Learning to Let Go

How to let go of something that no longer serves you, so that you can get something better

I don’t know about you, but I’m bad at letting go of things. As a kid I would even keep boxes and bags that special gifts came in and keep the gift ‘safe’ in its package. My kids want to keep every piece of paper or artwork that comes home from school. We all want to hang onto things. You can see it in your neighbors too. You know, the ones who have so much stuff that they can’t fit their cars in the garage and have to rent a storage unit as well. We keep things just in case we might need it again, or because it reminds us of something or someone, or because we fear loss.

And it’s not just stuff that we hang onto. People hang onto relationships gone bad, to jobs they hate, to outdated ideas about people or the world, to money, to treating adult children like they are still children, to harmful habits, to worrying and anxiety, and to lifestyles they can no longer afford.

You and I fear loss and we fear change. Sometimes you have not yet realized that the thing you are hanging onto no longer serves you. Sometimes you know it’s time, but the fear, uncertainty and agony of letting something familiar go holds you back.

So, how do you break the log jam and move forward?

  1. Know what you value. Taking the time to sit down with a journal and write about what you value and what is most important to you can help you clarify your life, your direction, and your purpose. When you know what is most important to you, you can evaluate your decisions against this standard. For instance, if you value health and fitness, you can let go of your beer and pizza in front of the TV habit, by recognizing that it doesn’t fit your values. If you value sleep, so that you can perform at your highest levels, you can stop staying up late answering work emails or watching late night TV. If you value being debt free, selling stuff to get rid of your credit card payments makes sense.
  2. Think of it as releasing something that no longer serves you, instead of having to give something up you love. Our mindsets are powerful so reframing the way we think about letting go can remove the resistance and help us feel at peace with our decision.
  3. Recognize you can’t have both now. Sometimes releasing is a matter of choosing between two things we want but can’t have at the same time right now. If you want to quit your stinking job and start a business, you may have to release an affluent lifestyle that you are used to, and tighten your belt for a while. These choices can be really hard when we can’t see the final outcome or when other people’s expectations or judgements come in to play.
  4. Understand that everything is temporary. Almost nothing we give up now can never be retrieved or replaced later. If you give up the relationship that no longer serves you, it doesn’t mean you will be alone forever. If you give up cookies and junk food to lose 10 lbs., it doesn’t mean you can never eat them again. We have a tendency to think of big decisions and losses as permanent situations. Rarely is that true. Letting go of something is so much easier when we view it as temporary.
  5. Recognize when something no longer serves you. There was a time when going out until the early hours with friends fed your soul, but now with a new baby, ditching that for getting as much sleep as you can serves this phase of your life better. Once, your expensive vacations to exotic places fed your brain with new experiences and the growth that comes from experiencing new cultures. Now that you have kids in school and the future to consider, putting that money to work in college and retirement savings might be a better choice.
  6. Have faith in God or trust the universe that there is something better out there for you. I saw a great cartoon on Facebook once where God was depicted as an adult asking a kid to give up a small teddy bear, while holding a much bigger bear behind his back. Once the kid released the small bear, she would get a much bigger one in return. With some decisions we have to trust that if we give up something we value we will receive something so much bigger.
  7. A closed fist cannot accept anything bigger, an open hand can receive. I love this visual. If your hand is clenched tight in a fist, holding on tight to something and refusing to give it up, then your hand cannot be open to receive something bigger. When you open your hand to release something, there is room for more to be given to you. You will never know how much more God or the Universe want to gift you until you open your hand to release and to receive.
  8. Cultivate courage. Some decisions to let things go are really tough. Either choice will bring some sort of pain. Sell your house or give up your dream and go back to working for someone else, leave the abusive relationship or be a struggling, single mother, quit your bad food habits and endure hunger and cravings or continue to be unhealthy and develop chronic diseases that shorten your life. It takes discipline and courage to face these choices and let go of the thing that is getting in the way of your health, sanity and freedom. Courage is a muscle that you can build a step at a time. Start with small acts of courage and work your way up. The more you exercise the courage muscle, the easier it will become to make tough choice and release what doesn’t serve you in order to move into a bigger, better future.