Do you ever find yourself living in the “what if’s,” or the “if only…”? That’s where we try to predict and control the outcome of everything that happens around us. This is really a losing battle, if you think about it, since so many things are completely OUT of our control.
This gets particularly messy when you try to control what someone else does or says, or even what they think. Yet this is the very area that causes so much pain and frustration. Before a meeting or interaction, it’s “What if he thinks or says —?” “What if she wants to —?”
“What if they —?”
After an event or conversation, it’s “Why didn’t they —”? “If only I had said —?” “How could he have —?”
What these lines of thinking have in common is that when you’re focused on “what if” or “if only,” you’re either in the future or in the past; you’re not in the present moment. And it’s in the present moment where you get to grow by noticing your thoughts and actions and choosing ones that are the most healing.
The top five signs you are holding onto things you could let go of are:
1. You are constantly resentful or disappointed because things didn’t turn out like you hoped.
2. You find yourself consumed by the obsession of getting a particular outcome—it occupies all your thoughts as you constantly mull over different scenarios, distracting you during the day and even keeping you awake at night.
3. You feel depressed or anxious about the situation.
4. You keep repeating the same actions, hoping to see a different result.
It can be really scary to let go of the outcome—to step back and accept that we can’t control it. But I can also tell you that the most magical and amazing things start to happen when you do. Regardless of the actual result, just imagine going through a day with the extra energy you’ll get when you stop hanging on so tight.
The extra bonus is that even when something doesn’t go particularly well, you’re in much better shape to handle it, and you’ll have an easier time staying in a growth mindset and avoiding relapse or other harmful behaviors.
Writing is one useful tool that can help you let go. If there is a situation you’re obsessing about—whether it’s something that already happened or something that hasn’t happened yet (and may never happen), writing about it can release it from your mind so you can focus on the present moment again.
You can let go even further by physically releasing the situation that you wrote about. You can destroy the piece of paper by tearing it up or burning it, or you can even put it through your shredder.
I have a “letting go” box where I place my troubles. It’s actually an old coffee can that a friend decorated for me. There is a slot in the lid where I can place the notes I’ve written, and the top is glued on so I can’t take my troubles back.
Letting go is a leap of faith, but what have you got to lose? To borrow a phrase used in addiction recovery programs, we will gladly refund your misery if it doesn’t work.