Oftentimes you don’t even realize you’re blocking your own present blessings by holding on to everything so tightly. It’s time to start letting go.
Letting go is not giving up. Letting go is surrendering any obsessive attachment to particular people, outcomes, and situations. Surrender means showing up in your life with the intention to be your best self, and to do the best you know how, without expecting life to always go your way. Have goals, have dreams, take purposeful action, and build great relationships, but detach from what life must look like every step of the way.
The energy of someone aspiring to create something wonderful, teamed with this kind of surrender, is far more powerful and rewarding than someone determined to create outcomes with a desperate must-have mentality. Surrender brings inner peace and awareness, and lest we forget that our outer lives are a reflection of our inner state of being.
Truly, when we let go of the way it “should be,” we free our minds to deal with life’s unexpected changes and challenges in the most effective way possible…
We see the world through a clearer lens.
We learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.
We create space for acceptance, change, and growth.
And gradually we begin to feel more in flow with life.
With that said, I don’t always let go when I need to. And I don’t always flow with life. In fact, sometimes I do the exact opposite — I hold on even when I know better. Because I’m only human, and human beings have a tendency to hold on too tight… to almost everything!
When I’m holding on too tight, I can really feel it in my gut too. I often feel anxious, frustrated, irritated, or upset. There’s an aching for things to be different than they are — a feeling of rejection or failure or hopelessness…
Can you relate? I’m sure you can in some way. We all struggle with this more often than we even realize. And the vast majority of our torment can be alleviated with a healthy practice of letting go.
So, let’s start by reminding ourselves of some things we typically hold on to long after it’s time to let go…
1. The way things “should be” right now.
Try to use frustration and inconvenience to motivate you rather than annoy you. You are in control of the way you look at life. Instead of getting angry, find the lesson. In place of envy, feel admiration. In place of worry, take action. In place of doubt, have faith. Remember that your response is always more powerful than your present circumstance. A small part of your life is decided by completely uncontrollable circumstances, while the vast majority of your life is decided by your responses. Where you ultimately end up is heavily dependent on how you play the hands you’ve been dealt.
2. The ways things used to be.
You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even a week ago. You’re always learning and growing, and life is always evolving. Even though you can’t control everything that happens, you can control your attitude about what happens. And in doing so, you will gradually master change rather than allowing it to master you. So be humble today. Be teachable. The world is bigger than your view of the world. There’s always room for a fresh idea or a next step. But first you must accept the fact that things may never go back to how they used to be, and that this ending is really a new beginning.
3. Past mistakes and errors in judgment.
Forgive yourself for the bad decisions you’ve made in the past, for the times you lacked understanding, for the choices that accidentally hurt others and yourself. Forgive yourself, for being young and reckless. These are all vital lessons. And what matters most right now is your willingness to grow from them.
4. A burning desire to control the uncontrollable.
Be selective with your energy today. If you can fix a problem, fix it. If you can’t, then accept it and change your thoughts about it. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to invest more energy than you have, tripping over something behind you or something that only exists inside your head. Truth be told, some of the most powerful moments in life happen when you find the courage to let go of what can’t be changed. Because when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself — to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.
5. The fantasy of a perfect path (or time to begin).
Too often we waste our time waiting for a path to appear, but it never does. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. And we forget that there’s absolutely nothing about our present circumstances that prevents us from making progress again, one tiny step at a time.
6. The need for constant comfort and ease.
Everything gets a bit hard and uncomfortable when it’s time to change. That’s just a part of the growth process. Things will get better, one step at a time. And keep in mind that your effort is never wasted, even when it leads to disappointing results. For it always makes you stronger, more educated, and more experienced. So when the going gets tough, be patient and keep going. Just because you are struggling does not mean you are failing. Every great success requires some kind of worthy struggle to get there.
