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Last Updated on January 25, 2021

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

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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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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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