An ode to letting go

As as overthinker my brain seems to be hardwired to latch onto things. Maybe it’s a routine that no longer has a use, a harsh comment someone made to me years ago, my perceived failings, a possible future event I want to ensure I’m prepared for, or a hobby that no longer feels fulfilling.

If you too are an overthinker there is likely something that you should let go of, something that is holding you back. Whether that something is physical, emotional, or an idea, doesn’t matter, just that you recognize it is something you need to let go.

This is not meant to say it is easy to let go or promote feelings of guilt for having not let go yet. Maybe you had not realized it was something you should, or could, let go. Maybe you are not yet at a place where you can let go. Use this as a starting point for you to give yourself permission to start the journey of letting go.

Even if none of the examples of ways to let go resonate with you, my hope is that it will inspire you to look at your life and think if there is anything that needs to be let go in order for you to live a life that is truly yours.

A hand with the words "let something go today" on it

Let go of your fantasy self

Your fantasy self is an idealized version of what you want to be, but is not realistic or at the core of who you truly are.

Your fantasy self may be someone who cooks each meal from scratch, has a spotless kitchen, and writes their own cookbooks; or perhaps someone who owns a capsule wardrobe they sewed themselves from fabric they bought on their trips around the world; or maybe someone who has every document they own organized, alphabetized, and easily searchable in a digital library.

It can be easy to get caught up in the fantasy of this ideal life where you have everything planned out and everything is executed perfectly. But, that’s not how life works and clinging to that fantasy can be a hindrance to growth.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to strive to be your best self and work towards the person you want to be. Don’t feel that you can’t have aspects of that fantasy self in your everyday life, but make it reasonable and attainable. 

Don’t spend so much of your life trying to get to become your fantasy self that you are not enjoying the life you have right now.

Action to Take

Take time to sit and think if you are building a fantasy world for yourself.

Do you daydream of an idealized life?

What benefits would this new life bring you?

Is this life realistic for you?

Is this actually what want you or what you think you should want?

If you went off social media, would you still want this life?

What is holding you back from having this life right now? 

Use these questions as a way to ground yourself and think about what is truly important to you and realistically what kind of life you want to live.

Let go of reading a book you are not enjoying

When we have invested time into reading a book it can be hard to put it down before finishing, even when we are not enjoying the book. If you always find a reason not to pick up the book you are reading, it might be time to let it go. This doesn’t mean you need to get rid of the book, but simply let go of the mindset that you are duty-bound to finish the book at this exact moment in time.

You may be reading the right book at the wrong time or the wrong book at the wrong time.

Our need to keep reading something, despite not wanting to, is the basis of the sunk cost fallacy. This idea is that once we have invested time (or money or energy) into something we want to continue it, even if it is not beneficial to us. We are already invested in something and we don’t want to see that go to waste. 

Whether you continue reading the book or not, you can’t get the time you have already invested back. By continuing to read you are simply wasting more of your time on an activity you are not enjoying.

It can drive you away from reading if you try to power through a book you are not enjoying. If a book is not working for you, give yourself the option to let it go for now.

Action to Take

If you find yourself dreading picking up a book you are reading, put it down. Write yourself a note about the book, including why you put it down. That way you won’t forget about it if you ever want to try it again. Maybe there is a future time in your life when the book will fit better. If not, it can be donated so that someone else may enjoy it.

Let go of the outcome and focus on the journey

So much of our life is about a goal or a specific outcome: buying a house, getting a job, losing weight, finishing a project, completing a task, etc.

When you have a goal it can be easy to want time to rush forward so you can have achieved what you set out to do. There is a sense that life will be better once you get there. But you lose a lot of everyday living and the many good things you have in your life right now by focusing solely on getting to the outcome.

By focusing too much on one event it can lead to a hard emotional crash when it is not all that you thought it would be. You may then turn to your next goal and start to only focus on that. It can lead to a vicious cycle of always wanting something that is somewhere in the future.

There are all kinds of amazing and beautiful things happening in our everyday lives that we will miss if we are so focused on barreling towards the future.

Action to Take

Work on being more in the present moment and practicing mindfulness. It can be easy to ignore all the amazing things we have in our everyday lives. Build time into your day where you practice quiet observance or contemplation. Each time you have a drink of water take a minute to look around or think about at all that you have in your life. Find grounding moments where you are truly present in the here and now.

