Letting Go is a Centering Skill. “Set free what burdens me.”
What can I Let Go of?
Letting Go is the skill of releasing the conscious or unconscious “baggage”–words or actions that might have been hurtful, or feelings that are not serving us any more. Naming the unhelpful baggage we are holding is often the first step. (Letting in.) But even after we name what we are carrying, letting it go can be challenging. Sometimes we need to let go of our expectations, our attachment to a particular outcome. The bottom line is, if it is not helping us, set it aside so we can be open to what is next. (Letting come.)
Why Letting Go — The Science
- The capacity to let go of negative thinking may increase cognitive flexibility, freeing us to direct our attention toward more adaptive lines of thought, problem-solving, and new courses of action.
- More mindful individuals report a greater capacity to let go of their negative thoughts, and thus may perceive negative thoughts as being more controllable and less intrusive and bothersome. The capacity to let go of negative thinking may therefore increase individuals’ capacity for cognitive flexibility, freeing the individual to direct his or her attention toward more adaptive lines of thought, problem-solving, and courses of action.
- Anxiety and depression are typically characterized by cognitive symptoms associated with worry and rumination. Identifying with, or giving too significant a meaning or importance of one’s thoughts, means it is more difficult for us to let go of negative thoughts.
- At times, letting go of control and truly engaging with others may seem like we are abdicating leadership but it takes courage to do things differently.
- Of significant importance is understanding that negativity is not always negative. What might be seen as negative “holding on” to an experience or attitude may paradoxically be conducive to flourishing and vice versa. There are good reasons not to “let go” of some attitudes and experiences. The benefits to wellbeing need inquiry and discernment.
- Frewen, P.A., Evans, E.M., Maraj, N. et al. Letting Go: Mindfulness and Negative Automatic Thinking. Cogn Ther Res 32, 758–774 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-007-9142-1
- Aronson N, Mastorovich MJ, Arsht B. Letting go…of control requires bold leadership. The Journal for Quality and Participation 2002 Summer;25(2):36-39.
- Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2016). Second wave positive psychology: Exploring the positive-negative dialectics of wellbeing. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(4), 1753-1768. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.calpoly.edu/10.1007/s10902-015-9668-y
How to Practice-Model-Coach
Reflect on things from the past that have been hard to let go. Ask yourself, why can I not let this go? Should I let it go? Am I not letting it go because of my own expectations?
- Letting go of annoyances. When you find yourself getting wound up by annoyances (standing in line, out of coffee, a slow internet), notice that it is not in your control and practice just letting it go.
- Letting go of the hurt. When someone says something hurtful, you can ask yourself: Is there a grain of truth in what was said to you? If so, there could be something you might want to look into. Otherwise, their comment could be more about them (their needs, insecurities, etc) than about you. Let it go.
- Letting go in review. When you are winding down for the evening, review the events of the day and ask yourself—what negativity from the day can I let go?
- When something comes up outside your control that impacts a relationship or your day, verbalize to your family members why and how you can let it go.
- Create a space where everyone in your home can write down something outside their control that they can let go. At the end of the week collectively throw away (rip up, burn, dissolve in water) the list and celebrate letting it all go.
Resources for Letting Go
- Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, by David R. Hawkins MD. PHD