When you try to control too much, you enjoy too little. Sometimes you just need to let go, relax, take a deep breath, and love what is.
This morning I met up with an old friend, someone whom I care about deeply but have internally struggled with for years because I’ve always been worried about her health.
I want to help her heal, because I feel I’m losing her.
I want to teach her the time-tested tools for living a happier, simpler, healthier life that I’ve helped so many other people with — so she can give up her addictions, take up exercise and mindfulness, nurture her needs, and suddenly be transformed into a healthy person again.
But that’s not reality. I want to control something that frightens me, but I can’t do anything about it. Because I’m not in control of anyone but myself. I want to help my friend, but she’s not interested in being helped. She has actually told me so a dozen times in the past.
So today, I let go.
Not “let go” as in “let her go.” I “let go” as in I stopped trying to control, stopped trying to change her, and instead took a deep breath and accepted her for exactly who she is.
And guess what? Who she is… is a blessing. Who she is… is something so ridiculously special and unique I have a hard time expressing it. She’s hilarious and passionate and compassionate and wise and wild and thoughtful and loyal… and did I mention wild?
I let go, and accepted her whole truth, and only then could I actually enjoy all of HER, instead of worrying about losing her or changing her ways.
And this, I’ve learned, is the best way to be in all walks of life.
You can stop trying to change people, and just let go and dissolve into their presence, just notice who they really are, just appreciate every idiosyncratic quirk. You can stop complaining about your everyday life circumstances, about your frustrations, about how the world is, and just let go and love what is.
Just be. Just accept. Just appreciate.
Here’s what you gain when you do:
1. You will gradually fall in love with people for who they truly are.
It’s OK to disagree with the thoughts or opinions expressed by those you love. But that doesn’t give you the right to deny any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse them of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t like what they’re saying. Learn to recognize interesting perspectives, lifestyles, and opinions, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what’s comfortable.
Truth be told, we don’t know most people half as well as we believe we do; and truly knowing someone is a big part of what makes them amazing.
Love is about letting those we care about be unapologetically themselves, and not distorting them to fit our own egotistical ideas of who we think they should be.
2. You will grow beyond everyone’s perpetual misunderstandings.
How often have you been misunderstood? How often has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings?
Think about it. How many opportunities have you been denied — or, for that matter, been granted — because someone failed to understand you completely? How many friends have you lost, and how many have you gained, because they saw a glimpse of some part of your personality that shone through for only a short time?
How often has your life been driven by misunderstandings and illusions — like someone seeing mirages of water shimmering at the far bend of a highway, and then vanishing moments later? And how often have these misunderstandings and illusions disappointed you or stressed you out because you thought you could control the way everyone sees you?
The truth is, 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.
3. You will get to enjoy more of the peace that’s already within you.
The Greek philosopher Epictetus said it perfectly more than 2,000 years ago: “People are disturbed, not by things (that happen to them), but by the principles and opinions which they form concerning (those) things. When we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles and opinions.”
Modern behavioral science agrees too. American psychologist Albert Ellis has proven that how people react to events is determined predominantly by their view of the events, not the events themselves.
Realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace. Because inner peace does not depend on external conditions — it’s what remains when you’ve surrendered your ego and worries. The need for something to be different in this moment is nothing more than an egotistic worry, and worries like this simply lead you in circles.
Peace of mind arrives anyplace and anytime, the moment you come to peace with what’s on your mind. It happens when you let go of the need for things to be different than they are. (Read Loving What Is.)
4. You will learn more about how life really works.
When you attempt to control the uncontrollable you automatically block yourself from the truth. You resist how everything works rather than learning about it. So here’s a simple challenge for you: Instead of trying to make things work exactly the way you want them to work, just watch them work today.
I bet you’ll learn much more about human nature and the inner workings of the world. As you see things working without you controlling them, the way you see what you see will gradually change. Because YOU will gradually change. You will begin to understand that things are a little different than you wanted them to be. And that it’s perfectly OK for the most part.