Let go of holding on to negative thinking

It is often said, but benefits from being said again, holding a grudge or stewing in negative thoughts hurts only you. Other people are living their lives and your thoughts alone are not going to affect other people, but they will affect you.

When you feel we have been wronged or had a bad experience it can be hard to put those thoughts aside and continue on with your life. It is also not always easy to simply let go, it takes practice.

When you allow others invade your thoughts in a negative way, you are robbing yourself from enjoying your life. Each moment a negative thought is in your head is a moment you cannot get back. It is not worth our precious time to allow others to have a hold over us when nothing constructive will come from negative thoughts.

Action to Take

Consider coming up with a grounding word or phrase that can help get you out of your negative thinking spiral.

It could be something such as “breath in 1, 2, 3, 4, breath out 1, 2, 3, 4” where you focus completely on your breath allowing the negative thoughts to be forgotten. It could also be something that jolts you our of your thinking, such as a funny line from a movie, a song that always makes you want to dance, or an inside joke.

The goal is to break the cycle of negative thinking. The more often you work to break the cycle, the more easily you will be able to stop the negative thinking and get back to enjoying your life.

Let go of assumptions

It is easy to assume something based on a small bit of information, it is something we as humans often do. You may not have the whole story but your mood and mindset can be affected by an assumption you have made.

Someone may seem distracted while you are presenting and you assume they do not like your presentation. The reality could be that they are waiting on a phone call from their bank and they are anxious.

A co-worker may send you a short email and you assume they are annoyed or frustrated with you. The reality could be that they wanted to be efficient in their communication and did not see it as being terse.

Your partner may be spending their time in a different room than you all day and you assume there is something wrong. The reality could be that their activities naturally brought them to different rooms around the house and they did not realize you thought they were avoiding you.

You may not be able to completely stop making assumption, but you can work to identify times when you have made an assumption and take a step back to re-evaluate.

Action to Take

When you feel your mood or mindset changing based on the actions or inactions of someone else, take a step back. Get into the habit of thinking about what assumptions you have put onto the situation.

Do you have all the information? Don’t jump to the worst case scenario if you don’t have all the information, but that is a hard habit to break. Gather more information and reassess.
Each time you think critically about a situation you start to break the cycle of thinking.

Let go of the notion of perfection

It can be hard to start something or keep doing something if in your mind you feel it will not be perfect. You can easily get an idea of what it means for something to be perfect and when you cannot achieve that it can be disheartening and make you want to quit.

Having your sights set on perfection can hold you back from even trying. You may miss experiences and opportunities because you are so worried that it will not be the best.

Aiming for perfection is a losing fight. It allows something unachievable to have control over you which can lead to obsession. The reality is that there is no such thing as perfection and thinking that there is can have a negative affect on your life.

Focus less about being the best at something and focus more on being curious and finding ways to enjoy what you are doing. 

This idea of perfection also be applied to people when you think of the perfect partner, perfect friend, perfect boss, perfect teacher. You need to allow people to be human and make mistakes and not hold them to ideals they cannot, and should not need to, achieve.

Action to Take

Give yourself a timeline of when you will check in with yourself. This should be after a certain amount time of working towards a goal. The amount of time will vary on what you are working on but could be the end of the day, the end of the week, or a month from now.

When the time comes take a break from what you are working on and set it aside. Once you have given your mind a break, comeback and look at what you have done.

Take new eyes to look at all you have achieved and be realistic about how much more you can and are willing to do. 

Let go of the idea that you should always be productive

We are surrounded on social media by people who are always moving, always doing, always making a plan for what to do next. You may work in an environment where those that constantly push themselves and work overtime everyday are praised for their effort. These situations may make us feel that we are not being productive enough, but this is harmful thinking.

If you spend all your time working and doing you miss out on enjoying the here and now.

Trying to always be doing something leads to burnout, you are not meant to function without any breaks. You clocking out of work on time or taking a break when you are having a hard time concentrating does not mean you are not productive. Knowing your limits and taking care of yourself is important. You will be able to be more productive if you step away and take time for yourself.

It can be good to be inspired by others, but don’t let it get to the point where you feel your self-worth is determined by how much you get done.

Action to Take

To get into the habit of giving yourself down time, build it into your schedule. Make a conscious effort to make time each day to relax, play a game, watch a show, anything where you are taking time to decompress.

Let go of the mindset that you need to know everything

Every person you know that is incredibly knowledgeable about a subject started off knowing nothing about that subject. It is easy to forget this when you are just starting when others have been interested in this subject for years or decades.

