The Art of Letting Go: How to Make Change in Your Life
I often yell that at myself at times when I feel I’ve procrastinated on something for too long, when I’ve gotten fed up with being stuck in the same place and want to feel the satisfaction of change. In my younger days, that “let’s go” feeling motivated me to study hard and go to college—it was a way to escape debilitating poverty and pain at home. As an adult, that “let’s go” feeling motivated me to start exercising—it was a way to defeat the negative self-image I held about my body. All in all, one “let’s go” moment or another has led me to tweak habits, modify the way I treat people, revamp the way I treat myself, or revise what behavior I’m willing to accept from others. Every major shift can be traced back to some point in my life where I said to myself, “Enough is enough: either make it real, or stop thinking about it. Let’s go.”
You’ve procrastinated long enough, too, haven’t you? There’s something that you’re dying to change, and you think that you can’t advance until that change happens. You might fantasize about the change repeatedly, but feel the sting of life snapping you back to reality; or maybe you have taken some active steps to materialize the change, only to see results fall short of what you’d hoped.
If you are that person, read on. The following words might sound cheesy, but they capture what could be the answer to your dilemma: you can’t spell “let’s go” without “let go.” In other words, just as there are desires, spaces, and people calling you to evolve toward your goals, there are also fears, obstacles and insecurities telling you to remain safely where you are. It’s time to identify those roadblocks, and start letting them go.
The first and most important thing to let go, but often the most difficult, is what author Lauren Sandler calls the American Nightmare: the idea that your happiness is always just around the bend. We get conditioned from birth to think that we’re deficient as we are right now, that we need more money, another person, better credentials, a “something else,” to make us whole. Before we know it, we end up sacrificing large chunks of our limited time on this earth scrambling to land at some destination, some checking account balance, or some title or relationship that we think completes us, only to realize when we get there that we still want more. As Sandler aptly puts it: “This dream of arriving at some destination of deep fulfillment… is often no more than that: a dream.”
As long as you think your happiness exists anywhere outside of you, then you won’t have it. Today, let go of the illusion that you are lacking something. Let go of all those things you wish you had, and refocus that energy into better loving the things you already do have. Gratitude precedes growth. You’ll find that loving who you are, where you are, and what you have, just as it all exists in this moment, is the critical first step to building something better. From this starting point, the changes you make will become acts of self-love (“I’m exercising because my body is a gift and I enjoy taking care of it”) rather than acts of self-hate (“I’m exercising because I’m overweight and need to look better”). Change works best when it is something you willingly choose out of love, not when it’s something forced upon you by fear and insecurity.
If you’re anything like me, you might also be holding on too tightly to excuses. And man, oh man, did I have excuses. Especially if you are someone who’s been wounded by disappointment in the past, or have felt blindsided or sucker-punched by life, it can be easy to justify your decision to remain in the comfort zone. I just don’t have the time. I’m not prepared. It’s too early or too late to make my move now—tomorrow’s better. There are any number of rationales we can dream up to validate our stagnation. When we examine these rationales closely, calmly, and without judgment, however, we often find that they’re nothing more than self-sabotage: we are choosing the certainty of failure over the uncertainty of success. Don’t let your thirst for stability become a cage. If you know those excuses are holding you back, thank them for the lessons they’ve taught you, and quietly let them go.
At bottom, I changed because there was a part of me that wanted better for me. There was an internal voice that cheered me on and encouraged me to keep trying no matter what. There’s a part of you like that, too. It’s the part of you that reminds you to have confidence in your abilities even when you have reasons to doubt yourself. It’s the part of you that fantasizes of one day looking back at what once seemed like an impossible goal and casually saying, “I did that.” It’s the part of you that is proud of the person you’ve become, and is excited about the person you can still be.
Change begins when you start listening to that part of you, when you still the fears and preoccupations long enough to hear that self-encouraging, self-loving and self-affirming voice in your heart. When we take a moment to bask in stillness, when we quiet our minds for long enough, our hearts often choose those moments to share a sweet, familiar message:
“I have something new for you, and it’s going to be better than anything you could imagine. Let’s go.”