How I Transformed My Life by Controlling My Mind
Letting go has transformed my life.
Letting go has made me happy and grateful, has allowed me to help others, and has made me more “successful.”
Letting go is how I began to feel whole again after years of feeling lost.
Before I get into how I did it, let’s start with the absurdity of it all…
The Paradox of Letting Go
We tend to think the more we grasp on to something, the more we can control it — like holding on to a cliff for fear of falling.
We ruminate over what we should have done, or what we should do. Our obsession with the past and future, our success, and our life path seemingly comes from believing the more we think about these things, the more we can control them — we won’t fall to our misery.
What we don’t realize is that there is no cliff — there is only our mind playing tricks on us, trying to make us believe there is an impending disaster.
In reality, the only misery happening is in our own selves. Holding on to emotions does not give us control. We’re literally “out of our minds” — i.e. out of control. Therefore:
The more we let go, the more we actually gain control.
I know…this still seems so paradoxical — it doesn’t make sense. How can it be? Because:
We’re getting in our own way.
By ruminating, obsessing, and contemplating, we’re actually creating fertile ground for weeds to sprout up, blocking a clear path in our minds for us to follow.
Instead of clearing our path, we’re blocking our path.
How many times have you decided to just put the computer down and go for a walk, and then the answer came to your mind? That’s called letting go.
Convinced yet? Let me now tell you something that will change your life…
Controlling Your Mind
As mentioned, letting go does not mean giving up control — it is about gaining control.
By letting go, your thoughts do not overpower and control you; you control your thoughts. By controlling your thoughts, you are in control of your mind. Wow.
Did you just catch that?
By letting go, you can actually control your mind instead of having your mind control you.
If you don’t, you have given your mind free rein to go off on random tangents at will. We all can be hard on ourselves sometimes. Left to its own devices, our mind can find a million reasons why we should not be happy in the present moment. “Yes, I have a job, but I’m anxious about whether I’ll get a promotion.” “Yes, it is a beautiful day outside, but all I really can think about is wanting a relationship.”
Our mind tricks us into thinking, “I will be happy when…” Yet, once we get that something or somebody, we start yearning for more.
Before you beat yourself up over it, know that we all do it — it’s part of our evolution as a species. We have an insatiable appetite for things, and we often worry about what could go wrong. This served us well when we were living in caves and being chased by lions, but can hinder us in the 21st century. As the prominent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it, “Evolution has set the mind on an endless treadmill.”
There is good news though — once we become aware that we’re on the treadmill, we can choose to get off of it.
Through meditation and mindfulness, we can begin to discern whether the thoughts we are having are helpful or unhelpful. Here’s how it works: allow the feelings, and let go of the thoughts.
The next time you are faced with a difficult emotion, allow it, feel it, experience it. Sometimes a feeling just wants to be felt and then it will subside. Or maybe your stress or sadness is actually trying to tell you something, and you can use this difficult emotion to develop and improve your life.
At the same time that you are allowing the feeling, let go of harmful thoughts and replace them with compassion and non-judgment. Be your own best friend. Be mindful of when you yell at yourself for being depressed and tell yourself how horrible you are, kicking yourself when you’re already down. Be mindful of when you repeat angry stories over and over in your mind, holding on to a hot coal inside of you, not realizing you’re only hurting yourself.
We cannot always control the feelings we have, but we can control how we relate to those feelings. So try something new: show yourself compassion. Know that your mind has not evolved at the same speed as technology, and that sometimes you need to lead your monkey mind in more useful directions.
By letting go, you can start to control what direction your mind takes, rather than being on autopilot and mindlessly letting your emotions wrap you up in a tight ball of stress and regret.
You get to decide if you want your mind to be filled with negative or positive thoughts. Which do you choose?
It’s your mind. You control it.
Here’s something else you should know about letting go. It’s the best part.
Living in the Present
By controlling the mind and letting go of regrets about the past and worries about the future, we are able to actually start to…
Live in the present.
When was the last time you were actually paying attention to the present moment?
Oftentimes we don’t see those beautiful flowers in the yard while walking home because our mind was worried about how we’re ever going to be able to raise a child even though we don’t even have a boyfriend yet. We don’t notice how our friend is silently begging for help because we were thinking about our friend who hadn’t texted back yet. We read the entire first page of that report and then realize we had spaced out the whole time because we were obsessing over the silly thing we said in the meeting earlier in the day.
Letting go is about giving yourself permission to be fully aware of the present moment.
Letting go is giving yourself permission to live.
Letting go allows you to smell those flowers, to help a friend in need, to read important materials. It clears your mind so you can see the beauty in this world, to help others, and to be more productive.
Letting go is not just for yourself, it’s for those around you as well. My relationships with my friends and family have dramatically improved since I have started regularly practicing mindfulness meditation.
Are you ready to let go?
What Letting Go is About:
Letting go is all about relieving yourself of Three Irrational Thoughts:
- I should be perfect
- Others should be perfect
- Circumstances should be perfect
As we all know, nobody is perfect, and nothing is perfect. So, the sooner you rid yourself of these expectations, the happier you will be. Let me explain further:
I Should be Perfect
Letting go is about remaining calm when you do something imperfectly — when you press send on the email too soon, when you act like a fool at a party, or when you fail at a project.
