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. 🙂
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Photo by: Manuel Rodriguez