5. You will experience more of life’s pleasant surprises.
Would you really want to be in 100% control of everything, and know your future every step of the way?
If you’re thinking, “yes,” think again. Not knowing is one of the greatest gifts.
Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and magnificent 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 tune that surprises you and moves you to the point of tears.
Do you really want to miss out on that feeling for the rest of your life? I’m betting not.
So just keep reminding yourself that no matter what happens, no matter the outcome, the sun will rise and set. The world around you is going to spin one way or the other. And there’s no good reason to resist life blessing you in surprising and joyful ways.
6. You will free your mind from needless worries.
Think about it…
What if, instead of pushing so hard to make life happen every second, you decided to let go a little and allow life to happen to you sometimes?
What if, instead of trying to be in constant control, you simply surrendered control to something bigger than yourself?
What if, instead of working so hard to figure out every last answer, you allowed yourself to be guided to the solution in perfect timing?
Yes, you can train your mind to let go, moment by moment. Your positivity — your graceful acceptance of life — is a choice. And the long-term happiness in your head and heart depends on it.
7. You will get more of what you want, by doing less.
“If you want to control your animals, give them a larger pasture.” This is a quote I heard at a meditation retreat several years ago in a group discussion focused on the power of changing your thoughts.
I see “the animals” and their “larger pasture” as a form of letting go and allowing things to be the way they are — instead of trying to tightly control something, you’re loosening up, giving it more space, a larger pasture. The animals will be happier — they will roam around and do what they naturally do. And yet your needs will be met too — you will have more space to be at peace with the way the animals are.
This same philosophy holds true for many aspects of life — stepping back and allowing certain things to happen means these things will take care of themselves, and your needs will also be met. You will have less stress (and less to do), and more time and energy to work on the things that truly matter — the things you actually can control — like your attitude about everything. (Marc and I discuss this in detail in the “Simplicity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the mind is your battleground. It’s the place where the greatest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things you thought were going to happen, never did happen. It’s where your expectations always get the best of you. It’s where you fall victim to your cravings to control the uncontrollable.
And if you allow those thoughts and cravings to dwell in your mind, they will succeed in robbing you of peace, joy, and ultimately your life. You will think yourself into a nervous breakdown, into depression, and into defeat.
Truthfully, there’s so much about life that you can’t control, it makes no sense waste your energy on these things and then neglect everything you CAN control.
You can decide how you spend your time, whom you socialize with, whom you share your life, money and energy with. You can choose to love and appreciate the people in your life for exactly who they are. You can choose how you’re going to respond to surprises and disappointments when they arise, and whether you will see them as curses or opportunities for emotional growth…
And most importantly, you can choose to let go of control and adjust your attitude, which dictates pretty much everything else.
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to practice letting go today…
But before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Photo by: Manuel Rodriguez
Angel and Marc, what resonated the most about this post is choosing to let go and not struggle or resist life so much, to simply loosen up trying to control or plan every little thing (especially my relationships), and to trust in the universe a little more. This article, like your books and weekly emails, has given me a great, calming perspective. I’m finding my way to a clearer mind, day by day, with your help.
I needed this. I’ve been overwhelmed & distracted by a family member who has a hoarding problem and will likely need to be evicted again after living in her new place for only three months. The smell is overwhelming.
She likes to call and talk often, she loves to give advice but not interested in others concerns about her health and safety or help or advice. II bring up the safety issues lightly and back off. The rest is personal choice.
She needs professional help with multiple issues but is unlikely to tackle any of them at her age. She’s desperately lonely and her denial about the hoarding and hygiene that keeps people away is heartbreaking. We think she is mentally ill at this point but not to the degree where her autonomy needs to be taken away yet. So we wait.
She’s a smart college educated teacher, stubborn woman with resources, lots of money and she can’t help herself because of deeply held beliefs she has about what she is can do with her resources.
