Not many people know this. I have tattoos. Since my mum is very conservative when it comes to any kind of body decoration, my tattoos are subtle. I mean, imagine that: She didn't speak to me for a full week, when I got a I tiny beautiful, barely visible piercing through my tragus. So I chose both sides of my ribcage as a discreet spot for tattoos. That way, they're covered almost all the time. The first one is a Spanish saying in my mum's handwriting (she definitely couldn't say no to that!), the other one says 'Let go' in a simple hand-written font.
At the beach, I sometimes get asked by complete strangers, what 'Let go' means to me, that I got it as a tattoo. If the person seems genuinely interested and the situation doesn't feel awkward, I try my best to keep the answer informative but short. Boy, is this hard to answer. Simply because the story behind is long and deep and, although I'm all about opening up and being vulnerable, there's also a very real thing called 'oversharing'. Especially at the beach. With some coconut water in my hand. Talking to a total stranger, who I guess, is not prepared at all to hear all those details about me as an answer to his/ her innocent question.
However, here we are in a very different setting and it's up to you to decide, if you wanna read on and hear my story and opinion about 'letting go'. Why did I get this tattoo? Short answer: I got it in 2015 as a daily reminder of what it feels like to let go and to always let go of feelings, things and people in my life when necessary. Long answer: Read on. The reading time for the following post is about 30 minutes.
Chapter 1: To Let Go. What Does This Even Mean?
Apart from firing people, 'to let go' has some lively descriptions in the dictionary: Setting things free, allowing something to escape, releasing one's grip from something/someone, stopping to be angry about an event that happened in the past. All those descriptions have two things in common, that I like in particular: 1) They sound positive. 2) You have to actively do something. That means, that you're in charge, you're in control, you get to make the decision, you play an active role in your life. That's why 'to let go' is such a powerful and empowering expression in my opinion, very similar to 'to move on'.
In comparison, when you 'lose' something, the outcome might be the same as to let it go. This thing or person is not in your life anymore. However, 'loss' not only implies that the thing or person belonged to you in the first place (which at least for a person cannot be true), it also puts you in a passive role. You're forced into a situation where stuff simply happens to you. But through a mind shift and reframing to 'let go', all of a sudden, you're the active part in the story. You can free yourself and, despite the same outcome, you're in a very different position. You actively gained control over your life. You're self-determined.
Sure, this concept cannot be applied to every situation in life. Sometimes, you simply lose something and there's nothing you can do about it. Yet, when it comes to losing a person, it also helps to change the perspective: We all will eventually leave this world one way or the other. Imagine, how much more we can treasure the moments we're able to share with our loved ones, if we remind ourselves from time to time that nothing is permanent? That we were simply granted an amount of time with this person, but that it'll eventually come to an end? I'll talk a little bit more about how I deal with grief later in this post. Maybe you'll find my approach useful.
Chapter 2: What Can You Let Go of?
The way I see it, there are three main categories in life, you can let go, so you feel happier in the long-term. These are:
Thoughts, Feelings & Emotional Situations
- Any kind of emotional baggage, especially the kind that you're dragging around with you for a long time.
- Any kind of memory, that makes you angry, sad, is negative, or makes you feel bad.
- Anxiety for any potentially negative outcome lying in the future.
- Worries about the future.
- Anxiety due to negative events in the past.
- Worries about the past.
- Sadness because of the loss of something or someone.
- Grief for the death of a loved one.
- Unresolvable conflicts.
- Conflicts, you actively avoid.
- In brief: Any kind of need to control a situation's outcome or external circumstances, that you cannot control.
- Any kind of negative competitive pressure e.g. in hobbies, sports, or contests.
- Social pressure regarding career choices.
- Unhealthy attachment towards work.
- Anxiety due to e.g. unrealistic work projects or a toxic working environment.
- The need to fit in/ peer pressure.
- Unnecessary belongings.
- Possessions, that drag you down.
- Materialistic things to impress others, for social status and/or compensation of feeling inferior to others.
- Anything, that brings sad/ bad/ depressing memories back.
- Family members e.g. parent-kid relationship. Most of us leave our parents' house at one point. Once kids grow up they have to leave the nest, so they can pursue their own life.
- Failed love relationships.
- Failed friendships.
- Any kind of toxic people e.g.: People that...
- let you down constantly.
- don't want the best for you.
- influence you negatively.
- don't inspire or motivate you.
- treat you shitty.
- take advantage of you.
- drag you down.
