The renowned psychologist Carl Rogers noted that people are often unhappy because of a lack of congruence in their lives, which is another way of saying momentary complexity blinds us to the simple solutions of life. For Rogers, simply sitting with a patient and having them talk through their problems, without the therapist leading them or making judgments or giving advice, was the best way for them to let go of their problems. Rogers determined that when you give a person a safe and supportive space to think through things, they tend to do so more effectively.
Right now, I want to give you a safe and supportive space to think, so you can let go of any extra baggage that’s been weighing you down. Try this: pause for a second to notice what’s going on in your body. Are your jaw muscles clenched? Are your shoulders or neck tightened? Do you notice a part of your body holding on to tension—perhaps tension fueled by something you’re subconsciously worried about?
Most of us are holding tension in our bodies and stress in our minds, whether we realize it or not.
Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why do we get tense, stressed, anxiety-ridden, and feel generally overwhelmed by life?
It’s because life isn’t the flawless, calm, controllable experience we’d like it to be. We want things to be easy, comfortable, and picture-perfect 24/7. Unfortunately, reality is often the opposite. Bad things happen. Work is stressful. People let us down. We make mistakes and let ourselves down. We aren’t as proficient and disciplined as we’d hope to be. And life continues to frustrate us because there’s just so much to do and absorb and process.
The problem isn’t life, or other people, or even ourselves. The problem is our propensity to hold on to what we want everything and everyone to be, in order for life to be good enough for us.
Our attachments to our ideals accelerates tension in our bodies and stress in our lives
And our reluctance to let go and accept things as they are is the root of our problems.
Of course, we don’t want to feel this way, so we try to avoid what we’re going through. We distract ourselves with alcohol or TV or social media or whatever, which only makes matters worse.
Angel and I have a ton of firsthand experience in this arena. A decade ago when we were coping with the back-to-back loss of her brother, Todd, and our mutual best friend, Josh, to death, the amount of tension and stress in our lives was overwhelming. We literally resisted reality in every imaginable way, every step of the way, for a long time. And although most people would say we were justified in our grief-stricken actions, we were undoubtedly holding on too tightly to our ideals, which stalled our ability to heal and grow.
Again, we all do this to ourselves sometimes, even when life is going generally well. So if you think you might be holding on too tightly in some area of your life right now, here are some general signs it may be time to let go:
- You would rather avoid the reality in front of you. — Most people make themselves unhappy simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now. Remember, a significant key to happiness is letting go of what you assume your life is supposed to be like right now, and sincerely appreciating it for everything that it is.
- You are angered or agitated by your circumstances. — Being calm is a superpower that allows your mind to find solutions. Calmness is also a mental state of trust. Instead of overthinking or overreacting, you just surrender for a moment and allow yourself to breathe, which instantly gives you the upper hand in tough situations.
- You feel the desire to revisit an old negative habit or situation. — Be firm about your decisions today. Don’t crawl back to old habits and situations that weren’t helping you grow. Just keep reminding yourself why you decided to move forward. Stay strong and positive about what’s to come by being consistent with what you know in your heart is right.
- You are always short on time for your priorities. — If it entertains you now but will hurt you someday, it’s a distraction. Don’t settle. Don’t exchange what you want most for what you kind of want at the moment. Study your habits and rituals. Figure out where your time goes, and remove distractions. It’s time to focus on what matters.
- You always feel like you’re not ready yet. — If you wait until you feel 100% ready, you will be waiting the rest of your life. Realize this! Some people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness. Don’t be one of them.
- You long for life to be easier. — 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. It’s all just a part of the growth process. With effort, things will gradually get better, one way or another. Be patient and remind yourself: Life never gets easier, you just get stronger.
- You worry constantly about what others think of you. — One of the greatest freedoms is simply not caring what everyone else thinks of you. Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and what you want to be. Stop waiting for others to tell you how important you are. Tell yourself. And believe it.
- You often catch yourself judging others. — A significant yet dangerous temptation in our culture is to judge people and box them into a particular narrative. Don’t do this. Don’t be lazy and make empty judgments about people. Be kind. Ask about their story. Listen carefully. Be humble. Be teachable. Be a good neighbor.
- You resist and deny the possibility that you may be wrong sometimes. — 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. There’s always room for a new perspective, a new step, a new possibility, a new beginning.
- You tend to focus on the little things that drive you nuts. — Sometimes we scrutinize and dramatize the petty annoyances in our lives until we’re blue in the face, and then we sit back and scratch our heads in bewilderment of how unfulfilling and empty life feels.
- You catch yourself desperately wanting to control other people, the past, etc. — The most powerful changes happen in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over everything you don’t.
- You never put yourself first. — Start prioritizing your inner peace. If you need to temporarily distance yourself from someone who brings you down, do so. If you need to forgive yourself or someone else so you can move on, do so. Take a deep breath and start doing what it takes to get to a better place in your head and heart.
Now, it’s your turn…
To a great extent, life is really like that old joke:
Patient: Doctor it hurts whenever I do this.
Doctor: Then stop doing that.
And sometimes we are blessed, in a bittersweet way, with an event that shakes the foundation of our lives and makes us realize “I have to stop doing that.” As I mentioned in the intro, Angel and I have been there. One of the key things we learned from personal experience, and also from coaching hundreds of students and live event attendees over the years, is that the vast majority of pain and sadness in our daily lives comes from our propensity to hold on… to just about everything.
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. For example, 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 and ideals you have. But if you let go of that wish (and those expectations and ideals), 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.
Ultimately, we need to practice shifting our perspective, so we can let go when we must. And we need to keep in mind that letting go isn’t about having the ability and courage to release every past hardship or mistake—it’s about having the wisdom and strength to embrace the present as it is. It’s not about forgetting—it’s about remembering without fear…
It’s stepping forward, untethered, with a present mind and a lesson learned.
I challenge you to leverage the reminders—the signs—above to do just that.
(Note: We take a deeper dive into the process of letting go in our New York Times bestselling book, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs.)
If you’re feeling up to it, I’d also love it if you left me a reply below.
What part of this post resonated with you the most?
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