Just because someone knows more than you about something does not mean there is not more for them to learn. Even those that have worked in a specific field for years are always learning. 

The goal of learning should not be to try and get to an unrealistic place of knowing everything, but to enjoy the process of learning new things. We will never know every single thing there is to know about a subject and that is perfectly fine.

It can be scary to admit you don’t know something, you may fear being judge or worry that you are not cut out for what you are doing. But the best way to learn is to stay curious and ask questions. The more you can critically think about a situation the better you will be at understanding it.

Letting go of the feeling that you need to know everything allows you to be more open and want to learn.

Action to Take

Take some time to think about things you are knowledgeable about. Think about the ways you learned and the time it took you to get where you are now. This is a helpful reminder that you may not have the knowledge you need or want right now, but you have the skills needed to become knowledgeable.
You have done it before and you can do it again.

Let go of feeling you need to be strong all the time

It can be hard to be vulnerable and it can be hard to let go of being the one who is always strong for others, but this can lead to burn out. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable helps us grow as individuals and helps us get closer to others.

Being vulnerable may mean you get hurt, but it may also mean you make a connection. Focusing only on the negative can mean you miss out on finding that common ground with others to help you feel not quite so alone.

The need to feel strong all the time can be lonely; being open and honest with ourselves and when we need help allows us to become closer to ourselves and others. 

There is a beautiful balance in being strong when the time calls for it and relinquishing that strength to others to help you carry the load.

Action to Take

Before opening up to others, work on opening up to yourself. Whether this be saying it out loud or writing it down, talk to yourself about what it is you need. Being in touch and able to vocalize what you need and when you feel vulnerable can help make it easier to talk and open up to others.

Let go of putting yourself last

As important as it is for us to take care of those around us, we must not in the process forget to also take care of ourselves.

You cannot be there for yourself or others if you let your tank get to empty. You may feel selfish if you put yourselves first or feel you don’t deserve to make yourself a priority, but this is a harmful mindset to have. It is important for you to realize that you are worthy of putting yourself first.

Self-care is one of the most important ways we can work towards being our best self and can be the best for others. You would likely not let a friend stretch themselves too thin, so do the same for yourself. Be your own friend who looks out for themselves.

Action to Take

Before getting to the point of feeling burnt out or stretched too thin, work to have time set aside each day or each week just for you. Get in the habit of making sure you do things for yourself that you enjoy. Block out time in your schedule where you can do whatever you want, or nothing at all, whatever it is your body and mind need.

Let go of constant self-criticism

It is important that we are self aware and think critically about our actions and the impact we have. But, being self-critical without being constructive is harmful and will not allow you to grow.

You can be aware of your shortcomings and things you need to work on without it being the whole of your existence. Being more mindful and strategic when you communicate with yourself can help you better understand the person you want to be.

Bringing ourselves down does not inspire us to keep going, try harder, or be better. It gives us a reason to give up and stop trying. 

Work to be self-aware enough that you want to be better but positive enough that you have the mental energy to actually work to be better.

Action to Take

Before you say something critical to yourself think if this is something you would say to someone else.
Don’t save your kindness just for others, treat yourself as you would a friend or loved one. When you feel yourself being critical, think about how you would say it to someone else and what constructive feedback you would provide.

Final thoughts

Letting go can be hard for many reasons and one of them is that there is no closure. Letting go is often not a grand gesture with an immediate feeling of relief. You may not fully realize how important it was for you to let go until later on when you feel a little lighter when you think of what a burden you had. 

Let go because there is freedom in letting go.

1 thought on “An ode to letting go”

  1. Love the opening photo (I put it on my computer desktop so I see it every day).

    Focusing on journey not destination is so important. I already take one of the actions suggested, e.g., when I shower, I am always conscious of having warm, clean, running water to do so and think of how many do not (which encourages me to do what I can to change that).

    “Negative thinking” reminded me of a Booker T. Washington quote: “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him,” though this is an extreme of negativity that I have never understood – I have never hated anyone, nor even sure what “hate” is.

    Assumptions! How important it is to even recognize our assumptions and then question them before we leap into action based on them.( Of course, this can easily drift into overthinking, which has its own drawbacks!)

    The section on constant self-criticism really hit home for me. I would very much like to be my own best friend, but still seem to treat myself in ways I would never treat a friend….

    Apologies for my lengthy post – I actually cut out a lot!
    And thank you yet again for this thought-provoking and encouraging blog.


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