Let Go To Get What You Want
I was an anxious mess. I was madly in love with Carrie, my office coworker at Radio Disney. Not only was I in love with her, but I wanted, no, I expected her to leave her husband for me. I knew she had feelings for me. But it was, in fact, an impossible situation. Because despite my feelings for Carrie, and despite her feelings for me, she was married.
Furthermore, she was a loyal and responsible wife, and even if she knew deep down she had perhaps married the wrong person, Carrie was determined to do the right thing, and try to make her marriage work.
“How can I make her leave her husband?” I asked Judy with despair. I was used to getting what I wanted, and surely there was a way to get what I wanted in this situation.
“Can you do that?” Judy replied, answering a question with a question — as the excellent therapist she was.
“Well,” I reasoned. “I guess I can’t make her do anything. God knows I’ve tried, and it doesn’t seem to be working for me.”
“What can you do then?” Judy said. “What can you control in this uncontrollable conflict?”
I thought for a minute, and then I replied with what I thought was the right answer:
“I guess I can control letting go of the situation.”
“Exactly!” Judy said. “The solution to a conflict you simply cannot control is letting go. Of control, of the outcome, of everything.”
But that solution would be, of course, much easier said than done. The reality is, that letting go is really hard. In fact, the more you want something, or someone, the harder it is to let go. Fortunately for me, Judy didn’t stop there:
“What else can you can control, Dave?” she said.
I scratched my head and thought about it for a bit. It had been hard enough to think of “letting go,” and I sure as heck couldn’t think of anything else I could control in this impossible situation! Finally, my therapist Judy broke the silence:
“Can you control taking good care of yourself?” she asked. “Can you control eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and generally treating your body well?”
“Of course I can,” I half-shrugged and half-smiled. I was annoyed, because I couldn’t see how that would bring me any closer to getting me what I wanted.
Judy was dead right though. No matter how stressful the situation was, no matter how anxiety-producing and crazy-making the conflict was, no matter how much I felt felt like I had no choices at the time, the truth was, I did have choices. I could choose to let go, and I could choose to take great care of myself, even in my darkest hour. It certainly wouldn’t be easy. But I was in control.
Sometimes, you can easily resolve conflicts with people. Sometimes, it takes work, but through time and effort, through listening and mirroring and validation — along with a dose of patience — you can get to good place with someone. But sometimes, conflicts simply can’t be solved. In these instances, the best way, and really the only way, to resolve a conflict with another person, is to instead, resolve to let go. Resolve to surrender what you can’t control, and control what you always can: taking great care of your mind, body and heart.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a prayer they say at every meeting, which is simple but powerful:
God, grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage, to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Maybe your husband is cheating on you. Maybe your boss is mistreating you. Maybe the love of your life won’t leave her husband for you.
There are many conflicts that will arrive between you and another person that you simply won’t have control over. Often, the faster you can recognize that, let go, and move on or get out, the faster you’ll actually feel resolved.
It’s not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Letting go of Carrie was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Letting go of the idea that she’d leave her husband for me was a constant battle for months. Ultimately, I took those words from Judy to heart: I focused on what I could control- took care of myself, began exercising regularly and went on a strict eating regimen that had me losing 69 pounds and getting into the best shape of my life.
Each day got just a little bit easier to deal with accepting the fact that this was one conflict I couldn’t control the outcome of. I knew I couldn’t see Carrie every day and still let go, so I made the difficult decision to leave Disney, the company we worked at together, and to cut off all communication between us.
Anything could have happened, but fortunately for me, this story had quite the happy ending. Over a year after I’d last talked to Carrie and months after I’d finally let her go, she became available. I cautiously chose to re-engage with her at that time, and, well, 10 years, one marriage, two businesses and most important, three children later, the rest is history.
Sometimes you just have to learn to let go, to get what you want.
FAST First Action Steps to Take:
1) Write down a time when you had to let go of a person, thought or goal. How did it feel, and what did you do to make it work?
2) Write down a list of five ways you can make the choice to better take care of yourself, given a time of conflict.
3) The next time a conflict arises with someone that you deem unsolvable, refer back to these two items, work to let go, and make the positive choice to take care of yourself.
The above was an excerpt from The Art of People: 11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want, my latest book.