“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
Letting go can be one of the most difficult yet most rewarding things you can do in your life. When you hold on to resentments, regrets, the negative statements of others, unhealthy relationships or anxiety about the future, you’re not able to really be present in your life. Holding onto things can rob you of so much joy.
Why do we hang on? It’s tempting to believe that if we think or worry about something long enough, we can change the outcome or figure out how to make the pain stop. We want to hold onto control, even when the control is illusory, a mirage in the desert. Yet clinging to the illusion that you can change the past, other people’s behavior, or other issues beyond your control gives them even more power over your life—not the other way around.
So when you find yourself dwelling on something that causes you pain, or relentlessly trying to fix it when your time and energy could be far better spent elsewhere, here are a few important questions to ask yourself:
1. Is this thought helpful or hurtful to hold onto? Let’s say you’re hung up on a past mistake, which can also be the flip side of resentment (“I allowed somebody to do such-and-such to me”). A mistake can be an invaluable learning tool, so reflect on it just long enough to consider how it can be avoided in the future…and then let go. Holding onto it over the long term or thinking it to death is not constructive.
2. What do I really have to lose by letting go? Maybe you’re hanging onto a bad relationship because you’re convinced that any day now this person is going to turn into your dream mate. Letting go of the idea that he or she will change with your help might make it easier either to let go of the relationship or accept the relationship the way is. If you do decide to end it, it doesn’t mean regretting that the relationship ever happened—just recognizing that it wasn’t working for you. That can be very empowering.
3. How can I reframe how I am perceiving the situation? Let’s say you made a decision years ago that haunts you to this day, because you’re convinced had you chosen differently, life might be infinitely better. But how could you possibly know that? It might be better, or it could be worse. There are trade offs to both choices. We often have to make the best decision we can with the information we have at the time. It’s the same with concerns about the future…with your job, finances, relationships, marriage, kids, and on and on…that keep you awake at night. The truth is we don’t know what is going to happen in the future. No one does! We only have control over the choices we make today. If you can put to rest the worry about the future for today and focus on the present, you’ve made the most important step you can take towards letting go and allowing yourself to enjoy life a little more.
4. What are my options? Whatever is bothering you, you have three choices—release it, change it or accept it. It’s the core of the famous AA serenity prayer: “…grant me the serenity the accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”