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Taking control means also letting go

2020 is almost over and when I look back, I see, like I guess everyone else, that it has been a crazy year. It forced everyone to operate differently and by locking us inside our homes and eliminating distractions of everyday normal life intensified many emotions and thoughts.

For me this year means a big shift. After first few months of floating on a cloud of uncertainty, reactivity and disbelief I accepted the new state of the world and decided to see it as an opportunity to critically look at my life and myself.

It has been a year of cleaning and remodeling, frustration and doubts. It has been a year of hard work, often 14-hour days and fighting through with clenched teeth, eyes dry and itchy from constantly staring at a computer screen, hours of talking, writing and brainstorming. It was worth it. Soon I will give myself few days of Christmas rest and charge my batteries for the next chapter. I’m so much looking forward to both!

In all this hard work and struggle there is one very important thing that I did and that had a huge impact on my mental wellbeing. Once I figured out how and began practicing it, I noticed how much weight started to go away. And still does because it’s a muscle that is stretching constantly.

I started letting go.

We have so many things that we carry with us and beat ourselves up for, like smaller or bigger tasks and commitments we failed to complete, regrets, anger or fear, unhealthy habits, relationships or jobs. There is always something and, as we go, everyday situations add new weight on our shoulders. It’s mental clutter and so-called open loops (unfinished business) that keep us awake at night, sit in the back of our heads during the day and eat up the space and energy needed for constructive stuff.

It’s hard to let go because it’s all about emotions, struggle and inner critic. And if there are multiple unfinished items or we have been working hard to achieve something and things didn’t go as planned, often we find ourselves in a place where the level of frustration is so high that it prevents us from moving forward. The joy is gone, replaced by disappointment and anger.

This year I said “enough”. I wanted to feel alive. I wanted to be able to focus on the now and looking ahead instead of dragging with me the heavy anchor of my mental clutter. So, I started gathering tools and methods that could help me with it. It was a long process but eventually I managed to equip myself. The most powerful tools I am using now are: self-awareness, self-compassion, mindfulness and a simple question “And what?”

Self-awareness in this context starts with giving my feelings a name. It can be saying them out loud or writing them down, even drawing. The blurry and unspoken can grow in our heads to enormous dimensions and leave us with the feeling of being helpless and powerless against it. In the moment the emotions and spinning thoughts get a shape they become easier to address. We are able measure it, check its real weight. It’s part of a healing process, facing the truth and being able to define needed actions.

It’s the moment when I can ask the "And now what": What am I afraid of? Is it really so bad? Is it worth my time? What consequences does it have? What can I change/control here? If I can’t change something, how can I deal with it? It helps me make decisions what to do next.

Self-compassion and mindfulness allow me to acknowledge the difficulties I face, and the impact things have on me and my state of mind. Because I know that it’s not about suppressing or burying my fears or regrets.

In her book “Self Compassion” Kristin Neff defines three components that I started to apply in my life: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

Self-kindness is about being gentle and understanding with ourselves rather that judgmental and harsh. Neff advises that we should treat ourselves the way we treat our friends instead of taking a position of a brutal critic. Now, every time I beat myself up for something, I ask myself, “If it happened to a friend of mine, would I say to her the same things I’m saying to myself?” Believe it or not, in 99% of cases the answer is “no.”

Recognition of common humanity – we are not alone in our suffering. In simple words – everyone has something, it’s not that things happen only to me. There are people that are in similar situation, things happen. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it when we scroll through social media and see happy faces and polished, perfect lives of others. But it’s often a façade, no one is perfect.

Mindfulness – we need to see things as they are and acknowledge our struggle in a mindful and grounded way rather than ignoring or exaggerating them. It’s about accepting the existence of intrusive thoughts, touching on and then gentle pushing them aside.

A beautiful example of mindfulness is a passage from Paulo Coelho’s “Eleven Minutes”. This description keeps coming back to me since I read it for the first time:

“… if her heart began to complain about his absence or about things she shouldn’t have said …, she would say to herself: ‘Oh, so you want to think about that, do you? All right, then, you do what you like, while I get on with more important things.’ She would continue to read or, if she was out, she would focus her attention on everything around her: colors, people, sounds – especially sounds, the sound of her own footsteps, of the pages turning, of cars, of fragments of conversations, and the unfortunate thought would eventually go away. If it came back five minutes later, she would repeat the process, until those thoughts, finding themselves accepted but also gently rejected, would stay away for quite considerable periods of time.”

The process of letting go is not easy, and like Maria from “Eleven Minutes”, we need to stretch this muscle over and over again, practice mindfulness and self-compassion until it becomes our natural reaction. But it really helps to shake off hindering emotions and the heavy load of things that hold us back. This way, by accepting negative events as something that is inevitable part of our life but at the same time acknowledging that we can control or influence the way we react to it, we create a forgiving and more positive environment and give ourselves a chance to move forward without the dead weight. If I could do it, everyone can.


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