Why You Should Learn to Let Go

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The root of all of our problems is our inability to let go.
— Leo Babauta

Letting go is one of my biggest personal struggles.

The idea of “letting go” naturally implies that you’ve been holding onto something. It requires an object; there has to be something to let go of. We tend to latch on to certain expectations, ideals, or dreams, and our attachment to these things causes us innumerable problems.

What kinds of problems?

Well, here are 5 major ways in which our failure to let go can manifest itself:

1. Stress

Getting stressed out is often a reaction that we have to wanting things to be or go a certain way. And we tend to get even more stressed when things don’t actually pan out and go the way that we want them to go.

For instance, if I’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding, and my flight gets delayed due to weather the night before the ceremony, you can probably guess that I’ll be stressed out.

But when the flight gets cancelled? That’s when my stress will peak. I’ll be in a frenzy trying to find an airline or an alternative mode of transportation that can get me to my destination in time for the wedding.

Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go as you hoped they would. And there might not be anything you can do about that.

But when that’s the case, you need to: 1) learn to recognize that you can’t control or fix the situation, 2) let go of how you want things to be, and 3) instead, accept and embrace the reality of what is. Because continuing to experience stress and put up resistance to a situation that’s out of your control will only prolong your suffering.

2. Feeling emotionally taxed about things that have happened, are happening, or could happen

Entirely too often, we get anxious, frustrated, angry, or depressed about things that (a) have happened to us, (b) are happening to us, or (c) might happen to us. We can’t stop thinking about them.

For example, you might find yourself angrily dwelling on what a past landlord did to dick you over. Maybe you get frustrated while waiting in line at the post office because someone doesn’t have their shit together and is holding everyone else up. Or perhaps you keep worrying about how an important upcoming event or commitment will go.

Too often, we obsess about the past, replaying things that happened in our heads. We experience anger when we have to deal with inane situations in the present. And we ceaselessly worry about the future - trying to think through different scenarios and better prepare ourselves in some way for what might be coming.

But the thing is, we can’t change what happened in the past. We can only sometimes change or impact what’s happening around us in the present. And we don’t have a way of predicting or controlling what will happen in the future.

So we need to let go.

We need to loosen our grip on it all. Because continuing to hold on will not serve us.

3. Irritation or frustration with other people

When people don’t behave in the way that we’d like them to, we typically react by feeling irritated or frustrated with them.

At its core, this reaction is about control. We want someone to behave a certain way, but we can’t force them to behave in that way, and our lack of control over them and over the situation leaves us feeling impotent and annoyed.

What’s more, when this situation plays out, it’s usually harmful to our relationship with that other person. Our irritation or frustration with them becomes a crack in the foundation of our relationship with them.

The solution? Yep...let go. Allow others to be who they are. Try not to impose your own preferences or ideals on them.

Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t maintain a certain standard of respect for yourself or compromise on how you feel you deserve to be treated. I’m in no way advocating that you should blindly accept someone if they are treating you terribly or behaving horribly.

But it’s important to acknowledge that we are all human and we all make mistakes. You’re not perfect, and you can’t expect anyone else to be either. To the extent that the other person’s heart is in the right place and they aren’t doing massive harm (especially not intentionally), try to be accepting of them.

Responding in anger usually doesn’t help - it just makes the other person feel hurt or defensive and renders them less likely to want to hear you out or to change. Instead, if whatever they did really hurt or deeply bothered you, explain to them why it matters to you. But do so calmly and constructively.

Regardless, dwelling on whatever someone else did to upset you won’t make you happier. So let go of how you want them to be and just let them be them.

Grasping to your ideals for how others should act is naturally going to result in friction with reality. You can’t control other people or how they behave. So instead of letting it cause you stress, anger, frustration, or disappointment, let go. Accept people as they are and move on.

Not only will this translate into you having a better relationship with them, but you will also end up being happier yourself.

4. Struggling with loss or death

We all suffer and grieve to some extent when we experience a loss - whether that loss comes in the form of a lost job, a missed opportunity, an illness (i.e., loss of health), or the death of a loved one. Out of habit, interestingly, we also tend to take actions that prolong our suffering.

As an example, when my husband left me, I constantly dwelled on my loss, on his betrayal, and on the unbelievable pain that I was feeling. I kept wondering why this had happened to me and wishing things were different.  

For some reason that I can’t explain, I felt an odd compulsion to learn what was going on in his life after he’d left me - even though each new piece of information that I gleaned seemed to cut me deeper than the last. Finding out about his new stripper girlfriend (...yep, seriously) and having various sordid details of his latest misadventures make their way back to me did not make me feel any better about things.

I cried. I wallowed. And I allowed myself an inordinate amount of self-pity.

Finally, I realized several things. First, I acknowledged that even though we were married, I did not and never could “possess” or “own” my husband. We can’t possess our partners (or anyone else in life for that matter), no matter how badly we might wish to.

Second, I recognized that I needed to reframe my perspective. I needed to stop viewing my impending divorce as a rejection or failure and begin to see it as a liberating event - as an opportunity for reinvention.

Third, I started to understand and internalize that I needed to let go in order to end my suffering. I needed to stop clinging to what I wished my life was and instead work to accept it as is. I needed to stop looking back and start moving forward. I needed to quit focusing on my husband’s new life and begin building my own.

In other words, I needed to embrace reality for what it was in order to ease my pain.

And, on some level, this is the case for all of us whenever we experience a loss of some kind. Because everything is fleeting. So we need to keep ourselves from resisting reality and learn to accept the impermanence of things to grow better at dealing with loss.

5. Fear

More than likely, there are a number of fears limiting you in your approach to life. And each of those fears, at its core, has to do with holding on to how we want things to be.

Whether it’s a fear of failure, a fear of letting go of control, a fear of abandonment or of trusting others, a fear that you’re not good enough, or a fear of not being accepted for who you are -- all of these fears have the same solution: letting go.

By holding on to how you want things to be, you’re also intrinsically holding on to the fear that things won’t turn out that way.

You need to let go of your expectations or ideals to release the fear of not having them come to fruition. Learn to accept and trust yourself, as well as the present moment (reality).

And then stop trying to have control over other people and over life in general. We sometimes fall victim to the illusion that we have control, but we really don’t. Let go and accept that you can’t control others or most of the world around you.

Everything is impermanent. Everything. And that’s pretty scary. Thinking about it elicits fear in us (at least, it does in me). So when we’re confronted with change, impermanence, and loss, we respond with resistance, and we attempt to gain or exert control over things.

Instead of resisting, we need to accept that change is the nature of life. We can’t alter that, and there’s no point in fighting it. Doing so will only cause us to suffer.

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Letting go sounds so simple. However, it’s anything but. These problems and patterns that I’ve reviewed can be deeply ingrained in us. And we tend to protect them and continually return to them, because in doing so we feel like we’re protecting ourselves.

In order to let go, you need to dig down deep and realize that you don’t need protection. You need to recognize and believe that you’ll be okay - that everything will be okay.

If you’re able to let go and start accepting things as they are instead of how you’d like them to be, you’ll find that you’ll suffer less from the problems of stress, emotional ties to the past or future, frustration with others, struggles with loss, and succumbing to fear.

By letting go, you’ll set yourself free.


 

Kim West1 Comment