We all do silly, stupid things sometimes.
But the next time you find yourself being imperfect, try something new: Have compassion for yourself, love yourself wholeheartedly, and laugh at your faults and this crazy world.
Try it. And see how you feel.
I have found being kind to myself to be possibly the most important practice to discovering true love and happiness. I owe this revelation in part to Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s the first book I recommend to anybody who is at a difficult point in life. The takeaway:
Let go of being someone who you think you should be, and start loving who you truly are.
Others Should be Perfect
Letting go is about keeping steady when people don’t do what you want them to — when the person next to you is chewing with their mouth open (my biggest pet peeve), or your friend ditched you, or your partner said something that really offended you.
People can be really cruel!!!!! They can be really annoying too, or just plain selfish!!!!!
But…so can we.
We all want to be forgiven. We all want to be understood. We all want our needs met.
Letting go is about realizing you don’t always have the full story of somebody’s life. It’s about taking on the perspective that we’re all doing the best we can. It’s about releasing expectations that people will conform to exactly how we want them to be, since that is an irrational, and quite selfish thought (we’re not selfish, right?).
In my own life, by releasing expectations for others, I have created a lot of space in my mind for more positive thoughts. Yea, people will piss me off or make me really sad, but if I stew over it, I just feel worse. Instead, I like to try to cultivate compassion and understanding, because that helps me learn, and that makes me feel good.
What thoughts do you want to foster? How do you want to feel? It’s your mind — you can do whatever you want with it.
Circumstances Should be Perfect
Letting go is about chilling out when things don’t go as planned — when the coffee line is too long, the AC in your car breaks, or it starts to downpour.
One of my favorite lines is:
Life is fair because it is unfair to everybody.
Yes, we could have a long debate about whose life is more unfair. But those debates are never very productive. They just make everybody feel terrible.
So instead of comparing, why not shift your attention to something more positive? When the bus breaks down, think how lucky you are to get to finish reading that book you never thought you’d get to. When it rains, take advantage of the situation to feel young and careless again, and show up a sopping wet mess to that dinner party. When you lose your job, practice gratitude for what you do have — even if that’s just a walk in the sunshine.
If you can laugh at the absurdities of life, be grateful for simple pleasures, and make the best of an unfortunate situation, you are well on your way to happiness.
What’s that? I know what you said, and it’s a good point — that’s why you should read the next section so I can explain what I mean…
What Letting Go is Not About
Letting go is not about being apathetic and dull, or being lazy and watching Netflix all day and thinking your life will change. That’s called “giving up.”
It’s also not about letting people walk all over you, or not being responsible, or not wanting to learn and improve. That’s called “hurting your own self.”
Letting go is not about hurting others OR yourself. Remember that.
Letting go is about being mindful and in control, so you can change your circumstances, develop yourself as a person, help others, and be wiser in your reactions.
For instance, if you failed at a project, you can let go, remain calm, and show yourself love and compassion, while at the same time investigating what went wrong.
If your friend ditched you, you can remain composed and remember that they may actually have a legitimate excuse, or maybe if this is a pattern, be mindful of how this person makes you feel and if they are worth your time and effort.
If the AC in your car breaks, remaining calm can actually help you think through next steps on who to call and how to get it fixed.
When you aren’t perfect, when others aren’t perfect, and when circumstances aren’t perfect, remembering the silly irrationality of desires for perfection can sometimes give us the levity we need.
Also, remember the serenity prayer: “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.”
“Accept the things I cannot change” — that is called letting go. It does not mean that you will not try to change things that are harming you. But there are many instances throughout the day and throughout life that would benefit much more from letting go than from holding on.
Not sure how you can actually do any of this? Let me help…
How to Let Go:
The point of meditation is to become mindful — to become aware — so that you can start to let go. Meditation is about paying attention to the present moment and noticing thoughts that come in and out of your mind.
Why is that so important?
Meditation is a primer for real life. If you are able to notice your thoughts during meditation, you should be able to more easily notice your thoughts throughout the day.
This is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness means being aware of your thoughts, what others are going through, and whatever situation you find yourself in. More than that, it is about having perspective.
Mindfulness is about being able to decipher when you’re having an irrational thought, so that you can then start to let go of it.
So often, we go about our days completely oblivious to the thoughts that we feed ourselves. We tear ourselves down and then wonder why we’re depressed. We are disgusted by others and then wonder why we feel so alone. We are annoyed by minor inconveniences and then wonder why we’re so angry all the time.
Our thoughts shape who we become and how we feel. Who do you want to be? How do you want to feel? What thoughts do you want to keep, and which ones do you want to let go of?
By letting go of harmful thoughts, we can start to change the trajectory of our lives. And it all starts with being aware of them.
Be Mindful of Your Desires
The Buddha said the root cause of suffering is attachment. Experience it for yourself, and you will know this to be true.
I am not saying to get rid of all of your desires, but rather to be mindful of them. The key test is, “Is this serving me well, or not serving me well?”
