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Last Updated on January 6, 2020

How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

A friend of mine once told me, “Almost everything in my life that I’ve had to let go of has scratch marks on it.” His point was that he found it very difficult to let go of things he couldn’t control. I’m sure many of you can relate to that.

Most of us don’t want to let go of things we like. So we hang on until they’re forcibly taken away, and even then, we still hold on mentally and emotionally. What we may not realize is that holding on can wreak havoc in our lives.

Holding on to things we can’t control can cause us a great deal of stress and unhappiness. It also keeps us stuck in the past, and keeps us from growing and living our lives freely. If we want to be happy and free, then we need to learn to let go.

In this article, we’re going to examine what letting go really means, why it’s so hard, and how your life will improve by letting go of things you can’t control. Then, I’ll share with you some tips to help you learn to let go with greater ease, so you can live a happier and more fulfilling life.

What Does Letting Go Really Mean?

We often hear that we need to let go of something we can’t control when it seems to be causing us problems. But, what does letting go really mean? To understand this, we need to understand why we get attached to things in the first place.

Attachment is mental and emotional fixation on something we think we need or want. We get attached to things like people, views, outcomes, or material possessions. The reason we get attached to them is that we’re afraid we’ll lose them, and therefore, we’ll be unhappy, or we may even think we won’t survive.

Many of us confuse sensual pleasure, or emotional gratification, with happiness. They are not the same. True happiness comes from freedom from suffering, not sensual pleasure. Yet our society teaches us that if we achieve or acquire things that bring us pleasure, then we’ll be happy.

The problem with this approach to finding happiness is that our emotions are temporary by nature. What happens when the novelty of a new car wears off is that our satisfaction diminishes.

Until we learn how to find freedom from our suffering, we will continue to get attached to things that bring us sensual pleasure or emotional gratification.

So, letting go means to release our fixation on these things. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose them. It just means we have enough faith that we’ll get the things we need to survive in this world, and maybe even be happy.

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Why Is Letting Go so Hard?

There are various reasons why letting go is so hard. One of them is that we romanticize holding on. We romanticize it in our literature, music, art, and films. There is something romantic about holding on to someone we love. We want to feel the love for that person forever.

Fear makes it hard to let go. We’re afraid of what will happen to us if we lose something that we depend on for our survival, or happiness. So, we hold on as best as we can.

Holding on is also a habit. Our behaviors are so deeply ingrained in us that we just hold on to things without even realizing it. In addition, we’re afraid to look at ourselves because we may not like what we see.

Another reason letting go is so hard is that our self-identity is associated with the things we have. A nice family, house, car, and other material possessions project an image of who we are, hopefully a successful image. Our self-identity is also associated with our views, especially political views.

Some of us are addicted to drama. We enjoy dwelling in our emotions. We certainly like positive emotions. But even negative emotions can get us attention, which also brings us pleasure. These emotions can also be part of our identity. [1]

The Illusion of Control

Intertwined in our attachment to things is the illusion of control. We often believe that if we get all the material things and circumstances just right, then we’ll be happy. So, we try to manipulate people and circumstances in order to get them the way we want.

The problem with this way of thinking is that everything is impermanent. Nothing ever stays the same. We get attached to certain things we like, and expect them to remain that way. This will always lead to disappointment.

In reality, the only thing we have control over is ourselves. But we act as if we have control over other people, and not ourselves.

The Benefits of Learning to Let Go

So, why should we learn to let go? There are a variety of reasons. Among them are freedom, better relationships, and continued personal growth.

Freedom

Letting go leads to freedom. When we learn to let go, we can be free of the sources of our pain and suffering that are holding us back.

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We often hang on to things that are no longer serving us, such as unhealthy relationships. Maybe at one time we were benefiting from a relationship, but often when people grow, they grow apart. That’s when it’s time to move one.

Better Relationships

A healthy relationship is one where both partners have the freedom to be who they are. Those who hold on to their partners too tightly don’t allow them be free. They smother them and try to mold them into their ideal partner.

