It’s easier than you think
There are so many reasons for letting go of our fear, anxiety, and stress. One of the biggest is the amount of time we get back.
What? It’s not all about getting rid of the icky anxiety? Shoving aside the painful fear? Or not having to deal with the frustrating and annoying stress? Aren’t those the biggest benefits?
Well, yeah, they would be. If we let go.
What we often do when emotions rise up inside us that we don’t like, me super included, is shove aside, suppress, deny, reject or — insert any verb we can think of to — resist them. What we don’t usually do (probably because it’s a little more challenging) is let them go.
Letting go = accepting
Letting go involves being present with and accepting the emotions at the moment, and letting them ride themselves out.
But we rarely do that right from the get-go. Why? Because it’s icky and painful and frustrating and annoying and — insert any uncomfortable adjective we can think of. Plus, our minds tend to take over and want to make everything better as quickly as possible.
That’s the great thing about our minds, which can be amazingly helpful when we’re confronted with a hungry lion on the savannah or a knife-wielding thief in a dark alley.
But, when there’s no reason to fight or flee, we don’t really need our minds to jump in and rescue us. We can just sit with the emotions.
So, easy enough. Sit with the emotions. Sure. But how about when those emotions are really challenging, stir up tough feelings and thoughts like a tornado, and threaten to take us over?
Well, that’s what the mind does. It tricks us into believing the emotions will be with us forever. That we’re stuck with the ickiness and the pain and the frustration and the annoyance. That we’ll never get rid of them.
Funny thing is, by thinking about them and giving them control over the mind, the emotions will stay with us longer. Then, even if they do disappear for a while, they tend to come back, so that we relive or replay the same storylines that involve the same emotional upheavals, time and again.
If, instead, we sit with the emotions and let them pass through us, they tend not to stick around that long.
And they often have fewer return visits that are more short-lived, too. In fact, the only way to make sure they don’t come back to overwhelm us is to give them their time to be with us the moment they show up.
So, back to my earlier point — the biggest benefit we can get from letting go is how much time we get back in our lives. Instead of spending minutes, hours, days, ruminating about fear or past mistakes, or future obstacles, we have all this extra time now to do things that make us feel amazing. For ourselves. Our families. Our friends. Our work. Our communities.
It gives us more time to be present with the people we love and enjoy what we’re doing. How awesome is that?
One, two, three
Being present with our emotions for a few minutes is a great way to start and to see them from a different perspective. We can fully engage with the amazing highs, and completely experience the depths of the lows. Not with judgment — less, “I hate this!” and more, “this is”. With curiosity and patience, rather than a sense of wanting to get it over with and move on.
Here are three things we can all do to help create a strong, steady, daily practice of letting go:
- Enjoy each moment
For the wonderful emotions, like contentment, peace, or joy — like when we’ve carved out time to bake a cake or read a book or do a workout — turn on some music and enjoy the pleasure of it all. We can practice mindfulness to try to be present for every second of it. To revel in it for as long as it lasts. Not stretch it out, but enjoy each moment as it comes. That’s how we can recharge.
- Write it down
For the more challenging emotions, David Gerken suggests making a list of all our triggers so we can be more aware of them when they happen (such a genius idea!). This really helps with when the dog barks for the 10th time on the walk, or when a client emails with yet another last-minute urgent request, or when the kids try to negotiate more video game time — again. That’s how we can have a better chance of showing up with our best selves — with compassion and patience and kindness — in the moment (rather than screaming, cursing, or losing it altogether).
- Realize we’re in the driver’s seat
Every moment, we get to decide how we’re going to live. We can jump toward love or fall toward fear. When we see ourselves starting to stumble, when we’re veering toward the edge of the cliff, that’s when we can take the time to breathe. (Making our exhale longer than our inhale for even a few breaths activates our parasympathetic nervous system and helps calm us down.) Even if it’s in the middle of a business meeting or driving in traffic (maybe especially so then) or when we’re having a conversation with someone we love (maybe even more especially so then) we can breathe, ask ourselves how we want to live this moment and lean back from the edge toward that.
Summing it up
– Letting go is not about hiding away from or getting rid of our emotions; it’s about accepting and being present with them.
– It’s the best way to make sure we don’t get overwhelmed by our feelings, create false storylines that can stir even more emotions, and draw out unhelpful, and sometimes harmful, narratives longer — for days, weeks, months, years, or even decades.
– Letting go allows us to put the time we used to spend on unhelpful storylines towards being present with the people and activities we love most.
– We can start to build a daily practice of letting go by living with the emotions for as long as they last; listening to David Gerken and writing down our biggest triggers to help us make better decisions when these challenging experiences inevitably pop up in our lives; and take some slow breaths to remind ourselves that we have a choice in how we react to our emotions — and make the best decisions for ourselves and the people around us.
Why it matters
It can be tough at first — we’re so not used to giving time and attention to our feelings. But every time we try it out, we get to understand it more and more, especially how good it makes us feel afterward. We learn a lot about ourselves, nuances we were never aware of before. And this becomes the fuel for our growth.
This learning is what helps us uncover and embrace our best selves — the selves that were there all along. Hidden under all the critical inner chatter, the imposter syndrome, the fear, the anxiety, the impatience, the resistance. We feel free, authentic, comfortable with ourselves.
Having a daily practice of letting go is like giving ourselves this great gift that unlocks who we are at our core — for ourselves and everyone else to see, all the time.
And while before we may have been ok with hiding ourselves away, now all we want to do is shine.