The other day, I was watching a talk by Mel Robbins, author of 5 Second Rule and she said one line that struck me —
We are all guilty of holding on to something for way longer than we should have, be it a relationship, a sinking business or anything else for that matter.
It’s a concept called sunk costs. When you’ve spent a ton of time and ton of money into something, it’s really hard to let go of it.
Before I heard of this, I thought I was the only one struggling. But then I started to look around, and saw that it was everywhere.
On the same day, I came across this post by Ankur Warikoo where he shared the dilemma of deciding between firing an employee who wasn’t working so well and investing more into him/her.
The situations might differ, but the problem is the same.
After investing our time, efforts, money, emotions, energy over something for a long period of time, we expect returns. And we don’t get what we expect, we are stuck with the same dilemma — should we try harder or give up?
This question can haunt you and eat you alive.
But in most cases, like the example shared above by Ankur, you would only end up wishing you had given up sooner.
So here are some thought pills that might help you understand why it’s so hard to let go and maybe with the realisation of these things you’ll be able to let go gracefully, if that’s what you need to do at the moment.
1. Accept that life is unfair
You don’t always get what you deserve. That does sound simple. But sometimes, it becomes really hard to accept it.
We want to be rewarded for all the time, energy, work we invest into something because we feel ‘deserve’ it. Or even worse, because we are ‘entitled’ to it.
But well, here’s the thing — The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.
When unfair things happen, stop trying to sugarcoat reality to make it digestable. Swallow the bitter pill called ‘truth’.
If you spend a lot of time trying to justify your past actions or telling yourself that your current situation, be it a business that’s not heading anywhere or a relationship that has no future, isn’t ‘so bad’, then you might be struggling with this mentality.
If you are stuck with constant obsessive thought patterns that are hard to get rid of and take up a lot of your mental energy keeping you stuck at the same place instead of moving forward, maybe it’s really time to let go.
“I suppose you can’t hold on to old things just for the sake of holding on.”
― Jenny Han
2. Accept that there are no answers. Only stories.
A critical mind is a pain in the ass. It wants reasoning to everything.
“Why did this happen to me?”
“Is there something wrong with me?”
Asking these questions to yourself, every once in a while is a healthy way to reflect on yourself and grow. But, asking yourself the same questions ten times a day and spending a large chunk of your time ‘figuring things’ only means that you are stuck!
Because, here’s the thing — Things just happen.
It’s so hard to accept it, specially when something terrible happens to you. Your smart mind is so accustomed to find reasoning behind everything, so willing to know why something happened. It does that to help you avoid the similar pain in the future.
But really, sometimes, there are no answers to be found. At least, not in that moment.
And while this sucks, realising this will liberate you.
There is no point being stuck trying to connect the dots. Because, you can not ‘make’ the dots connect, just by wishing so.
Sometimes, there are no conclusions or generalisations to be found. Because each one of us experience life so differently, any attempt to rationalise our experience as a generalisation is usually futile.
Take an experience for what it is — only an experience. Don’t try to extract a universal truth out of it to carve it into stone. Let it go. There are no answers. Only stories.
“The day I understood everything, was the day I stopped trying to figure everything out. The day I knew peace was the day I let everything go.”
― C. JoyBell C.
3. Stop trying ‘too hard’
Well, some people can’t give up because they are obsessed with trying too hard. And do you know why trying too hard sucks?
Because it reeks of desperation.
The only difference between trying hard and trying ‘too’ hard is the amount of expectation you associate with the process.
If you do it for the pure joy, for the sake of your craft, for your true love of your creative pursuits, you will never come across as someone who is trying too hard.
There’ll be no stress around the process, no hurry to get somewhere real quick. And no trouble in letting go when things don’t work out because you are not expecting every single effort you make to amount to something.
Because, let’s face it, sometimes or rather most of the times, it won’t. Any successful person fails far far more times than he/she succeeds.
Whether you get fits of self-doubts/anxiety when you lose or you bounce back, depends on what the ‘process’ means to you not the outcome.
“Trying too hard will detach you from yourself. Take sometime out, and let time decide for you!” ― Somya Kedia
4. Accept that winning isn’t everything
Some of us are obsessed with making everything reach a finish line. Everything is about the ‘achievement’. A business only makes sense if it succeeds. A relationship is only meaningful if it consummates into a marriage.
It’s so destructive to think that way. Because, with things that involve other people other, you alone can not control the outcome.
And, this kind of ‘outcome-oriented’ navigation will make you feel super stressed because of your need of control all the time.
It’s hard to train yourself into thinking that winning isn’t everything.
For people like me, who value perseverance more than anything, it almost hurts our ego to accept it when things don’t work out. Letting go feels like accepting defeat.
So, we struggle to let go as we attach our self-worth to achieving success in whatever we hold on to. To us, letting go sounds so similar to ‘giving up’ and we so hate that word.
But, not all wars are worth fighting. You don’t always need to reach the finish line.
There’s no one judging you except you.
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” — Ann Landers
Sometimes, the biggest win you can give yourself is to successfully and completely let go of something that isn’t meant for you.
If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.
5. Stop resisting change
Another reason we continue to hold on to things that no longer serve us or take us anywhere is that our minds resist change.
Even if what we are holding on to gives us pain, it’s still a familiar kind of pain.
Letting go often requires us to become a whole another person and mostly we are not ready to start being that person yet. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. You don’t even know that person yet. You are afraid of what will follow.
Letting go also requires us to start seeing things for just what they are, and not what we have always wished/assumed them to be. And this, exposes our worst fears.
But no matter how much we fear it, we can’t avoid it forever.
“All suffering is caused either by an attachment to a positive outcome or an avoidance of a negative one. “ — Jafree Oswald
We can avoid letting go for as long as we wish to, but like the concept of sunk costs, it’s only going to get costlier and harder with every passing day.
So, save yourself from the regret that comes from draining your time, hope, energy and efforts into something that you should have let go of a long time back. Letting go requires courage. And that courage already resides in you.
What follows, could be the best phase of your life, only if you give it a chance.
To stop yourself from going nuts over what you should let go, remember, you’ll never have to force something that’s real and truly meant to be.
There are no magical hacks to know if you should continue to hold on or let go, except one — Deep down you know. You always know. You are probably not prepared to accept it or act on it yet.
While working hard for things is a great trait, losing your mind trying to make something work is not. And with time, we learn to tell the difference and to gracefully let go when we slip to the other side.
Letting go is not easy. It’s never going to be easy. But, sometimes it’s the only thing that can set you free to embark on newer and bigger adventures.
Stop holding on to what is only weighing you down. Let it go.