Those who know me well, would not score me well on letting go/letting be. Though we teach best what we most need to learn1 so here goes.
Most of us put a lot of energy into trying to control what others think of us and what they do, trying to change the past, and trying to control the future. Sometimes the way we live/lead looks like gripping a ball too tightly in our outstretched arm. It feels safer and more certain to hold on tight (to control), than to let the ball rest in our upturned palm.
Gay Hendricks offers a simple exercise to help us loosen our grip2. Take a sheet of paper and create these two columns:
Things I absolutely cannot control
- What others think of me
- What others do
- The past
- The future
Things I absolutely can control
- What I can do in the next 10 minutes that could contribute to my own or someone else’s happiness
When we catch ourselves feeling unhappy for whatever reason, we can follow a simple process to help us let go or let be.
Step 1: Ask yourself: What am I trying to control that’s actually uncontrollable/impossible for me to control? (Hint: It will be from column 1).
Step 2: Declare it uncontrollable and let it be. Say out loud or in your mind: I am consciously letting go of trying to control….
Step 3: Look for a positive action you can take right now. (Hint: It will be from column 2).
I can think of countless examples in my daily existence. Here’s a simple one:
I was wanting to see a friend and waiting on his reply to fix a time. I was irritated and causing myself suffering because I wasn’t hearing from him. My irritation was growing as I was telling myself that he *should* have let me know a time (me trying to control his actions). And I was lamenting how I couldn’t plan my day (the future) because he hadn’t committed (in the past).
I took a deep breath and decided to consciously let go to trying to control him, the past or the future. I consciously let go of the need to meet that day.
Then I flipped to what positive action I could take to bring myself some happiness. I asked myself what would relieve the suffering I was causing myself in the short-term. I decided to let him know that while I was looking forward to meeting up; if I didn’t hear from him by mid-morning, it would be better for us to meet another day.
This simple act, sent without aggression, helped me let go. Ironically, the thought did occur to me that my message itself could be construed as controlling. But I quickly reminded myself that I don’t have control over what people think of me either! There’s lots of nuance in here. And it truly does take practice to change a habitual way of being.
The end of the story is that he replied right away. I think he was oblivious that I was waiting to hear from him in a certain time frame. We met and had a nice visit. It might not have gone that way. And that would have been just fine too.
1 Quote comes from author Richard Bach.
2 Gay’s new book is called The Joy of Genius. It is full of simple practices to help us liberate ourselves and live more often in our “zone of genius”.