When life has to be a certain way in order to be good enough for us, we close ourselves off from so many of the real and present opportunities available.
On the contrary, when we let go of the way it “should be,” we free our minds to deal with life’s unexpected changes, challenges, and chaos in the most effective way possible…
We create space for acceptance, learning, and growth.
We learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.
We see the world through an unbiased set of eyes.
And gradually, we allow ourselves to step forward with more peace of mind.
With that said, I don’t always let go when I need to. I don’t always have a clear and focused mind. Because I’m only human, and human beings have the tendency to hold on too tight. Sometimes life slaps us really hard and we attach ourselves to the pain, even when we know better.
When I’m holding on too tight, I can really feel it in my gut. I feel anxious, frustrated, irritated, and upset. There’s an aching for things to be different than they are — a feeling of rejection or betrayal or hopelessness.
I’m sure you can relate. We’re all struggling through this one together, in our own unique way right now. And the vast majority of our torment is the result of being caught up in whatever story we’re telling ourselves about how life “should” be.
So for starters, here’s what I try to keep in mind…
Quotes and Reminders to Let Go of “How Life Should Be”
- We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our attention and gratitude. How often do you pause to appreciate your life just the way it is? Look around right now, and be thankful… for your health, your family, your comforts, your home. Nothing lasts forever.
- Some of the most powerful moments in life happen when you find the courage to let go of what can’t be changed. Because when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself — to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.
- Letting go isn’t forgetting, it’s remembering without fear. It’s stepping forward with a present mind and a lesson learned. So just remind yourself right now: you are not your bad days, you are not your mistakes, you are not your scars, and you are not your past. Be here now. Be free.
- Forgive yourself for the bad decisions you’ve made, for the times you lacked understanding, for the choices that hurt others and yourself. Forgive yourself, for being young and reckless. These are all vital lessons. And what matters most right now is your willingness to grow from them.
- Be selective with your energy today. If you can fix a problem, fix it. If you can’t, then accept it and change your thoughts about it. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to invest more energy than you have, tripping over something behind you or something that only exists inside your head.
- Life is change. You must accept the fact that things may never go back to how they used to be, and that this ending is really a new beginning.
- Even though you cannot control everything that happens, you can control your attitude about what happens. And in doing so, you will gradually master change rather than allowing it to gradually master you. (Marc and I discuss this further in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Every difficult life situation can be an excuse for hopelessness or an opportunity for growth, depending on what you choose to do with it.
- In the midst of particularly hard days when I feel that I can’t endure, I remind myself that my track record for getting through hard days is 100% so far. (The same is true for you, too.)
- Too often we waste our time waiting for a path to appear, but it never does. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. And we forget that there’s absolutely nothing about our present circumstances that prevent us from making progress again, one tiny step at a time.
First Steps for Coping with Unfavorable Outcomes
Reflecting on the reminders above can be incredibly grounding when life doesn’t go as planned. But what can you do if the immediate tension inside you is spiraling out of control?
Here’s a brief outline of some initial steps Marc and I actively take (and cover with our course students and live event attendees) to cope with the immediate tension that arises from unfavorable outcomes in our lives:
- Acknowledge the tension inside you. – If you notice yourself getting angry and flustered, it’s a sign that you need to pause, take a deep breath, and practice the remaining steps.
- Resist the urge to act in haste. – The greatest harm comes whenever you act out of anger — actions that might include giving up too soon, consuming unhealthy substances, or even attacking someone else. So whenever you notice anger building up inside you, try not to take any form of destructive action. Instead, turn inward and mindfully assess whatever it is that’s arising.
- Sit with your feelings, and give them space. – Turn directly towards the tension you feel, and just be a witness. See it as something that’s passing through you, but is NOT YOU. It’s a feeling, a dark cloud passing across a vast sky, not a permanent fixture. Treat it that way. Instead of obsessing yourself with the dark cloud’s presence, try to broaden your perspective — give it the space it needs to pass. Sometimes you need a little distance to see things clearly again.
- Be OK with not knowing. – Now that you’ve given yourself some necessary space, tell yourself, “I don’t know why things are this way.” And be OK with this unknowing. Give yourself full permission to not have concrete answers at this moment. What would it be like to allow this moment to unfold without knowing? What is it like to not know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of others? What is it like to not know how to respond to life’s chaos? What is it like to be here right now, without jumping to conclusions?
The bottom line is that when life dishes you a harsh dose of reality, the best first steps involve sitting silently and witnessing the thoughts passing through you. Just witnessing at first, not interfering and not even judging, because by judging too rapidly you have lost the pure witness. The moment you rush to say, “this is absolutely terrible” or “things should be different,” you have already jumped headfirst into the chaotic tension.
It takes practice to create a gap between the witnessing of thoughts and your response to them. Once the gap is there, however, you are in for a great surprise — it becomes evident that you are not the thoughts themselves, nor the tension and chaos influencing them. You are the witness, a watcher, who’s capable of changing your mind and rising above the turmoil. (Marc and I work through this with our students in the self-paced Getting Back to Happy course and at the annual Think Better, Live Better conference.)
We would love to hear from YOU.
So let us know:
- Which point above resonated the most?
- In what way are YOU holding on to an idea of how life “should” be right now?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.