I feel, that certain persons often come into our life to fulfill a certain task. Maybe they teach us a specific lesson, show us a glimpse of our potential, serve as a negative example or get us to leave our comfort zone. Whatever it is, it doesn't mean, they will or even should always be a part of our life. When you start to accept this and can be grateful for whatever their task in your life was, you can let them go eventually.
Chapter 3: Why Should You Let Something or Someone Go?
Do you know the Serenity Prayer by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr? Here's one well-known version:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Niebuhr first published it around 1936, but its roots are found about 2000 years earlier in the writings of a stoic slave/ philosopher named Epictetus:
Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions - in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our own doing.
I find Stoicism really interesting and will go into further detail later in this post. Many other thought-leaders have expressed similar beliefs as Niebuhr and Epictetus throughout the centuries. Twelve-step-recovery programs even use the serenity prayer in a slightly shorter version.
Why it is Important to Recognize the Difference
So why should you let go? To become or remain a calm and happy person. Recognize, whenever you don't have control over a situation's outcome or external circumstances. Then act accordingly. The only thing you can control are your thoughts, feelings and actions. You cannot control, how others feel in general. You cannot control how others feel about you. Do they like you or not? That's only their decision. You're not in control of another person's well-being/ health. You're not in control of other people's actions. You're not in control of the past nor the future. You're not in control of the weather by the way (climate change set aside, that we can control). You're not in control of anything else but your thoughts, feelings and actions. So you might as well let everything else go. Acknowledge that feeling of freeing yourself and all of a sudden you'll feel relieved and liberated.
For me, that's the most positive outcome of letting go of anything. To free myself of something, that's weighing me down. Something has a negative impact on my life and I suffer, it is a burden to me or can't be controlled by me - I recognize that and am willing to say bye-bye to it. And you can do that, too. Letting go is a form of surrender. As a result, we feel liberated, we feel lighter, we can have a fresh start, we feel better and happier. We're able to finally take a deep breath and move forward. We're able to concentrate on ourselves and on what is important to us. We can try to be a better version of ourselves. Self-care and self-love come in a variety of forms, this is one of them.
Possessions vs. Happiness
No matter which one of the three categories above is the one at fault, we can take control, take the helm and let go. For example, to comply with our materialist culture doesn't lead to happiness. We might think it does, but deep down we know, that buying more and more shiny objects won't fill the void within us. We know, that meeting societal expectations is not important at all and evaluating our well-being/ success/ achievements by our rank in the social hierarchy won't truly fulfill us. The more (especially unnecessary) stuff we possess, the more it is potentially holding us back and making us feel trapped, like a captive, in a gilded cage. We're immobile, sometimes even feeling like we're drowning.
What matters is simple: Being your true self, being surrounded by loved ones, finding your purpose and living up to it, health, kindness, gratitude, compassion, generosity, happiness and choosing love. None can be bought and we're all worthy of 'em despite our imperfections. We simply need to show up every day and be ready to put a lot of work into our mindful transformation.
How Ancient Philosophies Can Help Us
Some great advice on how to live a good and happy life has been written down a really long time ago by Stoic philosophers as mentioned earlier. That was literally in ancient times. Stoicism as well as Epicureanism and other ancient philosophies are being revisited in our modern times and becoming increasingly popular again. Despite being different schools of thought, Stoicism and Epicureanism share very similar beliefs regarding happiness. According to their principles, the simpler a life and the less belongings a person amasses, the happier the person could be. If the person rids his/ herself of possessions that drags him/ her down, the easier this person might find pleasure in the little things in life and the more time he/ she would be able to spend with things that really matter. Personal development, family, friendships.
Already back then, wise men like philosophers Seneca or Epicurus recognized and wrote down, that not everything, that society tells us to be or to attain [insert certain career paths/ status symbols/ personal image/ you-name-it...], is what really matters in life. Although I don't agree with all Stoic or Epicurean ideas and principles, I share the belief that a simpler life in terms of possessions often leads to a much happier existence. If you're interested further in Stoic principles, check out Tim Ferriss' Blog. He did a beautiful job in creating three books, called 'The Tao of Seneca'. There you'll find Senecas' letters, he wrote to one of his disciples named Lucillius explaining his thoughts on Stoicism. They're full of everyday wisdom and can be downloaded for free. Another great source is the website 'Daily Stoic'.
Chapter 4: How to Let Go - Advice I Wish I Had Had Earlier in Life
The next few paragraphs are about my personal journey. If that much detail about my personal life doesn't interest you - don't worry, I'm not offended 🙂 Jump ahead to the practical advice section, just scroll down to '5. How to Let Go - Ideas & Simple Techniques'.
