"In the end, these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?" -- Buddha
Therapists, coaches and yoga instructors love to tell us, "Just let go!" Sounds divine, yet ambiguous... What exactly is involved in the process of letting go? After 20 years of counseling clients and taking a stab or two at letting go of my own "stuff," I recommend the following strategies:
1. Detach from outcome and focus on the process. If your mind is obsessing about whether or not this is the person you are going to marry, for example, you are going to miss the enjoyment of courtship and that first kiss... Trust in the greater plan for your life and trust that things unfold over time as they should. Skip the urge to jump to the end of the story and enjoy the present moment.
2. Understand that the life you thought you would have may not be the life you will actually have. Many of us have a concept of who we are and how we think our life is going to go. The more we live, the more we learn that things don't always go as planned. Understand that not only is this okay, it might actually be better. Practice gratitude and trust in the process.
3. Don't hang your hat on expectations because this often leads to disappointment. Expectations have a way of keeping us in relationships or situations far too long, investing more and more in hopes to finally hit Pay Day. Expectations are not guarantees, rather they are markers. When our expectations or needs are not met, we need to take note, respond assertively and appropriately, and be flexible enough to change course if need be.
4. Break the barriers you've created for yourself that keep you imprisoned. We all have self-limiting beliefs. "I could never do that!" "I could never wear that!" "I could never earn that!" If you believe you won't, you won't. Expand your thinking and allow more into your life.
5. Relinquish control over others, for it's a false concept anyways. We only truly have control over our own thoughts, behaviors, choices, actions and decisions. Don't expend time and energy spinning your wheels on trying to change others.
6. Separate yourself from attachment to externals (possessions, beauty, titles, money, status, situation, etc.) Bring your attention to the internal, deeper, psycho-spiritual-relational process within. This will bring you peace, calm and serenity. When we focus on externals, enough is never enough.
7. Stop worrying about what other people think and commit to it as a way of life. While hanging onto your morale compass, free yourself from being consumed or controlled by the opinions of others. Choose to care more about how you feel about yourself than whether or not your neighbor approves. We are our happiest when we live our lives in a way that is aligned with our authentic selves.
8. Exhale. With an audible sigh, exhale through your mouth, releasing all you no longer want or need (i.e. anxiety, stress, guilt, shame, worry, etc.) Inhale deeply through your nose, drawing in all that you need (i.e. peace, strength, serenity, courage, love, etc.). Repeat this cycle, allowing your exhale to become longer and deeper than your inhale and notice your mind/body/spirit calm and relax.
9. Purge unnecessary belongings. Clear your home and office of any items you neither love nor use. Make space in your life for peace and joy.
10. Free yourself from toxic relationships. Assess your support network and have the courage to shift boundaries or even terminate relationships that are not good for you. Create space in your life for new and healthy relationships.
11. Exercise self-compassion. Did something dumb? Made a mistake? Join the club. We are human. Stop the self-flagellation and cut yourself some slack. Use the experience to learn and then move on.
12. Practice acceptance. Stop second-guessing the past. Cease wishing things were now the way they were once. Remove "shoulda, coulda, woulda" from your vocabulary. All things happen for a reason. Bring your attention to the present moment, for that is where life occurs.
13. Open your mind. Rigid, black-and-white thinking can keep us stuck. Free yourself by considering what you don't know and opening yourself up to new and unexpected possibilities.
14. Laugh at yourself, laugh at life and learn not to take it all too seriously. This will help you loosen your grip and relax into the ride of your life's journey.
15. Detach from fear. Fear causes us to move through life with clenched jaws, white knuckles, closed minds and guarded hearts. Most fears ultimately stem from the fear of death. The more you make peace with the fact that death is part of life, and choose to celebrate life rather than have fear monopolize it, the more you be able to mindfully unplug from the awesome and often irrational power of fear.
16. Release the feelings you store in your body through exercise. For example, run and imagine your feet are pounding out every bit of stress into the pavement. Whack the tennis ball and feel the release of the anger at your boss. Ride your bike and imagine with each rotation of the pedals you are cranking away your fears and limitations. Practice yoga for increase mind/body awareness and to recalibrate your life energy. A good massage and great sex are also positive ways to release energy stored in the body.
17. Express yourself. Find your voice and share your stories with people you love and trust; friends, family or a wonderful therapist. Journal or write creatively. Create art. Dance and move. Make music or sing. Cook or bake. Garden. Release and share the unique spirit of light and love inside of you.
18. Meditate. The practice of meditation will teach you how to separate from mind-chatter, find inner peace and reboot yourself for the day ahead. Life is easier and more manageable with a daily meditation practice, even for just a few minutes.
19. Process your grief. Whether you lost a loved one through death or a break-up, honor your loss. It is the "hanging on" that will continue the suffering. A love that is lost that is meant to be will come back if you let it go. Hanging on prevents you from moving forward.
20. Detach from your ego. Your ego is the false construct that you think is who you are -- aka your "mind." Don't expend energy defending yourself or taking things personally. Connect with your essence--the deeper entity that lies within (aka your authentic self or soul.)
21. Forgive. Resentment keeps you tethered to the past and prevents forward movement and growth. If for no other reason than yourself, forgive and let go.
May you let go of all that binds you & free yourself to live with a conscious mind, an open heart & a dancing spirit!