Letting Go

One of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn in my adult life revolves around the idea of letting go of certain relationships, habits, and commitments in my life that I enjoyed but that were either not good for me or that were holding me back in some way. I think this is a process we all experience at some point or another, but not all of us are successful at letting go of that which no longer serves us in a positive or meaningful manner. Let’s face it, having to make peace with the fact that we may have to give up some of the people or things we enjoy most in order to do what we need to do for ourselves (whether that is so we can be emotionally or mentally healthier or so we can realize our goals and dreams) is hard, really hard…sometimes it feels darn near impossible.

In many ways the overall process of letting go of relationships, habits, and commitments that are no longer good for us is not all that much unlike when we try to change our diet by removing less healthy food choices or when we try to quit a bad habit. The underlying struggle is the pretty much the same. Those less healthy food choices and bad habits are often things we really enjoy, but they aren’t good for us and, usually, we know it…but they are hard to let go of. Logically and intellectually we know it is the right thing to do…this whole quitting the thing that is not good for us…but knowing and doing are two very different things.

And in my experience it appears that we go through several painful stages while trying to remove those relationships, habits, and commitments from our lives. And while we may not always go through every one of these stages and they may occur for each of us in a slightly different order, they are nonetheless stages that present themselves to us when we are working on letting go of someone or something in our lives.

  1. Recognition of what is unhealthy/not serving you – So often we don’t even see it…it may take someone else pointing it out to us or even having an “aha” moment before you realize that someone or something in your life is no longer good for you. Either way, you have to first see it in order to be able to address it.
  2. Denial – This is the “it isn’t that bad is it?” conversation with ourselves. And since we enjoy the people or things in question we can’t possibly imagine that there can be anything bad about those relationships.
  3. Breaking point – That point when you just can’t take any more and you are motivated to make a change…your tipping point. Now denial slips away, reality sets in and you can begin to see there might be a problem.
  4. Identify healthier replacements – It is important to replace some thing that is not good for you with another, better option. This helps prevent relapses and fills what would otherwise be a void in your life which can be even more unhealthy. Finding healthier options may not always be easy, but you can often look to trusted friends and mentors for help with ideas.
  5. Gradually replace the bad with the good (or at least the better) until you have removed the bad completely – It is often this slow and steady process that eventually yields the best results.
  6. In the case of relationships, there are often conversations that need to be had – Whether you have outgrown the relationship or it has become toxic to you in some way, you owe the people you need to let go of an explanation, especially if they have been in your life for a long time. It may be that you need to redefine your relationship with them or possibly even eliminate the relationship all together. Either way, you need to have that honest, upfront and frank conversation with them… it is the right thing to do, hard as it may be.
  7. Allow for slips – Remember this isn’t necessarily easy. Forgive yourself and be compassionate with yourself when you falter as you are trying to let go of the people and things in your life that are not good for you.
  8. Reflection – This helps you stay focused, assess your progress, motivate you, etc. Reflection is an important part of everything we do in life…and the process of letting go of people and things that are no longer good for you is no exception.

The best advice I can offer from my own experience is to stay focused on what is truly good for you. Often we sacrifice what is good for us to make others happy or to do what is expected of us. And while that can be very noble, it is not healthy for us and it certainly does not serve us, or the other people in our lives, well. And so, appreciate those people or things and the enjoyment they brought to your life, but let them go…release them…so you can be free, healthy and happy. Hard as it may be, there will come a day when you thank yourself for making that difficult choice and sticking to it.

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