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Last Updated on January 25, 2021

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.

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.

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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

How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control How to Cope with the 5 Common Stressors In Life and Feel Better 10 Ways a Silent Retreat Improves Your Mental Health Why Do I Feel Depressed Every Once in a While for No Reason? The Beginner’s Guide to Practicing Self-Compassion Meditation

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Last Updated on January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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