Change is not easy for many people. Over time, we develop beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that give us a feeling of certainty in the world and make up our identity, and identity is a big thing for people. It is the skeleton that defines who we are. This makes it very hard for us to let go when it seems like we have to give up a bone from our skeleton and we are afraid we will not be able to stand properly.
People are a lot like monkeys. If you want to catch a monkey, you can put a cage with a banana in front of it. Once the monkey holds the banana, the monkey is trapped, because their hand will not come out with the banana. Monkeys are not smart enough to know that if they let go of the banana, they will be able to slide their hand out of the cage, so they stay trapped.
People hold on to beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that trap them like bananas and are afraid to let go of them even when they rot and smell.
For most, letting go of a banana means that we will no longer be able to maintain our identity. Allowing change means that we will be crippled or handicapped. I think this is because they consider letting go as a form of giving up and since childhood, they have heard millions of times “Never, never give up!” and interpreted it as “Never let go”.
Letting go vs. giving up
The concepts of letting go and giving up take center stage in the Be Happy in LIFE coaching program. Most people who come for coaching have a huge confusion between these two.
Giving up means that we allow the past to hound us and we lose hope. Giving up is the loss of desire and a sense of devastation and failure at something that it will never return. Giving up triggers feelings of grief and leads to avoidance, addictions, depression and, in severe cases, self harm.
Letting go, on the other hand, means that we recognize something unpleasant, we know it is there and we let it pass thorough us. This is like meditation and eastern philosophies that do not fight the feelings and thoughts, but they do not let them take control. Letting go is very future oriented, because we no longer allow the past to dictate our future. Instead, we understand that beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors can be our servants or our masters and that we can choose those that serve us and get rid of those that do not.
The art of letting go is a life long journey and is very important to master. Successful people are those who do not consider negative thoughts and feelings as part of their skeleton and believe they can make up a new stronger skeleton when they need to.
Think of it this way: if your emotional skeleton was strong enough in the first place, you would not feel unhappy, unhealthy, out of balance, sad, disappointed, angry, etc (the list is huge).
Letting go is the opposite of having an attachment. Bear in mind, attachment is not a bad thing. It is a healthy and important function that helps us survive and connect to others and it is a major part of what make us humans. When we let one attachment go, we always clear the way for another attachment, hopefully a better one.
We hold on to an attachment because it is important for our survival. It is something we believe will either give us a feeling we want or help us get rid of a feeling we wish to avoid. For example: we can go shopping to feel good about having something new or we can go shopping to avoid feeling bad about failing an exam. Feeling good is a wonderful aim and attachments can give us exactly that.
The ultimate attachment is the attachment to life. When people are threatened, their desire to live is so strong and powerful that they will do everything they can, and some things they never thought they could, in order to survive.
The problem is that we sometimes have attachments to minor things and we treat them as if our life depends on them. This is a major problem in relationships and creates many conflicts. While in situations of life and death, no one will judge you for doing everything to stay a life, in an argument, conflict will start when one or two sides of the argument talk about their attachments as the “right” and “only” things.
The golden rule of deciding whether you need to let go of an attachment is to use your happiness scale. If you are unhappy about a situation, there is always a belief, thought, attitude or behavior you are attached to that you need to let go. Simple!
To find out what you need to let go, first you need to find out things that you are not happy with.
- Make a list of 100 things in your life that you are not happy with. Write things like “I am not happy with my weight (relationship, work, friends, social life, health, etc)”
- Next to each statement, write why you are not happy with it. Write things like “I want to weigh 5kg less and every time I look in the mirror (or put my pants on), it reminds me that I am not at my ideal weight”. Often, the attachment is the expectation that things will to be different
- Find the belief, thought, attitude or behavior that makes you unhappy with each of the items on your list. Write things like “I feel heavy”, “I don’t look good”, “I can’t show myself in public”, “I don’t like how people must see me”, “I have to have chocolate”, “I’m always hungry” and “I eat to make myself feel better”
- Now, think which one of those thoughts is not 100% true, does not happen 100% of the time or is not so bad. For example, do you always think you are heavy? Are there times when you do not think of being heavy? Is it true that you never look good or do you look good sometimes? Can you duplicate those times? Is it true that you cannot show yourself in public? What is the worst thing that can happen if you show yourself in public weighing 5 more kilos? Are all those who weigh 5kg extra afraid to show themselves in public? Do they all need to be ashamed of themselves? Remember, if you can find one example that breaks the rule and you survive that example, it is proof you can survive and that nothing will happen to you if you let your attachment go
- Rewrite the beliefs, thoughts, attitude and behaviors on your list to reflect that you are the cause of your pain, unhappiness, disappointment, anger or grief and try to find a positive way of saying them. It is very important to focus on what you want in life and what you want to avoid. In life, we get what we focus on. Write things like “I would rather weigh 5kg less”, “I want to feel light and look great when I am slim”, “Inside, I’m the same person and my best friends are with me for who I am, not for how I look”, “I can eat chocolate in moderation”, “Sometimes, when I feel hungry, it is actually thirst” and “I can meet some friends, do sport, clean the house or do some art to be happy”
- Sometimes, adopting a positive way of thinking about your attachments is enough to make you feel better. If this is not enough, you can come up with alternative attachments. Make sure the alternatives are a bit more forgiving, more flexible or more empowering. These would be things like “I look better in my V-neck shirt”, “I can drink lots of water” and “I can make myself happy in many ways”
Join me next week for a list of attachments that are not very healthy to hold on to and that everyone would be happier and more successful if they only let them go.
This post is part of the series The Art of Letting Go:
- The Art of Letting Go: Attachments
- The Art of Letting Go: Fear
- The Art of Letting Go: Trapped by Labels
- The Art of Letting Go: Be Right or Be Kind
- The Art of Letting Go: Living up to Others’ Expectations
- The Art of Letting Go: Control
- The Art of Letting Go: Blame and Excuses
- The Art of Letting Go: Painful Past
- The Art of Letting Go: Negative Self-Talk
- The Art of Letting Go: Resistance to Change