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Many philosophies refer to the idea of letting go, as a way to achieve more peace in your life. When we hang on to situations or people that are no longer a good fit for us, we can end up suffering a great deal.
Letting go is not binary
The problem I see is that most of these philosophers and other advocates of letting go, imply that this is a binary action…either you have let go, or you have not. In my experience, this is not often the case. Letting go is a process or a place on a spectrum in many cases. We may make a decision to let go, but that is only the start of the process.
It is a process
Often, we are so involved in something or someone, that letting go of it is very difficult. Perhaps that person or situation represents a large part of your life or what you think about daily. Those habits and neural pathways in your brain do not change quickly or easily, but they most certainly change! It is normal to backslide into old thoughts and habits and you need to be kind to yourself when this happens and notice, then get out of that pattern quickly. If you follow through with your decision to let go, and do not fall back into old patterns, you will make some progress in letting go. Along the way, you could expect to experience a lot of these emotions:
- You might feel a sense of mourning at the loss of a certain relationship or situation.
- You might feel relief that you are not expending energy trying to force something to be, which no longer exists anymore.
- You might feel more like yourself.
- You might feel sadness and doubt, wondering if you will ever have again, those good experiences and feelings you once had, which were associated with this person or thing you are letting go.
- You might feel guilty or ashamed because you believe you messed up. Be compassionate with everyone, including yourself, and forgive yourself.
You might resist letting go
Along the way, you might let go a little, perhaps hoping that someday, because you have added space to a situation, the negative parts of it will dissipate, leaving an opportunity to have that person or thing in your life again, hoping it will be better next time, because you have grown. While this is a possibility, it is not usually likely…and more importantly, it is counter-productive to restoring your peace.
Another thing that can happen along the way is that a little later, some other event or realization may occur related to what you have started to let go, and you understand that you must completely let go. You must act and feel the certainty that there is no path back to this person or situation because it is out of your control. All those decisions, events, and actions which have transpired have created even more distance between you and the thing you are letting go, and seem to destroy the return path to that thing or person. This does not mean that you should be uncaring or mean, but you should not allow any sanctuary in your mind or heart for the hope that there will be a happy reunion in the future with this person or situation you are letting go. At first, the pain of this can be intense, because it now feels like there is finality to it, even if the finality was present long ago and you simply unable to see it or accept it. Now, it is time to rebalance how you spend your time and energy, what you think about, and break the old habits.
Re-deploy the time and energy dividend from letting go of something to your work, a hobby, reading, or doing anything at all that will open your life up to new people and experiences that might give you a smile.
What should I do while letting go?
Revisiting the loss does nothing to help you anymore. It is very likely you have already thought through it all and learned any lessons that were available. To remove your suffering, focus fully on what you want to do next and maybe why you want to do those things. Mostly though, it is about finding out what you want to do and then doing something every day to chase those things. You might not know why you want to do something, but you want to anyway. Wanting to is a good enough reason to do it! It is very likely that through the process of holding on too long to something, you have neglected other areas of your life, and you have CERTAINLY ignored some aspects of what makes your soul happy and your face shine with joy. In moments of quiet, let yourself notice if an idea pops into your head about something you should do or try. This could be anything, and if it does not harm anyone, you should find a way to try to do that thing…it could be exactly what you need to do to move forward and get those feelings of loss out of your mind.
Things to do every day
Some things take longer to let go of than others. If your thing is very complex or impactful, it will require you to deliberately decide to get past it and to change your daily habits a bit to support your efforts. Here are some things that help me:
- Eating a bit less, and a bit higher quality food that you still enjoy can be a good start.
- Going for a walk or a bike ride every day to make sure you move for a few minutes (or a few hours) each day will do much to help your mood and allow yourself some time to process things, while still helping your body.
- Reading books and good quality audio content to explore new ideas can really help. Audiobooks can be enjoyed while you are on a long walk. YouTube videos are available on your smartphone, so you can listen to funny or motivational content while walking or resting.
- Commit to a better sleeping routine. Allocate 8 hours a night for sleep. If that means you shower and go to bed earlier than normal, that is OK. While in bed, you can read or listen to uplifting audiobooks and videos. Personally, I found myself waking up often at 3 am, so I just laid there and tried to learn some meditation techniques, focused on positive things, listing out everything in my life that I am grateful for, and thinking about what I wanted to do next for my self and my family.
- Basically, do anything you can each day to nourish your body, mind, and spirit. Find things and people to smile with.
- And for goodness sake, turn off that damn Adele record…you are making yourself and everyone within earshot more depressed! Put on some upbeat jams and sing along…if you are in your car, sing loud to the person at the red light next to you and make them bust out laughing…I guarantee you will feel awesome too.
After some time of keeping these daily habits, I still have nights where my mind can run away with me, but they are few and far between. What is even better is this: When my mind runs away at night now, it mostly runs with ideas about how to improve projects I am working on, and not ruminating about negative past events! Sometimes if the ideas will not stop, I will write down the ideas or even work for an hour or so to implement the feature I dreamed up for an application I am working on! Then I go back to sleep for a bit and start my day pretty normally when I wake up for real. I remember being like this 20 years ago…pulled into action by ideas and things I wanted to do!
Many times a day now, when a choice to do something appears, I ask myself a few questions before I answer:
- Will this make me stronger physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually?
- Will this take me closer to a goal I want to achieve?
- Will this change me so that I am closer to the kind of person I want to be?
- Will doing this illustrate a belief I hold?
Even a casual conversation that makes you smile or laugh is good for emotion and spirit, so there are a lot of fun things you can do to get stronger!
If you say no to things that do not take you where you want to go, you will have more time and energy to pursue the opportunities that do!
If you are living your life in a way that shows what you believe in your core, you are authentic and successful in ways so many of us can only aspire to reach.
I hope this helps someone drop their anchors and get their real selves out and open! Please comment if you have more ideas about what could help others!