“Do everything with a mind that lets go. Don’t accept praise or gain or anything else. If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace.” Ajhan Chah
Each day we faces challenges, novelty, adversity, conflict and the resulting feelings of discomfort, uncertainty, fear and frustration. We easily get stuck in either our focus on the events, the people involved or our reactions to them. We get caught in the merry go round of thoughts or feelings that are triggered and lost in the resulting internal chaos. We end up holding on to situations that neither warrant our attention or our focus. Our moods are affected, our concentration is interrupted, our ability to be present to those around us impacted and our behavior is not what it could be.
Each of these situations offers us the possibility of seeing the situation and our reaction for what it is and letting go.
How do you let go of something that is bothering you or that is an obstacle to happiness? Do you feel irritated about mistakes or behaviors that fall short of your expectations and go over them again and again in your mind? Are you worried about how someone has reacted to what you said or did and can’t stop thinking about it? Are you facing situations where you feel a lack of control or feel powerless and worry constantly? Are you having difficulty letting go of unproductive thoughts or behaviors?
When uncomfortable or unpredictable life events occur, how you react determines the possible emotional and psychological fallout from the situation. If you have grown up with erratic individuals or unstable circumstances, there is a stronger likelihood that your response to stressful occurrences will be to increase attempts to control yourself and your surroundings. Moving a lot, alcoholism, or changing schools repeatedly in childhood contribute to the development of feelings of vulnerability and can contribute to the development of maladaptive behaviors, coping mechanisms or styles of control. This can sabotage the letting go process.
The habit of controlling uncomfortable feelings interferes with learning to acknowledge, process, and let go of the feelings themselves. Frequently these attempts to control are rigid and ineffective. Unrecognized or discounted feelings, especially when combined with attempts to control, can fuel severe anxiety or a tendency to hold onto things rather than let them go. Situations as mundane as missing a stoplight, getting the wrong change at the cash register, or waiting for someone who is running late can provoke an excess of anger and stress. When unrecognized, the resulting stress accumulates and leads to behaviors such as inappropriate anger, out of control anxiety, and possibly illness.
Learning to face these moments of stress with equanimity prevents small stressors from building to a problematic level and enables the process of letting go. Holding on is the opposite of letting go. This reaction keeps us stuck, unproductive and unhappy. We hold on when we attempt to control.
When we continue to feel irritated about mistakes in ourselves and others we are holding on to both the feelings of irritation and the thought that things should be different. When we do not notice or are not present for feelings that are evoked in difficult situations we end up unconsciously holding onto the situation and the feelings. We can get stuck in wanting to let go while at the same time engaging in old behaviors that promote holding on such as ruminating or engaging in continual distraction.
Letting go is the key to not getting stuck in these old habits. Letting go of thoughts, feelings and behaviors is possible and can be facilitated through the development of skills such as changing an attitude, altering a perspective or using an emotional release or regulation process.
5 Keys to letting go to letting go are:
1. Attitude Change: Note thinking patterns such as all or nothing thinking, catastrophizing, or underestimating your ability to cope that are perpetuating negative or perfectionistic thoughts about a situation, yourself or another. Switch to a more realistic attitude.
2. Feelings Release: Write your feelings out until fully expressed. Spend time being compassionately present for them. Exercise to release anger residue. Practice a conscience attitude of acceptance until the feeling passes.
3. Problem Solve: Use the abc’s of problem solving: a. identify the problem; b. brainstorm as many options as you can; c. list the pros and cons of each; d. decide on your first, second and third choices; e. action the first choice; f. evaluate the result and if dissatisfied try the second option. Continue until a solution is found.
4. Perspective Shift: Zoom above the problem and yourself and look at it from a distance, think Google maps, as though looking at a specific location from space. Put the problem in a prayer box to be resolved by something bigger than yourself. Imagine the advise you would give yourself five years from now about the situation.
5. Breathe into the Here and Now: Take three complete breaths focusing on the release of tension with each exhale. Slowly and steadily note and label 10 objects in your environment as you breathe. Notice and accept what your body and emotions are doing as if observing someone else.
By changing the habits that perpetuate holding on when stressed you can learn to let go of events as they happen. Rather than accumulate stress you can learn to release it when noted before it becomes problematic. Tackling smaller challenges is easier and more effective than waiting until they become overwhelming. Letting go can become a good habit when practiced. Learn to let go and live.