7. The idea that we don’t have what it takes.
Every difficult life situation can be an excuse for hopelessness or an opportunity for growth, depending on what you choose to do with it. In the midst of particularly hard days when I feel that I can’t endure, I try to remind myself that my track record for getting through hard days is 100% so far. And the same is true for YOU. We have what it takes! (Note: Marc and I discuss this further in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
8. Relationships that make us feel less like ourselves.
Let others take you as you are, or not at all. Speak your truth even if your voice shakes. By being yourself, you put something beautiful into the world that was not there before. And in the long run it’s wiser to lose someone over being who you are, than it is to keep them by being someone you’re not. Because it’s easier to fill an empty space in your life where someone else used to be, than it is to fill the empty space inside yourself where YOU used to be.
9. Old chapters in our lives that are still lingering half open.
You’re going to mingle with a lot of people in your lifetime. You’re going to have first kisses you feel all the way down to your toes and think “Oh my gosh, I love him,” but really…you loved the kiss. You’re going to meet a friend you think you will know forever, but then something will change and you two will go your separate ways. You’re going to explore different parts of your life with different people who aren’t in it for the long haul, and that isn’t a bad thing. Life is a series of stories, and the way our stories intersect is remarkable. Sometimes people are in our lives for the whole story. Sometimes they are just a short chapter or two. It takes a brave person to know when that chapter is over, and then to turn the page. Be brave. Embrace your goodbyes, because every “goodbye” you receive in life sets you up for the next “hello.”
10. The belief that we always need more, more, more right now.
We don’t always need more. We need appreciation. Because we often take for granted the very things that most deserve our attention and gratitude. How often do you pause to appreciate your life just the way it is? Look around right now, and be thankful… for your health, your family, your work, your comforts, your home. Nothing lasts forever. (Note: Our newest publication via Penguin Random House, “The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts & Reflections to Start Every Day”, is a great tool for this kind of perspective shift and gratitude practice.)
Afterthoughts on Coping with Unfavorable Outcomes
Reflecting on the reminders above can be incredibly grounding at times, but what can you actively do if the immediate tension inside you is spiraling out of control?
Here’s a brief outline of some initial steps Marc and I actively take (and cover with our course students and coaching clients) to cope with the immediate tension that arises from unfavorable outcomes in our lives:
- Acknowledge the tension inside you. – If you notice yourself getting angry and flustered, it’s a sign that you need to pause, take a deep breath, and practice the remaining steps.
- Resist the urge to act in haste. – The greatest harm comes whenever you act out of anger — actions that might include giving up too soon, consuming unhealthy substances, or even attacking someone else. So whenever you notice anger building up inside you, try not to take any form of destructive action. Instead, turn inward and mindfully assess whatever it is that’s arising.
- Sit with your feelings, and give them space. – Turn directly towards the tension you feel, and just be a witness. See it as something that’s passing through you, but is NOT YOU. It’s a feeling, a dark cloud passing across a vast sky, not a permanent fixture. Treat it that way. Instead of obsessing yourself with the dark cloud’s presence, try to broaden your perspective — give it the space it needs to pass. Sometimes you need a little distance to see things clearly again.
- Be OK with not knowing. – Now that you’ve given yourself some necessary space, tell yourself, “I don’t know why things are this way.” And be OK with this unknowing. Give yourself full permission to not have concrete answers in this moment. What would it be like to allow this moment to unfold without knowing? What is it like to not know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of others? What is it like to not know how to respond to life’s chaos? What is it like to be here right now, without jumping to conclusions?
The bottom line is that when life dishes you a harsh dose of reality, the best first steps involve sitting silently and witnessing the thoughts passing through you. Just witnessing at first, not interfering and not even judging, because by judging too rapidly you have lost the pure witness. The moment you rush to say, “this is absolutely terrible” or “things should be different,” you have already jumped head first into the chaotic tension.
It takes practice to create a gap between the witnessing of thoughts and your response to them. Once the gap is there, however, you are in for a great surprise — it becomes evident that you are not the thoughts themselves, nor the tension and chaos influencing them. You are the witness, a watcher, who’s capable of letting go, changing your mindset, and rising above the turmoil.
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. 🙂
How has holding on too tight affected your life?
Finally, 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.