Life enlightens you gradually as you age. You realize how much nonsense you have wasted time and energy on. And you begin to understand what it means to let go.
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 Marc 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’s 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 overthinking shrink. Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in the present 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. (Marc 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 move through them. 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 almost 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 bad judgment. It was a terrible mistake! But I’ve grown from it. I was, and I 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? No? Then it’s time to let go of the constant rumination, and pay closer attention to the life you’re actually living today.
- 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. (Marc and I build powerful daily rituals for taking positive steps forward with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
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.
So practice letting go gradually this year. Remind yourself that you don’t need to attend every drama circle or argument you’re invited to. Give yourself the space to value your time, genuine relationships, and peace of mind, above all in 2023. Because little else will matter more in the long run…
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.
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Marc and Angel, I’m truly enjoying your the writings and teachings in your two 1,000 Little Things books and your emails. And this says a lot about the quality of your work, because I’m a cynic about self-help advice and don’t causally buy into it. But I really appreciate your insights.
As it relates to your questions above, I have lots to let go of.
As my 50th b-day approaches tomorrow, I’m struggling with the gap between what I expected my life to look like at 50 vs. the way my life really is today. The two are not even close. It’s difficult to accept that I have not done what I set out to do to the best of my ability, largely because of an uncontrollable circumstance that debilitated my health. But it was healing to read your thoughts on this. As I journal about them and ritualize them (part of a helpful strategy I picked up from your GBTH course) and try to apply them to my life circumstances, I know your words will gradually help me reframe what my life is, and design a wiser vision for my present and future.
Michelle Salas says
Thank you once again, M&A. I love when your wisdom arrives in my inbox right on time!
These thoughts on letting go have been well received at my end. I have come to understand and accept that letting go doesn’t come as naturally to me as I would hope. I tend to hold on tight to almost everything, as you’ve said. This is especially true in my relationships. For example, while letting go makes sense, my emotional heart still strives to hold on and create an idea of who my husband is and what our relationship could be, despite the fact that my fantasies aren’t real. But even just reading these words reminds me that others too are struggling with this same issue in various ways, and that makes me feel less alone and gives me hope that I too can adjust my mindset and make better sense of things.
Lena Walker says
You go, girl! Glad to see that you are making this transition. I did so around 28 years and never looked back (I’m in my sixth decade now!)
Kudos to you, Michelle!
Love this post, Angel. Thank you! Lot’s of food for thought.
I’ve been holding on to a career choice I made 11 years ago when I was only 20, and I’m finally building up the courage to let it go and rebuild my career in a field that deeply resonates with who I am today.
Also, I signed up to your email to hear more about your next live event in Houston. Sounds like a great event! I’d like to attend.
This article came at the perfect time for me. I have been holding on to a failed relationship for a very long time and as a result, I have made myself miserable. My ex has been so patient and kind. But I inflict upon him my feelings about our relationship and at times I act like we are still a couple and how his behavior affects me. We had a long relationship and I was not happy with the way he handled the breakup because he never talked to me honestly about how unhappy he was or why he wanted to break up. He just walked away. I know that it should have been enough that he wanted out, but I needed to know why. I know it really doesn’t matter because his mind was made up. He was insensitive to how I felt for a long time after the breakup, but wanted to stay friends. This makes it difficult to let go. I know that putting distance between us is the best thing to do, so I am determined to do just that for my own sanity. It’s hard and lonely and I miss him every day. In time, I know it will get easier. I just have to take it one day at a time.
Thank you for your good advice and encouragement.
Thankyou Marc and Angel every one of your posts made s to address what I need at a particular time. I have had some devastating experiences in 2022 and your emails help me work through these and help me to find a path that is good in 2023.
This has been a rough year. My friendships are what I value most highly in my life and I lost 3 of them. One was a really close friend who is a truly wonderful person. I am guilty of trying to understand why things suddenly went so wrong to end it so quickly. The other two I lost because they died. I can’t seem to stop grieving the loss of all 3 of these friendships. I try to hold on to the good memories and release what hurts, but can’t quite figure out how to do that.
steven spitaleri says
Hi guys, Is it odd or God that whenever your emails arrive usually I read what I need at that very moment.
Surrender is my new word I’ve been trying to have a greater awareness of.
Forgiveness of others and myself is crucial in order for me to be at peace.
Empathy for others also heals the shame I feel about myself including being honest with others.At times it is a physical reaction as well as mental. Goosebumps inducing conversations that are uncomfortable to talk about allows me to have more meaningful relationships. It allows the other person to see me as I am, A HUMAN BEING with struggles just like everyone else.
So, in being my best self I do have to keep it real to myself and others.
Sometimes the others are people who have circumstances that I couldn’t imagine having to deal with. But having a genuine empathy of what it is whatever they are going through puts the fire of shame in my heart out from burning.
Thanks for your thought provoking insights and inspiration.
Hi, thank you for your thoughtful post. I am in love with someone who doesn’t love me back. It’s crushing my spirit, but I just can’t let go, even though I try. I guess they just outgrew me. I’m ok just being a nun from here on out, but I appreciate your wisdom and thoughts as they are wise. I’m doing a lot of soul repair work lately, so that’s good at least. I’m figuring out my own mess so at least I won’t mess up my kids.
Emily Barnett says
Amen. I realized I was taking the here and the now for granted by being uber-focused on future plans that I just couldn’t materialize no matter how hard I tried. Humbled. Saved. Your thoughts are exactly what I need to be hearing in this chapter of my life that isn’t yet finished. I love that your real advice is so very applicable as some days are harder than others to keep my faith. My life really SHOULD NOT BE THIS MESSY-but I love myself and the people in it anyway.
Cindy St Denis says
I have just subscibed. What I have just read has been exactly what I have been going through my whole life. You are a God send. Suddenly, a light bulb has gone off. I am 61 years old. I have been to counseling and I have read many books in an attempt to figure out what is wrong in my life. I am looking forward to living my life fully, without sadness and disappointments. Acceptance is the key for me. Letting go is freedom.
Enjoy you writings. Am 73 and have difficulty dealing with myself. Am worthless, unworthy, no concentration, let alone focus! Instead of dwelling on the above, I should be thankful for health and all I have, not much, but it’s mine! Oh well, like does go on and this shall pass.
Thank you for listening.
Ruby G says
This really hit home for me. It spoke to me as I have had to pivot my method of conducting business. I have a fierce sense of humor, I am an encouraging person and I have wicked sales skills. My likeability has been effective and helpful in my life. Now I’m trying to update my computer skills so that I can “level up” my game. I’m a woman of a particular age and I have a college degree so I can learn and retain information but I get bored sitting at the computer for hours. But I am determined to finish this life strong and financially sound!!! You’re article has me motivated to have a paradyme shift…one step at a time.
Thank you both for this article. Letting go is not easy for me. I’m 64 and health issues are preventing me from living the life I want. I try to accept & let go daily. I’ll look forward to your newsletter.
Odd how this article landed in my feed. God is really trying to get my attention. My marriage is falling apart and after a long talk with my husband it indicated that we’ve both been thinking about divorce. We both want it but we also both don’t want it. I think now after reading this article that I need to let it go to find who I really am. I’m fearful of being alone at this time in my late 50s and my friend group is tiny. Am I making a mistake?