“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” ~Havelock Ellis
Imagine that you have to move in two days. Would you be able to pack all your possessions in that time and clean out your house completely?
How about your mental baggage? If you have only two days left to finish all the important projects in your life, would you be able to do it?
Three years ago I left the country where I was born and raised and moved permanently to a different place half way around the globe.
Packing was not easy because there were so many things that were meaningful to me but of course I couldn’t take them all. But even more difficult was the part of leaving my friends and family behind. I couldn’t put my friends in a suitcase and smuggle them across the border.
However, the hardest part was still ahead. Soon after I got to the US I realized that I had to let go of a lot of habits and even my lifestyle. Everything was so different from where I grew up.
I had two choices: to hold on to my past, complain, and be completely miserable or let go of everything that was no longer relevant and start a new life while still holding on to my authentic self.
You may not have had to go through such drastic changes in life. However, we all face the dilemma of letting go and holding on.
A lot of times if we are not forced to let go of something we keep dragging 10, 20, 40 years of mental and physical baggage behind us. At some point that baggage becomes so unbearably heavy that we just decide to stop moving forward and start living in the past.
We stop having new goals and dreams. We stop meeting new people. We stop trying new things. We stop learning. But, ironically, we still keep buying and acquiring more physical clutter to fill our homes and closets.
Of course, on the other hand if you throw away everything you love and enjoy, then suddenly you lose your personality. Frankly speaking, you cease to know yourself then.
So, quoting Havelock Ellis again, how do you mingle letting go and holding on? The answer to this question will give you the ultimate inner peace and balance.
1. Physical clutter.
In the world where buying is easier than walking (buying a new gadget requires minimum energy—pick up the phone and order it) it’s really difficult to keep our houses clutter free.
When you try to clean up, throwing away stuff that you no longer use comes easy—like a sweater that has stains from a barbecue party or your kids’ toys that they no longer play with. But how about things that you are emotionally attached to? It’s a totally different story.
Make a stack of things that have meaning to you, look at every item in that stack, and ask yourself “What does this thing really mean to me? If I don’t own it, will I still be able to keep the memories that are dear to me? Can someone else in my family have better use of this item?”
It’s even better to ask someone else to go over this stack with you. While you are emotionally attached to all these items another person (your friend, spouse or a family member) will give you logical reasons why you should or should not hold on to this thing.
Hold on only to a few mementoes that remind you about a particular joyful period. Find a good way to display them where they don’t obstruct your living space or devote only one closet to all your mementoes. Whatever you can’t fit in that closet has to find another home.
2. Dreams and goals.
As years pass we grow and change. Your goals and dreams should grow and change with you.
Can you imagine if all of us held on to the dreams that we had when we were 6-7 years old? Who did you want to be back then? I wanted to be a teacher, not because I wanted to teach others but because I liked to grade papers (in my mind, grading papers with red ink was THE coolest thing in the world.)
At each stage of our life we are allowed to have different dreams and goals. As we mature we can let some of our dreams “retire” because we discover goals that are more important to us. Letting go of a dream doesn’t mean that you have failed at reaching it. It means that you have cleared space for a more meaningful and mature goal in your life.
Hold on to the dreams and goals that are authentic and that represent who you. Let go of the ones that you don’t feel so strong about anymore and always create new ones.
One of the worst things in life is always trying to meet somebody’s expectations.
If you are always trying to reach the approval of others then you will never be able to live peacefully. None of us is perfect in the eyes of the others. None of us is perfect, period. The only way that we can be successful and perfect is if we set our own standards and follow our own road in life.
Of course, hold on to some social norms and politeness and also consider the feelings and wellbeing of the people you love. Being authentic and true to yourself doesn’t mean becoming selfish or thoughtless.
4. Bad habits.
Is there any reason to keep bad habits in your life? Constant improvement is a sure sign of a balanced and happy person. A lot of times letting go of a habit is difficult. That’s why so many of us (me included) fail at this goal.
The only way that you can change your lifestyle is to plant a firm decision into your head. You are not doing it for someone else, you are not doing it because you are expected to. You are doing it because you want to live the best life and you care about the people around you who might be suffering from your bad habit.
Choose one habit that you want to work with and “prepay” 20% of your success. It’s a marketing strategy that works great for attracting customers as well as tricking your brain into starting a transformation.
If you want to lose some weight what would you much rather do—get on a strict diet or stop eating sweets after lunch? Unless you are a disciplinary freak of nature you would choose not eating sweets after lunch. By doing that for a week you have “prepaid” for your success. Next week it will be easier for you to start cutting your portions or move from an egg and bacon biscuit for breakfast to some healthy oatmeal.
Hold on to some of your habits (for right now). One of the main reasons why people fail at transforming their bad habits is because they do too much too fast. Choose just one habit and work on it until you have succeeded.
5. Memories and experiences.
Our brain is hard-wired into noticing and holding on to negative events five times more effectively than positive ones. This phenomenon is called “negativity bias.” It’s the reason why we keep dwelling on a negative conversation with a colleague at work instead of noticing the roses bloom outside.
The only way to fight this built-in negativity is to focus on positive events and make sure that your brain remembers them as vividly as it does negative ones.
Hold on to your positive memories by writing them down. A recent study published in Psychology Today suggested that it takes 5 positive events to outweigh one negative one in your life. Whenever you start feeling the attack of negative thoughts think of as many positive events of the day as possible.
Focus on the joys of present day and stop dwelling in the past.
Sometimes we have to make a decision to let go of people in our lives.
It’s in your best interests to let go of difficult and negative people, those who constantly bring you down or undermine your efforts to improve your lifestyle. If they are unwilling to understand your current goals then you are better off without them.
If you are not able to let go then you might want to minimize the time that you spend with them.
Hold on to your close friends, your confidants. Whether it is your spouse, your family member or a friend please make it a priority to spend time with them, to share your joys, ask for advice, and have fun together. It will make you happier and more positive and it can even improve your health.
Letting go is not as hard as it seems. Every little thing that you let go of today makes room for something new and amazing in your life. A life of genuine balance and peace starts when you learn to let go without regret and hold on with gratitude.