What are you holding onto in your life right now that is making you miserable and not fully present? What are you grasping for in your life right now that is leading towards positive change?
Letting go of attachments that do not serve us well can free us to actually live and be grateful for the present moment.
Be Mindful of Your “Shoulds”
Once you are more mindful of your thoughts and desires, you can start to be mindful of how often you use the word “should” throughout the day.
Relieve yourself of any unrealistic expectations placed on yourself from society, family, or yourself. Too often we are so hard on ourselves because of expectations of perfection. We think we should never screw up, say the wrong thing, or fail. However, imperfection is part of being human.
Instead, let’s see our imperfections as tools for learning about ourselves and others. By realizing our own imperfections, we can start to have empathy for the imperfection of others. We can also start to open up, be more vulnerable, and laugh at our silly faults.
We can let go of who we think we should be, and start loving who we actually are.
The Benefits of Letting Go
In the beginning of this post, I said, “Letting go has made me happy and grateful, has allowed me to help others, and has made me more ‘successful’.” Let me more clearly explain how:
Happy and Grateful: I am now not “wanting” and “shoulding” all the time, but rather “living” in the present.
I am able to relish in the sunshine, notice the beauty of art, and enjoy a walk in nature. I am grateful for the simple things because I am actually aware of them and am not desiring something else or expecting that things should be different. I am present.
Helping Others: I am now able to be aware of the needs of others because I am fully present when I am with them.
Think of the lives you can change by letting go of your own preoccupations and truly being there for others in your life who are important to you. Maybe it’s your father, or sister, or nephew, or friend. By letting go, you cannot only transform your own life but the lives of others.
“Successful”: I am now able to have a clear mind to understand my purpose, tackle any task, or navigate any difficulty that may come my way.
I put successful in quotation marks because of my disturbance with how success is viewed in our world — only about money and material possessions. What I mean when I say successful is that you are living out your soul’s destiny — maybe it is being nicer to strangers on the street, or painting that picture you were always scared to paint, or starting that business you never had the confidence to start.
Whatever it is, by clearing your mind of wants and shoulds, you will effectively create space in your mind for what truly matters most to you.
By letting go, you will get out of your own way and start living the life you’ve always wanted to live.
You’re the Star of the Show
You are the driver of change in your life.
You can read this and do nothing, or you can read this and go meditate, choose your mantra, and change your thought patterns.
If you want to actually feel better, it takes effort.
You may feel empowered and entrepreneurial to know that you are the one responsible for your own happiness.
You may feel tired and frustrated that you can’t just take a magic pill and feel better. “Why do I always have to try so hard to feel good?”
The truth is: Anything that is worth it is effortful.
If you want to look good, you have to go to the gym and eat healthily.
If you want to be smart, you have to read books and learn from others.
If you want to be successful, you have to show up and put in the hard work.
Why should it be any different for if you want to be happy?
Yes, there will be people with amazing bodies who never lift a finger and eat French fries all day. There are also those who have off the charts IQs who never have to try to study. So yes, there will be those people who are just naturally happy and nothing seems to faze them. But:
Most people have to put in some effort to feel good, just as you do with anything else.
So if you truly want to change your life, do this, or some modified, personalized version of it for at least one month, and see what happens:
- Meditate: Meditate daily for at least 15 minutes. Try Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer — they will guide you through a meditation, so all you have to do is find a comfortable place.
- Be Mindful, Let Go, Redirect: Remember: allow the feeling, let go of the thought. When you’re being hard on yourself, be mindful of your habits. Let go of thoughts that are not serving you well, and replace them with positive words of encouragement. Create a mantra. Let go of stress, sadness, and regrets and let in understanding, love, and compassion. Habits can take a couple of months to break, so keep at it!
- Gratitude: Keep a daily gratitude journal. Challenge yourself to try to write 10–15 things every day. They can be as simple as the sunshine or a smile from a stranger. You will start to become more mindful of small things to be grateful for if you do this practice.
- Sunshine: Get outside. Your mood will automatically brighten by just leaving the house! If you have nature nearby where you can be around trees, flowers, or water, that’s even better!
- Exercise: Walk, run, bike, do yoga, dance, or whatever physical fitness you prefer. It is its own form of meditation and your mind will be happy for it.
- Random Acts of Kindness: It feels so good to help others! Open the door for someone, smile at a stranger and say hi, call a friend in need, tell your mother you appreciate her, buy an extra chocolate bar for your coworker — get creative! There is love and kindness in this world, and it starts with you and me.
- Socialize: Relationships are crucial to our mental health. Reach out to friends and family to hangout or reconnect. Build meaningful not just superficial relationships. Join community groups or volunteer organizations. Be around people. We are social animals — be social!
- Find a Higher Purpose: Paradoxically, the more we think about ourselves, the worse we feel. Whether through spiritual means, volunteering, or something else, find a cause to care about. Do something positive for this world — spread love, compassion, and wisdom in whatever way suits you best.
As you can see from this list, the effort it takes to feel good should actually be enjoyable! Maybe you’re already doing most of these things — you may just need the added boost of controlling your mind. So try out meditation and see what happens!
What are you waiting for?
Let go. Start living.