In my last post, we talked about why letting go is a better alternative to holding onto things, even when some things “should” be different. As I’m sure we’re all now thoroughly convinced about the benefits of letting go, I’ll move on to talking about the process.
1.) Decide to make a new habit of letting things go. Don’t be fooled by how obvious or simple this step sounds. It’s the most important step because if you don’t truly decide you want to change, you won’t. Really stop to think about what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be someone who is easily upset about all the day-to-day life stuff that is annoying but unavoidable? There are endless opportunities to get upset (e.g. rude people, the overbearing boss, waiting in lines, kids making messes… just to name a few!) and learning to let go requires more than just wanting it. Would anyone really say they want to be irritable all the time? Unfortunately, wanting to be different is not enough because it goes deeper—we have to give up our “right” to be offended by slights and inconveniences. Maybe it makes us feel more powerful to be angry. If we’re honest, sometimes we just don’t want to give that up and we’d rather hang on to our hot coal for a bit.
2.) Take some deep breaths and remind yourself being angry will not change things and can actually hurt you. Does being angry about the traffic jam on your way home change how long the commute will be? No. And yet many of us will stew the whole drive anyway. The physical toll of being angry too often is undeniable, and includes serious issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, migraines, skin disorders, digestive problems, chronic pain, fatigue, and more¹. It also makes you more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and problems with food, alcohol, and drugs. And if all that isn’t enough, it also can be damaging to important relationships at home and work. So take several deep slow breaths while thinking about why it is better to let go of the frustration and how good you will feel when you do.
3.) Try to reframe the situation and find the positive. Sometimes finding the potential good in a situation is hard, but usually, it can be done and it does get easier with practice. Take our previous traffic jam example. You would probably be in hurry to get home so you can relax or see your family, and therefore, the delay is understandably frustrating. But since it can’t be changed, instead of being miserable and flooding your body with unnecessary chemicals (and then eventually getting home in a bad mood!), what about making the best of a longer drive? Put on some of your favorite songs that you haven’t listened to in a while, or keep a book on tape especially for those times, or call a friend you need to catch up with, or use the time to pray and meditate on the day. We have the choice to turn something that could have been waste of time into time well-used.
4.) Do some visualization. Okay, so you’ve tried talking yourself down and are still struggling to let something go. Forgive me for a moment while I go all therapist-y on you and recommend trying a visualization technique called thought diffusion. While doing this, take long deep breaths in your nose and out your mouth. Picture an autumn tree by a stream. Hear the sound of trickling water in your mind. Imagine that the red and gold leaves on the tree hold your anger. Now picture a soft wind coming through and rustling the tree just enough to shake off a bunch of the leaves, which float down to the water in the stream. Watch the moving water take the leaves (and your anger) downstream, out of sight. Exhale one last long breath, feeling the anger draining out of your body.
5.) If all else fails, remind yourself it’s temporary. The vast majority of the daily hiccups and hair-pullings don’t actually last that long. If nothing else has worked, just focus on getting through it and moving on. Remind yourself you won’t probably care about or even remember whatever it is in a year (or even a week).
Learning to let go of things is not easy, but it can make a huge difference in your life and in your relationships if you’re willing to put in the effort of changing. Happiness and anger cannot live in the same heart, one will eventually overtake the other—that is, whichever one you nurture.
¹Bundrant, M. (2013). Shocking: The Damage Chronic Anger Does to your Body. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/nlp/2013/01/chronic-anger-damage/
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.