There comes a point and time in everyone’s life when they need to let go. It’s easier said than done, and even when most recognize the need to let go they can’t do it.
Letting go is about freedom; freedom that can only be experienced through the disconnection of the things – or the person – that cause the mental imprisonment. It’s about clearing a path that will take you from where you’ve been, to where you want to go. It’s about stepping out of the shadows of negative experiences and emerging as a victor instead of a victim. It’s about having more of you to offer, and offering more of yourself to love.
Because we are all creatures of habit we find comfort with the familiar. We have a natural tendency to be accepting of adverse people, situations, habits, and feelings that linger in our lives. We accept the unacceptable, and become comfortable with it because we hope that it will get better. It rarely does – especially on its own. This can be noted in many areas of our lives: intrapersonal, work, home, and in the various forms and types of relationships that we have with others.
These areas of our lives should be nutritious, rewarding, and fulfilling. Life is just too short to accept anything or anyone who does not meet these criteria. The challenge of letting go is being conscientious enough to know what clutter exists in your mind and in your heart, and finding the motivation and courage to remove it.
Mental and emotional clutter is like dust: resting in places that you can’t see. It piles up without you knowing it. This dust represents the residual feelings that linger from adverse experiences in key moments of your life; feelings that you must let go of.
The person who was mercilessly teased as a child will need to let go of adverse feelings which may negatively impact their self-esteem and confidence. The person who has experienced pain as a result of a betrayal, deception, or their partner’s simple change of heart, will need to let go of the adverse feelings associated with these emotions in order trust and love again. The person who experiences continued rejection in their job search will need to overcome feelings related to lack of worthiness in order to demonstrate their value to a prospective employer.
It’s simple: You can not take your past into your future. Attempting to do so prevents you from being in the present. My great grandmother used to say that everyday is an opportunity for a new beginning. Indeed, what greets you everyday with each sunrise is an opportunity for a new beginning; you just have to choose to view it that way. Yesterday doesn’t count (if you don’t allow it too). You need to make today count by choosing to let go.
Yesterday does hold lessons. Before you can move on from anything or anyone, you must first truly embrace the reality of where you are and how you got there. Was it due to poor judgment? Bad decisions? Impulsiveness? Personal or professional Growth? Shift in values? Was it an unhealthy or unproductive relationship? A non-reciprocal friendship? Whatever the case, it’s imperative that you know where you are so that you can avoid a return trip to this place of adversity in the future.
Of course some things are easier to let go than others.
All smokers know the adverse health effects of smoking. Organizations spend millions each year making them aware of it. For smokers, it’s not about being informed of the dangers of smoking, it’s about weighing the damaging long-term effects against instant gratification; that’s where the real addiction lies. It’s enough to dismiss the reality that smoking can kill you.
There is scientific evidence of a link between emotional problems and depression in smokers which typically arise from low self-esteem and unhappiness. Nicotine releases a chemical called dopamine to the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is our pleasure center. Once it’s received, it makes smokers feel better – but only temporarily. Letting go of a smoking habit means letting go of a reliable method of experiencing a sense of well-being. When there’s nothing else in your life (e.g., alternate activities that make you happy which can trigger the release of dopamine in your brain), the habit of cigarette smoking becomes increasingly difficult to let go of.
But not impossible. When a habit or association imprisons you to an undesirable fate, or clouds the brightness of your present and future, it’s time to let go. Your motivation to do so is directly correlated with your desire to be free; free from the adverse conditions that your choices have, or will create. Letting go is a challenge, but it’s always a choice.
While working in an engineering firm, I noticed that architects like to make renovations. They like taking existing structures and re-shaping them. Engineers often prefer to tear things down completely to insure that a building has a strong foundation.
People are like architects when it comes to relationships. We are constantly trying to get people to be, or do things that they are just not cut out for. It’s really like caging a bird…a bird that will always want to be free. Let it go.
Wisdom says that it’s best to love people as we met them, or leave them as we found them. When it’s time to let them go – acquaintances, friends, lovers, husbands or wives – there are psychological health benefits to doing so sooner, rather than later.
Carol Masheter, of the University of Utah, sought to discover the difference between healthy and unhealthy post-divorce relationships, and found that preoccupation was the key. She gave participants a questionnaire that measured, first, their feelings of hostility toward their ex, and second, their level of preoccupation, or how much they still thought about their former partner. She also assessed the individuals’ overall psychological well-being.
Not surprisingly, people who had high levels of both hostility and preoccupation weren’t doing too well-but neither were those who felt friendly toward their former spouse and were still emotionally involved with her. They were often dependent on their exes, and sometimes harbored unrealistic fantasies of reconciliation. People with low hostility and low preoccupation enjoyed the greatest well-being, but those with high hostility and low involvement weren’t far behind.
Masheter says that these hostile but uninvolved exes may actually use their anger adaptively, to invigorate themselves and ward off a potentially paralyzing depression. “Mid-range anger may help people, particularly women, differentiate from the spouse and get on with their lives,” says Masheter. “They turn their anger outward in constructive ways.”
Constructive ways that build freedom of mind which will release you from the imprisonment of unwarranted and unnecessary adversity. Just remember that the challenge of letting go is not nearly as daunting as the stress of hanging on to anyone who doesn’t want you hanging around, or anything that does not impact you in a positive or healthy way.
Gian Fiero is an educator, speaker and consultant. He is affiliated with San Francisco State University as an adjunct professor, and the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) as a business advisor where he conducts monthly workshops on topics such as business development, career planning, public relations, and personal growth.