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How to Let Go

May. 11, 2016 Psychology Today

Most people, that is about 80% of us, have an optimism bias when it comes to personal success and attributes.2 Naturally, feelings of disappointment hit us hard should things turn sour in spite of our hopes. How do we return to our sweeter disposition after suffering a blow? Letting go is an essential component to happiness, but how do we actually do it?

Placing our hope in the environment—about which it is more difficult to feel optimistic because of an innate negative bias—can also cause devastating feelings of disappointment. Let’s say, for example, we dare to engage in the political process and start believing in a better future and a promising political candidate. And then he or she loses. How can we possibly let go of such disappointment and not fantasize about moving to another galaxy or, at least, to Canada? Everybody speaks about “letting go,” but little is said about what enables us to do so. It is expected and rarely taught.

When we cannot let go after a culturally granted period, people inevitably label us as crybabies or sore losers. Few say it straight out, but when we get stuck in disappointment, we still get the message: “Get real and get with it.” “Just let go.” And finally, “Move on already, will you?” So let us look at the “How” of letting go a bit more kindly here, with less judgment and more creativity.

Let’s say, the milk is spilled.

“Not a problem,” says the one who does not really need the milk, unlike the one who does, especially when she identifies a pattern of unnecessary spills caused by those who do not need the milk. While the former just takes a deep breath, picks up a rag and wipes off the milk, the latter tends to have an emotional response. When she is starving, the response tends to linger longer.

Obviously, it is the individual inner and outer reality which makes rolling with the punches an easy or challenging task. Nobody from the outside knows what spilled milk means in your life. Maybe you don’t even know yourself. So the first step may just be,


Do not beat yourself up, but claim your experience without judgment. There are plenty of people who pounce on opportunities to put others down. Don’t do their job. Instead, stand by you and be your own best friend. Claim your experience as generated by you for a reason. Just looking at yourself with kind attention may loosen rigidities. Beyond that,


What exactly has triggered you? What does the blow really mean to you? Are you partially agreeing with the one who disappointed you? How would you or the world be like if you let go of your negative feelings? Do you think someone is helped by your holding on? Continue to be mindful during the inquiry. When this does not suffice:


Coming back to the milk analogy, are you exaggerating somehow, reacting to the milk spilled as if you were starving when you aren’t? Sometimes we believe ourselves too much, focusing on the transitional negative as if it were the whole picture. Sometimes all we need to do is tell ourselves a better, more complete story.

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