My (Short) Story Pt. 1 - Leaps of Faith
"Let go. Of the past. Of people. Of belongings. Free yourself of any mental and physical burden to truly appreciate the wonderful moments that life offers you." This was my facebook status mid of 2015, when I finally sold all my stuff, cleared my apartment and moved abroad for good.
That was the 2nd time in my life, I made a leap of faith. The 1st time in 2011, I quit my job without having anything else in the pipeline. This might sound stupid to some people. However, I had planned that step for a long time: I had saved some money, so I could survive for a few months without starving. My job at the time was horrible, my boss hated me from the bottom of his heart, and I felt stuck and depressed. So I applied for different jobs and for a variety of Master degrees. I got a job offer that would have paid less than I was earning at the time, said no to it, and a few weeks later, I got into my 2nd choice Master's program. Some leaps of faith do pay out.
When I left Germany in 2014 to live abroad, I was in a similar situation as described above. That leap of faith was even a bit scarier than the first one. This is why: A few weeks after my Master's graduation, I got an interesting job offer. But: This job was 6,000 km away and only for a temporary position. It wasn't sure, if I could stay longer and I was skeptical, if I would even like to work in this new cultural environment. So I decided to keep my apartment as a backup. Fast forward and I had worked abroad for a good 10 months and was still paying rent to my German landlord. I loved my job and the foreign country, the culture was exciting... The only bad thing was that the company I was working for made a habit of extending my contract only for a few months, despite being happy with my work performance.
Traveling back and forth every couple of weeks was exhausting and it turned out to be difficult to manage an apartment from afar. So I finally sat down with my manager to discuss my further development, the problems I was facing and how I felt used. The company agreed then to extent my contract for an additional year. Overjoyed, I went back to Germany to finally get rid of all my possessions and quit my apartment while waiting for my job contract to be renewed. I didn't have a written confirmation, only promises, although I had given notice to my landlord and my lease was about to end. Nonetheless, I was really determined to leave Germany behind and start a new chapter abroad. I even thought of finding another job, if the current one wouldn't work out. The urge of leaving everything behind to begin a new phase in my life was stronger than anything else.
My (Short) Story Pt. 2 - Clearing out My Apartment
Here's what I did then: I went through all my possessions and discovered, that I owned a whole lot of useless stuff. The first thing, I cleared out, was my wardrobe. I made three piles.
1) To keep
2) To give away/ to sell
3) To throw out.
I'm not gonna lie, that was really hard. Especially when it came to shoes. I owned around 100 pairs of high heels. And probably around 25 pairs of chucks. In the end, most of my clothing and accessories had found a new home, either because I sold it, gave it to friends or donated it. That was the process I followed to get rid of the majority of my belongings.
All furniture, clothing, electronics, kitchen supplies, a ton of blu-rays, even my plants. Whenever I couldn't sell something in the short timeframe I had been given leave (about 2 weeks), I simply gave it away for free or donated it. The one thing, that hurt the most, was to sell my piano. I don't regret selling it, especially because the guy who bought it was so happy to finally be able to learn how to play the piano on a real piano. His joy made me happy as well. Still, I miss playing it. Things, that I kept - for example all the books I ever possessed (even my children books) - went to a storage compartment.
Everything is still there. I usually go there once a year to check it or to get something I need. It's a tiny room filled up to the ceiling with boxes full of books. One of my dreams is to have a small library room someday in the future. Books really are the only things I can't get rid of.
My (Short) Story Pt. 3 - Finding Distance to Certain People
So much for the materialistic part that I let go. Now to the people. Moving away helped me tremendously to distance myself emotionally from certain persons and situations. These people include my ex-boyfriend, although we separated on friendly terms earlier that year. I was heartbroken nonetheless. Regional distance was great to get over that heartbreak. I wasn't forced to see him every day and my wounds could heal uninterrupted. Distance lets you have a clear and objective view at the situation. Everything can be evaluated as it really is without having one's emotions getting in the way. There's zero possibilities for sugarcoating.
My parents got divorced three years prior to my relocation. I was 25 and although it was definitely for the best, I was hurting. This is one of the situations where moving abroad helped me to leave a situation behind, that had nothing to do with me directly, but still affected me big time. If you're parents got divorced as well and it didn't happen in a friendly way, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
The third kind of people I distanced myself from, were toxic people, that I was struggling to exclude from my life prior to moving away. Living abroad is a surprisingly good filter. Additionally to finally getting rid of the wrong people in your life, friends from who you grew apart, will no longer be in your life. All of a sudden questions pop up: Do you feel good about that? Are you maybe even relieved about not having to talk to them ever again? Or do you want to rekindle your friendship but make it a more meaningful one?