When we let go of our partners, it doesn’t mean they’ll leave us. We just allow them to be who they want to be. Then it is up to us to love them for who they are.

When you learn to let go, you’ll attract healthier people in your life. That’s because healthy people don’t want to be around someone who will smother them.

Continued Personal Growth

If we hold on to something, we can’t move forward. We cannot grow emotionally if we hold on to something we think brings us happiness. If you keep holding on to things around you, then you will remain stuck in the past because things are always changing.

As you learn to let go, your self-esteem and self-confidence will grow. When you realize that you won’t die from letting go of things you thought you needed, you will be able to pursue things that are healthier for you.

5 Tips for Learning How to Let Go

Learning to let go is not as difficult as you might think. But it does take some courage and determination. Here are a few tips to help you.

1. Stop Blaming Others

We often blame others for our misfortunes. In such cases, we feel we’re the victim of others’ injustices. While this may indeed be the case, we cannot waste our lives waiting for other people to repair the harm they did to us. They may be unwilling, or even unable.

It is up to us to take responsibility for our happiness. Don’t wait for others to fix you. Don’t wait for them to act before you start living your life.

2. Make a Decision to Let Go

I once heard someone say how easy it was for him to quit smoking once he made the decision. We often say we want to change something in our life, but make a half-hearted effort.

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If you really want to make a change in your life, then you have to get serious about it, and that starts with making a decision to do it. [2]

It would help if you put that decision in writing. Write a statement like, “I have decided to let go of ________. I realize that holding on to this is preventing me from growing and being happy.” You can expand on this by listing more of the benefits you’ll receive, and how you look forward to a new chapter in your life.

Once you’ve written your decision statement, print it and post it some place where you’ll see it every day. Also, copy it by hand in a notebook regularly, such as once a day until you are certain you won’t go back. This will ingrain it in your subconscious mind, and the new behavior will begin to manifest itself naturally.

3. Trust That You’ll Be Okay

One of the reasons we hold on to things is that we think we need them to survive. Remember, letting go is the release of our mental and emotional fixation on something. It is not a physical letting go. Sometimes, we hold on to things that are already physically gone.

If something is physically gone, and you’re reading this, it means you haven’t died. So, letting go isn’t going to kill you. In fact, you’ll be able to truly live your life free of that emotional attachment.

Trust that you’ll be okay. If you have to, lean on a friend. Your experience isn’t unique. Chances are that many other people have gone through the same experience, and they’ve survived. You don’t have to go through a detachment by yourself. You are not alone. [3]

4. Learn the Lesson and Move On

Life is a series of experiences that are meant to teach us important lessons. When we refuse to let go of something, it is because we refuse to see what life is trying to teach us. As a result, we feel stuck.

When you’re having trouble letting go of something, ask yourself, “what can I learn from this experience?” The answer may not be revealed to you immediately. But when it is, you’ll be able to let go, and move on with your life.

5. Meditate

Meditation can make just about any situation better. In this case, it can help us calm our emotions, gain clarity, and give us the inner strength to let go. It can help us stay calm and positive when things in our life get out of control.

When we meditate, we give our mind a break from all the sensory stimulation in our lives. Too much sensory stimulation leads to an agitated mind, which leads to overwhelming emotions. So, by calming our thoughts through meditation, we reduce the thoughts that trigger our painful emotions.

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When we calm our mind, everything naturally becomes clearer. The fewer unnecessary thoughts we have in our mind, the easier it is to process more purposeful thoughts. It’s like being stuck in a traffic jam vs. being on a road free of traffic. When our mind is calm, it is much easier to gain clarity on issues of importance to us.

As we calm our emotions and gain clarity, we develop great inner strength. This enables us to gain wisdom, self-esteem, and self-confidence. And this inner strength helps us let go of unhealthy things in our lives.

So, give meditation a try. You don’t have to do it perfectly, or for long periods of time. All you have to do is sit quietly for a few minutes following your breathing. This gives your mind a rest, and allows your thoughts to settle down naturally.

