how things are, or how they’re supposed to be, and sadly this is what often messes us up and stresses us out the most. Realize this. Sometimes life doesn’t give you what you WANT because you NEED something else. And what you need often comes when you’re not looking for it. You won’t always understand it and that’s OK. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. And then just when you think it can’t get any better, it does.
The key is detachment – letting go of the life you expected, so you can make the best of the life that’s waiting for you. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Here are some strategies for making this happen:
- Create some healthy space for yourself. – Sometimes you are just too close to the puzzle to see the big picture. You need to take a few steps back to gain clarity on the situation. The best way to do this is to simply take a short break – a breather – a vacation – and explore something else for a little while. Why? So you can return to where you started and see things with a new set of eyes. And the people there may see you differently too. Returning where you started is entirely different than never leaving.
- Accept the truth and practice being grateful for what is. – To let go is to be grateful for the experiences that made you laugh, made you cry, and helped you learn and grow. It’s the acceptance of everything you have, everything you once had, and the possibilities that lie ahead. It’s all about finding the strength to embrace life’s challenges and changes, to trust your intuition, to learn as you go, to realize that every experience has value, and to continue taking positive steps forward. (Read The Untethered Soul.)
- Say less and breathe more when you’re angry. – Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. True story. When you’re infuriated with someone, take a few deep breaths, sit quietly and think for a moment. Acknowledge the true source of your anger. Anger always bleeds from the inside out. Remember that we need to fix ourselves first before we attempt to fix or influence others. Trying to change others is a common recipe for prolonging the suffering. Taking responsibility for changing yourself, and how you deal with the actions of others, is a recipe for growth, freedom and happiness.
- Forgive with all your heart, as often as necessary. – Forgiveness is a constant attitude of choosing happiness over hurt – acceptance over resistance. It’s about acknowledging that we’re all mistaken sometimes; sometimes even the best of us do foolish things – things that have severe consequences. But it doesn’t mean we are evil and unforgiveable, or that we can’t be trusted ever again. Know this. Sit with it. It might take time to forgive, because it takes strength to forgive. Because when you forgive, you love with all your might. And when you love like this, a heavenly, healing light shines upon you. This forgiveness – true forgiveness – brings you to a place where you can sincerely say, “Thank you for that experience,” and mean it with all your heart.
- Concentrate only on what can be changed. – Realize that not everything in life is meant to be modified or perfectly understood. Live, let go, learn what you can and don’t waste energy worrying about the things you can’t change. Focus exclusively on what you can change. And if you can’t change something that’s upsetting you, change the way you think about it. Review your options and then re-frame what you don’t like into a starting point for achieving something different in your life. (Read Loving What Is.)
- Make the NOW your primary focus. – Now is the moment. The past is just a memory. The future is a mental projection. You can choose to dwell back in the past for learning and joyous reflection. You can choose to dwell in the future for visualization and practical planning. However, any time your awareness floats away to the past or future frequently for negative purposes, you are suffocating your ability to thrive in the only moment you ever have – the NOW. Past and future literally do not exist right now; feel the freedom in this truth.
- Embrace your quirks, your mistakes, and the fact that life is a lesson. – Life is a ride. Things change, people change, but you will always be YOU; so stay true to yourself and never sacrifice who you are for anyone or anything. You have to dare to be yourself, in this moment, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be. It’s about realizing that even on your weakest days you get a little bit stronger, if you’re willing to learn. Which is why, sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your trouble and hard work isn’t what you get, but who you become.
- Nurture your self-worth. – Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is simply believing you’re worthy of the trip. And you are! You are worth it. Tattoo that right onto your brain… Seriously! The world starts to respond when you believe that about yourself. It doesn’t always look like you thought it would, but positive shifts begin to take place when you start to recognize and acknowledge your own self-worth. So watch your thoughts and stop any self-deprecating thoughts dead in their tracks. Remind yourself that once upon a time, in an unguarded, honest moment, you recognized yourself as a worthy friend.
- Pay less attention to people’s judgments. – Most people hasten to judge in a desperate attempt to not be judged themselves. In other words, their judgments are shallow and based on their own insecurities, and thus not worth worrying about. And honestly, no one has the right to judge you anyway. People may have heard your stories, and they may think they know you, but they can’t feel what you are going through; they aren’t living YOUR life. So forget what they think and say about you. Let it GO. Focus on how you feel about yourself, and keep walking the path that feels best under your feet. (Marc and I discuss this in detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Do everything with a touch of kindness. – Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is… you guessed it… to be kind. Whatever can be done, can be done more effectively when you add kindness. Whatever words are spoken, will always be more compelling when expressed with kindness. The kind deeds you exert in just one moment can have a positive impact that lasts a lifetime. Your days will be brighter and your years fuller when you add kindness to your purpose. Choose to be kind every day, and you’re truly choosing to live in a world with less stress and more happiness.
- Savor life’s goodness. – Life is a bowl of fruit; some fruit are rotten while others are good for you. It’s your duty to sort through it, toss out the rotten ones and forget about them, while you enjoy eating the good ones. Don’t be confused by others who seem to be doing the exact opposite. Ultimately you will realize there are two kinds of people in this world: those who choose to disregard the good fruit and wallow in all the rotten ones, and those who, like you, choose to toss out the rotten ones and savor all the good ones.
Letting go is not giving up. Letting go is surrendering any obsessive attachment to particular people, outcomes and situations. Surrender means showing up every day in your life with the intention to be your best self, and to do the best you know how, without expecting life to go a certain way. Have goals, have dreams, aspire and take purposeful action and build great relationships, but detach from what life must look like.
The energy of someone aspiring to create something wonderful, teamed with this kind of surrender, is far more powerful and rewarding than someone determined to create outcomes with a desperate ‘must have’ mentality. Surrender brings inner peace and joy, and lest we forget that our outer lives are a reflection of our inner state of being.
The floor is yours…
What do you need to let go of? What thoughts, habits and attachments are creating unnecessary stress in your life? Leave a comment below and let us know what you intend to do about it.
Photo by: Salvatore Iovene