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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

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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