Here’s a simple guide for beginners: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

Final Thoughts

I know from personal experience that letting go can be really hard, and even scary. But, in the 50+ years that I’ve been on this earth, I’ve had to let go of many things I thought I needed to survive, yet I’m still alive. In fact, I’m quite happy.

I’ve learned to let go, and so can you. It gets easier with time and experience. Once you realize how liberating it can be to let go of things, and have a few successes under your belt, you’ll be able to let go before something causes you great harm.

In time, you’ll be able to move beyond just letting go, and not get attached to things in the first place. When this happens, then you’ll know the true meaning of freedom.

More About Letting Go

Featured photo credit: Joseph Chan via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Charles A. Francis

Author, meditation teacher, and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute

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Last Updated on September 28, 2020

30 Powerful Success and Failure Quotes That Will Lead You to Success

30 Powerful Success and Failure Quotes That Will Lead You to Success

No one can live a positive life without failing. However, many people experience a fear of failure, despite its inevitability in life. Failure, as you will see from these 30 success and failure quotes, is the key ingredient for the recipe of success!

Today’s society is obsessed with success and achievement, and failure is definitely NOT part of the equation. Failure and making mistakes is hidden away or seen as a human weakness.

However, if you avoid making mistakes in life, struggle to do everything right, and are obsessed with perfection and order, then living and experiencing a successful and happy life is going to be impossible.

Embrace your failure, whether it is one failure or many failures, because with the right attitude and a willingness to learn from your mistakes, you are guaranteed a lifetime of success. Here are some uplifting quotes about failure and success to help you get started.

1. “Never let success get to your head; never let failure get to your heart.” -Anonymous

This quote is important for those of us who feel downtrodden after every failure, heartbroken, if you will. If you let failure get you down for more than a couple of days, you’re wasting away your chance to bounce back from it.

On the other hand, if you allow yourself to build an inflated ego after every success, future failures may be even harder to cope with. Maintain a sense of humility and gratitude for each success and failure you find.

2. “Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie?” -Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe is spot on with this one. The first person who should be there to catch you when you fall is you. You have to be your own best advocate, the person to build you up when it feels like everything is going wrong. The others in your support system are just icing on the cake.

3. “You always pass failure on your way to success.” -Mickey Rooney

In today’s competitive world, it’s hard to understand that almost no one experiences failure before they experience genuine, lasting success. Failure is what forces you to learn in order to achieve that goal you’ve been working up to.

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4. “Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” -Chinese proverb

Everyone falls. Those who refuse to pick themselves back up, no matter if it’s after two days or two years, are the true failures.

5. “Successful people don’t fear failure but understand that it’s necessary to learn and grow from.” -Robert Kiyosaki

There are many success and failure quotes on this idea, and that’s because it’s so very important. Learning doesn’t happen when things are easy. It happens when things get tough and you have to find a way through challenges.

6. “The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” -Barack Obama

No one can escape failure. If you let it keep you down and shying away from achieving your goals, you’ve failed again. If you learn from it and continue on your path toward greatness, it wasn’t a true failure but a lesson.

7. “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” -Og Mandion

Determination is one of the best antidotes to failure. Even if you take two steps forward and one step back, you’re still moving forward with grit and determination. Keep going!

8. “Fear regret more than failure.” -Taryn Rose

At the end of your life, what do you think you’ll feel worst about, failing or never trying?

9. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” -Nelson Mandela

If anyone has enough insight to offer us success and failure quotes, it’s Nelson Mandela. He learned that that path to success (and freedom) is full of setbacks. His determination, however, led him to make amazing changes in the world around him. Now that’s success.

10. “The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” -Paulo Coelho

Each time you get back up, it will get easier and easier, and you’ll realize each time that those failures are the greatest lessons life will ever give you.

11. “Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.” -Napoleon Hill

Unfortunately, many people stop trying after a large failure comes their way. They lose their confidence, determination, and will. However, success usually follows quickly behind these huge failures because you’ve inevitably learned what not to do.

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Don’t stop with the huge failure. Take a few more steps and see if it gets you where you wanted to go.

12. I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas Alva Edison

Through his success and failure quotes, Thomas Edison shows us that failures are only truly failures if you don’t learn the lesson they offer.