It’s a holding pattern, waiting for her to ask for help or for something to happen, trying to be kind and listen for now. It’s very hard not to offer advice. I do and I catch myself knowing that what she needs is space and support when she does get evicted, need to start over.
Vincent POH says
Thanks for this. I came across your newsletter ‘by accident’.
Since I underwent a brain surgery in Feb 2021, I noticed that I am very sensitive , even my sisters said so.
I have axed some friends … mainly for remarks that angered me , for ignoring my messages (*) , for not accepting my apology (I deduce from circumstance like not replying to my apology message *). I kept thinking of what happened & seem not able to let go.
* : a friend told me that it takes more time to pee than to send a simple reply like “I am busy now, msg U later” ! Plus, at this time of social media, I find it unbelievable that people whom I used to communicate suddenly stopped communication, unless he/she WANTS to stop. And, if phone number was changed & I was not informed, the message is very clear. ?.
Thanks for helping to open me up & I will reflect further & learn to let ago.
My present life experience is very close to what you have described here. Trying to control too much has held me back in several areas. We all need to let go and let more things happen naturally. Terribly tough to adhere to sometimes, but extremely liberating! When we are furiously running on a treadmill of stubbornness, we often miss out a lot of amazing scenery. Your course has been helping me let go and refocus on what’s truly important. It is a gradual process, and I’m getting closer. Thank you again for all the guidance.
Revena J says
Another insightful post. This was a huge lesson I had to learn as I constantly fought to control various situations around me. But the moment I let go everything began to fall into place. Most importantly, I regained my peace of mind. I am in a much better place now emotionally& mentally. It is true when you stop trying to control things around you the beauty of life begins to unfold. Keep up the good work! *avid reader frm Jamaica*
A good reminder for me today. I struggle to control employees work ethics since I have a very strong work ethics, but found out that I cannot do that. People are going to be who they are and so I just need to let go. I am learning slowly that I just need to step back breath and be who I am and not try and let everyone be like me.
I have just discovered you guys & I am enjoying what I am reading. It is hard though when you are in the midst of tourmoil to “not try to control” the outcome of a situation. I’m in the end of a 17 yr marriage w/ 3 children & an ex who has already found his apparent “soulmate”. So, it’s hard not to want to have control of everything around me that is spinning out of control.
Diana Everett says
Divorcing is very high stress, especially with children. When I divorced childless I wished I had children because I felt incredibly empty.
Be grateful for your children, even though they are high maintenance; the children will be your blessing and you’ll all be fine.
Possibly meditation and/or Yoga may help calm the nerves during this chaotic and emotional transition.
Brian Omahne says
In the beginning of my journey twords creating a better mental space it felt impossible. Try taking all of the negativity you have suffered through and pull out the positive. You can only control “your” direct outcome. How you choose to react to the world around you, your world will be just that.. Stay strong! You have the strength and abilities to overcome anything life hands you. Look how far you have come. It works. I am proof.
The illusion of control is futility. Letting go of the need to control everything, though difficult, brings peace of mind. I choose peace!
Yesterday, I discovered you and I took the time to read and reflect on a few of your posts! They are insightful, refreshing and encouraging. You have quite a gift and I thank you for being committed to helping others. Can’t wait to read more!
My girlfriend and I broke up, and I always thought we would work things out. She started dating another guy and I lost my mind. I tried desperately to control the situation. It only drove her away. Slowly, she and I started to reconnect. One night she came over and we had a nice reunion (nothing dirty, just intimate and tender.)
The next day she was going to tell the guy that it was over. It turned into my worst nightmare. She had a long three hour conversation that ended in lots of tears, and she decided that she wasn’t going to date anybody until she sorted out her feelings.
She and I haven’t spoken much, but she has remained friends with the other guy. I keep falling into old habits of trying control her feelings so we can get back together. It’s helped push me into self improvement. But, I still struggle with letting events unfold as they were meant to. Taking it one day at a time right now..
