Holding on can be painful. Holding on can directly contribute to stress, health complications, unhappiness, depressive thoughts, relationship problems, and so on.
Yet, as human beings, we cling desperately to almost everything.
We don’t like change, so we resist it.
We want life to be the way we think it “should” be.
We get attached to our fantasies…. even when they hurt us.
Over the past decade, as Angel and I have gradually worked with hundreds of our course students, coaching clients, and live event attendees, we’ve come to understand that the root cause of most human stress is simply our stubborn propensity to hold on to things. In a nutshell, we hold on tight to the hope that things will go exactly as we imagine, and then we complicate our lives to no end when our imagination doesn’t represent reality.
So how can we stop holding on?
By realizing that there’s nothing to hold on to in the first place.
Most of the things we desperately try to hold on to, as if they’re real, solid, everlasting fixtures in our lives, aren’t really there. Or if they are there in some form, they’re changing, fluid, impermanent, or simply imagined in our minds.
Life gets a lot easier to deal with when we understand this.
Imagine you’re blindfolded and treading water in the center of a large swimming pool, and you’re struggling desperately to grab the edge of the pool that you think is nearby, but really it’s not – it’s far away. Trying to grab that imaginary edge is stressing you out, and tiring you out, as you splash around aimlessly trying to holding on to something that isn’t there.
Now imagine you pause, take a deep breath, and realize that there’s nothing nearby to hold on to. Just water around you. You can continue to struggle with grabbing at something that doesn’t exist… or you can accept that there’s only water around you, and relax, and float.
Today, I challenge you to ask yourself:
- What are you desperately trying to hold on to in your life?
- How is it affecting you?
Then imagine the thing you’re trying to hold on to doesn’t really exist. Envision yourself letting go… and just floating.
How would that change your situation?
Think about it carefully, and then remind yourself of why it’s time to let GO…
- When you let go, you allow yourself to make the best of what you’ve got. – A big part of your ability to be happy and successful in the long run relies on your willingness to let go of what you think your life is supposed to be like right now, sincerely appreciate it for everything that it is, and then make the very best of it.
- When you let go, you get to use your resources more effectively. – Holding on is like wanting to control the uncontrollable. Letting go and allowing uncontrollable things to happen, on the other hand, means these things will take care of themselves naturally, and your needs can also be better met in the process. At the very least, you will have less stress (and less to do), and more time and energy to focus on the things that truly matter – the things you actually can control – like your attitude about everything.
- When you let go, you free your mind from needless worries. – When you are lost in worry, it is easy to mistake your worries for reality, instead of recognizing that they are just thoughts. Do your best to be mindful. Let your presence expand and your worries shrink. Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in the possibilities.
- When you let go, you learn more about how life really works. – When you hold on to how things “should” be, and attempt to control the uncontrollable, you automatically block yourself from the truth. You resist how everything works rather than learning about it. The key is to educate yourself about your present circumstances and then work smarter with what you’ve got. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- When you let go, you get to appreciate others for who they truly are. – It’s about loosening up and learning to appreciate different perspectives, lifestyles, and opinions, even if it means overcoming your ego and opening your mind beyond what’s comfortable. It’s about letting those you care about be unapologetically themselves, and not distorting them to fit your own egotistical idea of who you think they “should” be.
- When you let go, you get to focus less on pleasing others, and more on just doing the best you can. – How often has your life been driven by the misunderstandings and judgments of others? And how often have these misunderstandings and judgments disappointed you or stressed you out because you thought you could control the way everyone sees you? The truth is, most people will see what they want to see whether you worry about it or not. It’s time to let go of trying to control how everyone perceives you. It’s time to just do the best you can.
- When you let go, you allow yourself to grow and heal. – If someone breaks your heart, it’s not easy to deal with. But you can heal, as long as you’re willing to accept the circumstances and then gradually let them go. For example, you may catch yourself thinking, “Why did I ever love him? I should never have given him my heart!” But that’s not a helpful thought. If you didn’t love him, this never would have happened. But you did. That’s reality. And accepting that reality, and everything that followed, is part of letting it go and growing from it.
- When you let go, it gets easier to forgive yourself, and love yourself again. – Ask yourself: is it possible that all the “bad” or “stupid” things you’ve done have been forgiven and forgotten by everyone who matters in your life, except you? The answer is likely yes. Sometimes you’ve just got to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “This did happen. It was that bad. It was a terrible mistake. But I’ve grown from it. I was – and am – worthy of my own love and forgiveness.”
- When you let go, you get to enjoy more of life’s pleasant surprises. – Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and brilliant surprises. And sometimes the sudden, unexpected arrival of this beauty is almost too much to handle. Do you know that feeling? When something is just too beautiful? When someone randomly says something or writes something or plays some melody that moves you to the point of tears. Do you really want to miss out on that feeling for the rest of your life? Then let go of the constant rumination, and pay closer attention to the life you’re actually living.
- When you let go, you live more gratefully (and gracefully). – To let go is, in part, 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 are appearing over the horizon. It’s all about finding the strength to embrace life’s inevitable changes, to trust your own instincts, to learn as you go, to realize that every experience has value, and to continue taking positive steps forward every day. (Angel and I build powerful daily rituals for taking positive steps forward with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Closing Thoughts on Letting Go
I hope this short post brings more awareness to the fact that letting go isn’t something only a monk can do, and it isn’t about hiding from pain either. It’s about being human and open-minded. It’s about identifying the source of your pain, and accepting it so you can learn and grow from it.
When you develop the skill of letting go, and practice it daily, you automatically prepare yourself for any challenge that could possibly come your way. Think about it…
If a major, unexpected change arises in your life, it’s only a “bad” thing if you’re holding on tightly to the way you wish life could be – all the expectations you have. But if you let go of that wish (and those expectations), the change isn’t bad. It just makes life different than you expected, and it could be a good thing in the long run if you embrace it and see the opportunities it provides.
Bottom line: We cause 99% our own problems by holding on too tightly, to everything.
But we can get out of our own way, and find harmony, by letting go.
We would love to hear from YOU.
So let’s revisit the two questions I presented in the intro of this post:
- What are you desperately trying to hold on to in your life?
- 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. Sign-up here to be notified when tickets go on sale, and you will also be automatically qualified for a discounted early bird ticket (while they last). Note: you can watch short clips from our 2016 event here, here and here.