In seeking a better life it’s often the things that I’ve quit, given up or just gracefully let go of that have made the most difference.
We tend to cling onto things, people and practices out of instinct— we do things the same way as we’ve always done them as it feels comfortable.
It’s hard to concede when something isn’t working for us and to let it go. As a result, we cling to failing projects and remain in relationships that we know are failing — there’s that shred of fear that giving in might just rob us of the little bit of positivity that enriched our lives in some way.
Letting go allows us to move forwards unencumbered and unburdened.
Here are some of the many things that I’ve given up or let go of in life. Some have been easier to let go of than others. All have improved my life as a result.
1— Being Constrained by Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a barrier to finishing projects and fuel to the procrastination that prevents us from even getting started. It’s the impossible standard that inhibits creativity and discourages experimentation.
Striving for good enough doesn’t excuse us from making, doing and being the best that we can be — but it frees us from being held back from discovering what we’re capable of through experimenting and failing.
2 — Holding Unrealistic Expectations
Sometimes things work out for the best. Sometimes projects fail, circumstances conspire against us and people let us down. Doing anything in expectation of a particular outcome can lead to disappointment.
If you go into something resolved to do it to the best of your abilities, willing to trust the process and open to the chances of success or failure. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, expect nothing.
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
3 — Expecting Applause and Gratitude
When we give a gift, write a story or do a favour for someone else, chances are good that we’ll feel underwhelmed by the response.
The story won’t get the attention we believed it deserved. The gift will be received with lukewarm gratitude or indifference. The favour will be taken for granted.
To feel disappointed or hurt by this is our own fault — borne out of unrealistic expectations and excessively high standards for how we expect to be treated.
Our influence begins and ends with doing the right things for the right reasons, to the best of our abilities. Once it’s out of our hands, our opportunity to shape it or control how it’s received is lost.
4 — Ignoring Conventional Wisdom
When I was young and foolish I rejected common sense and well-intentioned advice, mainly out of arrogant self-righteousness. What could I possibly learn from the collective experiences of those who’d trodden this path before me?
It turns out that convention and cliched wisdom are what they are precisely because they’ve been proven time and again.
It’s fine to blaze a trail, to think and operate outside of the box — but in many situations, it’s wise to do what others have done and follow the proven process.
De-risk your life by following the proven and safe path.
5 — Ignoring My Mortality
In youth most of us believe we’re immortal — that our health and vitality are a given and that we can count on a long life, unencumbered by illness.
I wasted what could have been many years of my prime thinking that I didn’t need to exercise or watch what I ate or drank. Who knows what I could have achieved if I’d made the most of my youthful vigour.
None of us can take our health and vitality for granted and nor should we. We all live with a death sentence and none of us should act flippantly in assuming that death is far in the future.
6 — Ignoring How Much Time I Have
Impatience is a curse when it makes us question our commitment to a project, or prompts doubt in our skills and undermines our dedication. Time has shown that good things take much longer than expected to achieve.
As Tony Robbins puts it:
“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year — and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.”
The greatest accomplishments and the most significant changes in my life have all been the work of years rather than months or weeks.
There can be no way of knowing how long something good will take. All we can do is muster the patience to apply ourselves for the long haul. The same applies to developing a skill, building a business, recovering from a divorce, establishing a new relationship or building a career.
All take time, none can be rushed.
7 — Ignoring How Little Time I Have
The flip side is that time is our only finite resource. Acting like we’ve got all the time in the world is to be deluded by the myth of eternal life.
We have to act with a sense of urgency and take life seriously if we’re to truly achieve our full potential in the years we have available to us.
Don’t put off to tomorrow what can be done today. Do what you can to make progress now — don’t wait.
Apologise. Tell someone you love them. Make the difficult call. Start the new project. Take the bold decision.
“What we have is now.”
8 — Thinking There’s Only One Way
I’ve given up on arrogantly thinking that my way is the only way. My values, beliefs and opinions are those that work for me and support me as I navigate my life.
What works for you, works for you.
Religion, philosophy, diets and exercise regimes, methods for learning and teaching — all are down to the individual to decide what suits them best. We’re all different and there’s no one universal way of getting things done.
I believe conclusively that science is fact. But that’s one of my beliefs, so maybe you disagree? And that’s okay (to the extent that I won’t try and convince you as long as you don’t try and convince me).
There’s more than one way.
9 — Accepting a Fixed Mindset
For many years I was convinced that I was a finished product. I believed I’d done my learning, completed my education and my role in life was to do my best using the skills I’d learnt. I didn’t read and I actively avoided opportunities to grow and change by staying in my comfort zone.
I’ve learned the power of abandoning this fixed-mindset and of treating life as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.
It’s fine to be content in your own skin and happy with your lot in life — I envy those who enjoy that feeling. But if you want more from life it’s never too late to learn or start something new.
It all starts with a growth mindset.
10 — Equating Success and Money
When I abandoned money as the only measure of my success, life became a lot more satisfying. I still strive for money as a means of enhancing life but I now recognise that other measures matter just as much.
Freedom to spend time in the company of those I love. Freedom of choice about my life.
Success is about freedom, not just money.
11 — Allowing Sunk Costs to Dictate My Path
The time and money we’ve poured into an endeavour is often what ties us to it long after we should have given it up. The qualification we earned, the career we built, the relationship we invested ourselves in — each of them may account for many years of our lives through blood, sweat and tears that we’ve shed. We can’t get them back but we don’t want to admit they were used in error.
The sunk cost isn’t always justification to remain in the same place or to remain committed to the same things forever more.
Some of the greatest feelings of freedom have come when I’ve finally let projects and relationships go taking back my energy and attention once and for all.
12 — Kidding Myself That Others Have It Easy
In the face of adversity, it’s easy to blame a lack of support, the environment, the stock-market, politicians, competition or some other random factor for our difficulties. It’s equally easy to believe (misguidedly) that our situation is 10x more difficult than anyone else.
When we compare ourselves with others we overlook the unseen aspects of their life and their struggle. We cannot possibly know how hard they’ve worked or how insecure or overstretched they may feel beneath the surface of their so-called effortless success.
The only worthwhile comparison is with ourselves in the past as a measure of how far we’ve come.
13 — Being Constrained by Success Hacks and Habits
I’ve experimented with many habits and practices over the years — some have been life-changing, others less so. Once I started experimenting, I felt reluctant to ever quit anything in case it was responsible for some slight marginal gain.
It’s exhausting to layer one thing on top of the next — getting up early, meditating, journalling, cold-showers, breathing exercises and so-on. Each served up positive effects, but I had to release myself from slavishly following all of them at once in a bid to get the real work done.
I now do what feels right and works in the moment. Routine is important but if something starts to feel stale after a few weeks or months then I change it up.
Marginal gains are fine but life has to be lived too. To drop so-called success-hacks doesn’t mean I’m any less devoted to achieving the best I can by whatever means possible.
Sometimes less is more.
Letting Go, Quitting and Forgiving
A happy, fulfilled and worthy life is a composite of the many things we do with our time. But it’s also made by the things we let go of which are no longer serving us.
Forgiving ourselves for past mistakes and for the inevitable failures is what allows us to focus our energies on moving forwards.
Giving up the projects, habits and practices that are no longer serving us frees our time, energy and attention to devote to the things that will make a difference.
Letting go of our ties to people who drain our energy or whose role is no longer of importance or enriching to our life, frees the space for those who are worthy of us.
There is power in adding to our lives, but there is equal power in gracefully subtracting too.
What have you released from your life to make it better?