Yells erupt the minute I walk out of the living room to switch over the laundry. “Mine!” “No, me do it!.” “Stop it brother!” “Let go!” My two boys, aged 4 and 2, are duking it out over a brand new Paw Patrol toy. I think it was Rubble but it could’ve been Marshall. Hard to say. Anyway, the brothers stare angrily at each other as they each attempt to wrench the dog out of the other’s hands. I grab the toy out of both their hands and promptly put Chase (it was actually Chase!) on the top shelf of the cabinet. “There. Now no one has it,” I sternly inform them. More yells ensue. Letting go is hard for toddlers but sometimes I think it’s even harder for adults.
It’s hard for me so letting go must be hard for other adults too. I find myself latching on to situations I have no power to change and stewing over them for days. After awhile, I can’t bring myself to focus on anything but the negative situation. It impacts my drive and motivation to pursue other goals in my life by stalling progress. Very comparable to my little ones arguing over Chase instead of simply letting go.
After all, toddlerhood and adulthood really aren’t all that different. Except for the naps. I would give just about anything for a refreshing mid-day nap! Both toddlers and adults spend a great deal of energy learning how to get along with others, eating snacks, and figuring out how to navigate life. The challenges of managing emotions and seeking happiness seem insurmountable at times. Tantrums are rampant in both groups.
And tantrums over toys are especially common. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my kids that they can get what they want by simply letting go. It’s a radical approach which often elicits stares of disbelief from my little rugrats. They simply cannot understand how disinterest in a sibling’s toy in the moment results in hours (ok, maybe minutes!) of fun later.
It can be the same with negativity. My tendency is stubbornly clinging to negative feelings, deluding myself into thinking that holding on results in relief. In reality, the exact opposite occurs. Stubbornly clinging to the ways I feel slighted or wronged results in a cycle of negativity that is difficult to break.
My perfectionism further perpetuates the cycle of negativity and often prevents me from seeing the wisdom in simply letting go. It’s so easy for me to over-analyze every single situation and to feel upset when things don’t go my way. For me, holding on feels like justification in that I’m right. I often take life way too seriously and because of this, miss out on so much joy!
Negativity attracts negativity and that’s not the energy I want to put out into the world. Constant repetition of a conversation which has long since ended or the relentless desire for a different outcome is energy wasted. So often I forget to focus on that which can be changed and learn from, in order to move on from, the rest. It seems simple in theory but is incredibly complex in practice.
Much like my kiddos, I have a tendency to focus on the very tiny details which aren’t going right instead of the bigger picture. My boys were devastated over the removal of Chase and yet they still had Sky, Rubble, Marshall, Zuma, and their accompanying vehicles remaining. Not to mention the bazillions of other toys I trip on daily. Misery over the loss of one item unfortunately tends to blur the joys of finding other fascinating toys.
How often does this happen in life? We put on our blinders and block out the wonderful things going on around us. Focusing on tiny details can come partly from an inability to recognize that there are certain things over which we do have control. Deciphering between what we can and can’t control puts the situation into perspective.
Perspective on a situation can often come from an outside source. For me, tough situations are often accompanied by a great deal of emotion which further complicates matters. It may be your husband, a friend, or even a counselor but often we need someone else’s neutral viewpoint to help us untangle from the emotion.
It’s also helpful to review the situation you’re stewing over and decipher exactly why it bothers you. Really dig into this by journaling, through prayer, or whatever method you use to gain deeper understanding. Once you can identify this, it’s much easier to sort through and determine the areas you need to let go. Areas where you can take action also present themselves during this process.
Once you’ve weeded through the things that you can change about the situation and those you can’t, it’s time to start letting go. Spend some time thinking about the positives in the situation and focus on how you are growing as a person. In looking back over my life, it’s always been the toughest situations which have produced the most growth.
Likewise, letting go of that which you are powerless to change results in freedom unlike any other. Releasing negative energy frees you to make positive changes and put your effort where it actually counts. Back to my tiny tots. If the oldest would have let go and let the youngest play with Chase, five minutes later, he probably would have gotten bored. Just like that, the oldest would then have been able to play with Chase for the next 30 minutes (ok, maybe 3 minutes!). Instead, no one played with Chase and he stayed in the cupboard for the rest of the afternoon. Poor Chase.
Learning to let go is a process. Depending upon the emotion attached to the situation, you may or may not be able to easily let go. Rely on those around you to help you through and to keep perspective. Make a conscious effort to see the positive around you and celebrate the small victories. Go out and do something new and different to take your mind off those parts of the situation you can’t change. Try a different hobby, see a play, or get lost in a novel. All three have been really helpful for me when I’ve been working on releasing negative energy. Lastly, take action on the areas where you do have control. Taking action where it counts has a way of opening new doors and creating possibilities where you never thought they would be.
The next time you find yourself stewing over a frustrating or painful situation, break it down into action steps by asking yourself the questions below. Seek out the advice of a trusted neutral person and work on turning the negatives into positives. Remember that it’s a process which doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes requires a great deal of introspection, prayer, and great advice to accomplish. I’d love to hear your thoughts on letting go when it’s been tough. What was helpful for you? Were you eventually able to let go of what you couldn’t change and embrace the positive?
- Situation – What is it about the situation that bothers you?
- Change – What can you do to change what’s bothering you?
- Letting go – What about the situation is impossible to change?
- Positive – What about the situation could be considered positive?
- Focus – What do you need to do to shift your focus to the positive?