13. “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” -Bill Gates

Celebrating success feels good, but learning the lessons of failure is where growth occurs[1], which can lead you to even greater successes.

14. “The only thing that separates success from failure is one last attempt. Try one more time and you will get lucky.” -Apoorve Dubey

Every success comes from an attempt. If you don’t try one more time, you’ll never know if it could’ve been your big chance at big success.

15. “Failure is a detour; not a dead-end street.” -Zig Ziglar

Many people get impatient with failure. They feel that it’s a stopping point, or a road that’s too long to walk. However, the patience to take that new road is exactly what’s necessary to find success. If success is easy to find, it likely won’t last very long.

16. “In the real world, very smart people fail, and mediocre people rise. Part of what makes people fail or succeed are skills that have nothing to do with IQ. Also, the idea that intelligence can be gauged by an IQ test is erroneous.” -Camille Paglia

Failure is not a sign of a lack of intelligence, as Paglia suggests. Failure is a sign of great intelligence and great courage. She also points out the important point that intelligence takes many forms, and it’s often the grit and maturity to accept failure for the temporary setback that it is.

17. “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” -Oprah Winfrey

Queens will always be queens, no matter if they experience success or failure. And you will always be you, so use that to your advantage, and take the risk of failure in order to reach success.

18. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” -J.K. Rowling

Living a life free of failure generally means you have lived a boring, uneventful life. Is it really worth it?

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19. “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” -Richard Branson

If you’ve ever watched a child learn to walk, you know that Branson’s success and failure quotes are true. Children are determined. They fall, and they get back up. And then they learn, and soon they’re running.

20. “Success or failure is caused more by mental attitude than by mental capacity.” -Walter Scott

Scott knows that intelligence is less of a determining factor in success than determination or ruthless optimism. Set yourself up for success by cultivating both.

21. “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again. That is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan knows failure, and yet we know him as an incredibly successful person. Why? Because he never let the failures stop him from moving on.

22. “There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.” -José N. Harris

The secrets to success are pretty simple, and living a full life is only possible once you learn that getting up after a failure will bring a great sense of satisfaction and joy.

23. “All people fail at certain instances in their lives, the only thing that makes them different is how they manage to stand up or how they choose to fail again.” -Unknown

If you fail, you’re like the vast majority of the world. What makes you different is how you choose to respond.

24. “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” -Robert Kennedy

If you aim high, even if you fall short you’ll still likely be ahead of the majority of people. Take the time in life to fail greatly because that’s where you’ll find your true self.

25. “Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” -Michael Eisner

If you continue to make the same mistakes, you’re not learning from your failures. This is when it becomes a destructive habit instead of a moment to propel you toward success.

26. “If you are afraid of failure, you don’t deserve to be successful.” -Charles Barkley

Only those who are willing to accept the hard emotions that come along with failure will be those who will enjoy the good feelings of genuine success.

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27. “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. It is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead-end street.” -William A. Ward

In his success and failure quotes, Ward points out something important. Failure is often seen as a death stroke, something that stops our success. If we shift our perspective and look upon failure as a teacher instead, we will likely feel very differently about those moments in our life and see that failure is delay, not death.

28. “Courage allows the successful woman to fail and learn powerful lessons from the failure. So that in the end, she didn’t fail at all.” -Maya Angelou

We’ve been here before. Failure is only failure if you don’t learn from it. Let yourself get a bad grade on the test; you’ll study differently next time. Let yourself fail at a relationship; you know how to build a healthier relationship next time.

Every failure brings a lesson. Learn it and move on.

29. “Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success, you know.” -William Saroyan

If you think of the moments you learned and grew the most, were they easy times or hard times? Challenges make us better, smarter people[2]. You don’t get wise through an easy life.

30. “Don’t fear failure—not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” -Bruce Lee

If you try to achieve something great, even a failure feels like a success. At least you had the courage to try. That’s more than most can say.

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Featured photo credit: Gabrielle Henderson via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: Strategies for Learning from Failure
[2] Psychology Today: How Greater Challenges Help You Grow

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