My (Short) Story Pt. 4 - Every End Is Also The Beginning of Something New & Exciting
After two very stressful and hectic weeks, I sat on the floor of my empty apartment and cried. It was a healthy kind of crying and felt very liberating. Memories of the six years I lived in that apartment started appearing before my inner eye and despite my sobbing I had to smile. Those memories would be mine forever. It was the first apartment where I lived by myself. I did spend most of my 20's there. Everything I experienced then was important and meaningful and shaped me into the woman I'm now. I also felt that it was good to move on. I had grown out of my apartment and of the life I was living there.
I felt stuck, my life was one big routine, there were no challenges, and although I still love the city I lived in, it annoyed the hell out of me, that everyone knew everyone and so many people were spreading their latest gossip. In summary, I wanted and needed to move on from a lot of different things and was happy to leave that phase of my life behind. It was time to embark on a new adventure, to leave my comfort zone and take that leap of faith.
Chapter 5: How to Let Go - Ideas & Simple Techniques
How to Let Go of: Thoughts, Feelings & Emotional Situations - Category #1
Idea #1: Write Stuff Down - Freestyle
Yeah, I know, sounds too easy to be true. But I swear, writing is the major thing, that helped me to keep my sanity since I was 12 years old. That's when I started writing a diary. I don't write every day anymore. Most of the times, I write when something is bothering me or when I'm annoyed or need to figure something out. To simply dump all my thoughts onto a piece of paper or into an electronic file helps me to clear my brain and to structure my mind. Even if I don't ever read again, what I just wrote down, I feel instantly relieved. So: Try writing. It is such a powerful - if not THE most powerful - way to process thoughts and feelings. It helps so much to find sense even in the biggest emotional mess.
If you're not used to write, start small. Write for 5 minutes straight. Don't stop. Don't edit yourself. Allow yourself and your mind to pour any thought out. Doesn't have to make sense. Just let it flow. Make it a daily routine. Next week, try 10 minutes and so on. Make it a habit in the morning. Right after your breakfast, sit down with a designated notebook or your laptop and make time for yourself. After a few days, your notebook and pen will be really good companions. If you're writing about sensitive stuff and don't live alone, you definitely want to find a space, where you can hide such a personal item.
Honestly, there are no rules, there's no right or wrong on how to write down feelings and thoughts. Some people prefer creating lists and only write in bullet points. Others are a bit more creative and like to draw little cartoons. I prefer writing really long texts. The more pages the better. My older diaries are filled with tears. There's a lot of pain, fear, anger and depressing stuff in there. Sometimes, I started sobbing uncontrollably while writing. Although, I was sad and hurting in that moment, it felt good to let it all out. It was definitely better to process my pain like that than bottling up all my feelings. Give writing a try, I'm sure you won't regret it.
Idea #2: Write Stuff Down - Strategically
Make a list. Which area in life is dragging you down (the most) at the moment? Why is that? Think of 3 solutions, of 3 things you could do, to change your situation. Pick the most reasonable, positive and realistic one. Start writing down all the steps you need to take to implement that solution. Make a timeline and put all the steps in your calendar. Tell someone you trust about your plan and ask him/her to hold you accountable. Follow through with it. Be each day a little happier.
Idea #3: Write Stuff Down - And Burn it
I find fire fascinating. Honestly, I could spend hours in front of a bonfire just observing it. Fire has such a clearing and renewing quality, very catharsis like. It destroys and at the same time makes space for new things. Therefore try this: Write down anything, that you want to let go. It can be a specific word or a long text - whatever you like. Take that slip of paper and burn it. It's a great experience and can serve you almost as a ritual for a fresh start. Please make sure though to burn it in a safe environment, I really don't want you to burn down your place accidentally. Maybe you have a fireplace? If not, better be safe then sorry: I suggest to go outside your house (maybe your backyard?) and to have your small bonfire on a non-flammable underground.
Idea #4: How to Cope with Loss, Death & Grieving
The loss of a loved one is devastating. But does it have to be? Illusionist Derren Brown wrote a whole chapter about death in his book 'Happy - Why more or less everything is absolutely fine'. I listened to the audiobook version and found his thoughts about how death is linked to our cultural background and how it can be an empowering and life affirming experience very compelling (for example the 'Dia de los muertos' festivities in Mexico). My personal approach to deal with loss is linked to gratitude and happiness. Apart from allowing myself to be heartbroken and to grieve, I try to remember any happy moments and experiences I was able to share with that person. Being grateful for that and treasuring those memories helps me to cope with grief.