Letting go is my greatest ongoing battle, so I greatly enjoyed this one. My controlling tendencies often ruin my peace of mind and my relationship with my adult kids. I resonated the most with the final three points espiecally. Thank you for the much needed perspective.
Ronald Hochhauser says
Mine too Petra! The article sure hits home! Thank you for responding and thanks to Marc & Angel………..
I really appreciate the insight you have when it comes to what truly gives us peace of mind …
I would never think of my behavior as controlling but realize I suffer from it …
I try to control situations that end up making me feel negative and depressed.
I need to let go more often and allow my mind to be more at peace and enjoy life from a mindset of thoughts and behaviour that only I can control .
Thank you , Jeannie
Ronald Hochhauser says
My Wife of 59 years and I agreed that we both have controlling tendencies. Not an easy time but I think we’ll be ok! No trade ins are necessary!
Surrender empowers, thank you so much for all the resources you provide. They’ve changed my life drastically.
Zaretha s Taylor says
Hello Marc & Angel,
This was a very good article and very true. Today was the exact day I needed to see it…
Thanks so much,
Suzie Schmick says
Angel & Marc, you pretty much smacked me upside the head with this one–and I desperately needed it! Life has beaten me down especially hard in recent years, to the point where I’ve lost the previous joy and happiness of my youth. I would never have pegged myself as a die-hard control freak, but then why would I be arguing with you as I read this if I weren’t? What spoke to me deepest were these two lines: “Your positivity and graceful acceptance of life is a choice. And the long-term happiness in your head and your heart depends on it.” Thank God for your *profound* gifts that you so freely share. Bless you both. 🙂
Diana Everett says
I am politically active, so it’s a given that I want to control the outcome of events and change entrenched systems in the USA. I am often frustrated and enraged. And angry at all the apathy around me, which is driving American egregious inequality, lack of healthcare, unaffordable housing, unnecessary student debt, women’s reproductive health, firearm deaths, and on and on and on.
I need to just keep on doing what I can, look at the big picture and let go of the outcome on these bigger issues. Easier said than done, but getting high blood pressure over it is just detrimental to my personal health and will not change the outcome.
Thank you for the wise advice, Marc and Angel.
Linda P says
I unfortunately had to learn this lesson of letting go and not being in control of many things in my life when my beloved husband Dave at sixty came home from work and expressed he was feeling like he was coming down with a cold and wanted to just go to bed. I went and laid down beside him and woke up hearing him take his last breathe on this earth. I was 48 at the time and was not prepared for this to happen never imaging something like this happening to us. I have struggled trying to find my direction in life and get back to living. They say time heals all but I’m not so sure. There has not been a day or night that I haven’t missed him and what we were building as a living couple. Letting go of him has been the hardest life lesson I have had on my journey
Today I woke up sad, then I read your blog. Then I let go of an old routine, like an old friend, that didn’t serve me anymore—feeling sad because I didn’t get everything done the night before. Thank you, Angel, for this liberating information today! What I didn’t complete, I can do today.
I usually read your articles and want you to know they are so helpful and great to read. It seems like many days it is spot on to the circumstances in my life and so I appreciate receiving these articles “ Amazing! “
This specific article I feel is extra special. I feel God answered some things in my mind and he used your article to give me a clear message.
There is no way to say it better. Your wisdom really amazes me.
Thank you again.
Susan Kriz says
I recently let go of a person who constantly claimed to want/need help but whose actions showed she didn’t. Years ago a therapist had told me I was arguing with life about the situation. I didn’t block her or refuse to talk. Just set firm boundaries around certain topics. Interestingly, she cut me off cold turkey – ghosted me. And I thought – Okay. (It’s been very peaceful:)
I really liked what you said about loosening up – lightening up – and have begun doing this. It stops the intensity before it starts and prevents people (like the person above) from laying on guilt and obligation.