Sitting together with friends and family and sharing the stories, highlighting positive and funny sides of the person preserves the spirit of the deceased to some point. The positive effects and influence that person had on our lives live on through us. Irvin Yalom calls it 'The Rippling Effect' in his book 'Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death'.
[It] refers to the fact that each of us creates - often without our conscious intent or knowledge - concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even generations. That is, the effect we have on other people is in turn passed on to others, much as the ripples in a pond go on and on until they're no longer visible but continuing at a nano level.
We can honor the deceased by fulfilling their wishes and try to find solace through those actions as well. For example scattering their ashes into the sea. Others want to be buried quite traditionally on a cemetery. The video 'When I die - Lessons from the Death Zone' is a short film about a terminally ill man, who talks about the final stage of his life. He owned his upcoming death in a way, that felt very empowering (up to choosing the exact spot at the cemetery he wanted to be buried). It's about 9 minutes long and watching it had a very humbling effect on me.
I personally do believe in spirits and souls (unlike Derren Brown) and am convinced, that their energy often is by our side, when we need them the most. In those moments we 'feel less alone'. We 'feel as if someone's there to hold and comfort us'. A beautiful book about such experiences is Paulo Coelho's 'The Valkyries'. It's about the energy - let's call it a guardian angel - that protects us, and although we cannot see that energy, we sometimes feel its presence - close to us or within other people.
Ultimately, we all will die at some point. How does that help to deal with death? Thinking about our own demise from time to time and contemplating it, helps us to prioritize what's important in our life and what isn't, which in turn supports our decisions to finally let go of whatever you need to in order to be happy.
Idea #5: How to Resolve Conflicts
I don't like conflicts (who does?), but I like it even less to have unresolved conflicts with someone dear to me. What do I do, if I'm in such a situation? We talk to each other. Communication is key (probably the one thing, I tell those around me, the most). So here's a step-by-step guide of how I usually face and solve conflicts:
- First write down what you want to talk about, a rough outline with specific points should be sufficient.
- Practice the conversation a few times with yourself. The actual conversation then usually gets less intimidating than you might imagine.
- Then call your friend/ brother/ sister/ partner/ parents/ etc.
- Best meet up in person in a neutral environment. Take a walk or find a calm coffeeshop, where you'll be undisturbed.
- Talk through your points and also listen to your friend's view. This isn't easy. Try to not get emotionally charged, don't be judgmental and keep the conversation on a productive level. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding?
- Repeat as often as needed. Especially deeper rooted conflicts won't be solved right away.
- Hopefully the conversations take you to a point, where you can either continue your friendship/relationship or find a dignified manner to part ways.
Depending on the conflict and on the relationship to the other person, it might even make sense to have a neutral person present to mediate and to support the communication. Couples therapy can be a good way to process and resolve conflicts. Having a professional steer the conversation and ask the right questions creates a safe space to express oneself.
Find compromises. This works well if the conflict is less serious. You're over 30 and for sure a grown-up but your parents treat you like you're still a toddler. There's one friend who always rings your doorbell, because 'I've just passed by to say hi' but you hate unexpected visitors. Boundaries are important. Saying no to things that feel wrong is completely fine. And sometimes working out what's bothering each party is the key to success. Parents love it, when they hear something from their precious kids on a regular basis. They usually only start calling a million times, if you go cold turkey on them. Call once a week, send pictures via whatsapp every other day. And set boundaries. Tell your friend in a kind way, that right now is not a good time for you and that you don't like unexpected visitors in general. How about having (scheduled) coffee next week?
If the person is not available or you don't want to face him or her for whatever reason, don't force yourself. You can try to resolve the conflict nonetheless. One possibility is visiting a therapist for talk therapy. This is what I did for almost a year. I felt so much relieve through talking to a neutral person, who helped to connect some dots I haven't even seen before. In the end I was able to reframe the negative story I kept telling myself (not being worthy, not being good enough, etc.). My therapist really helped me to empower positive emotions and to disempower the negative ones. She also taught me that it is conscious decision making to be positive even in situations that feel anything but.
Forgiveness is another technique to resolve conflict. Again, the person doesn't need to be present for this. Allow yourself to internalize the feeling of having forgiven someone. This process takes time. Write down what you'd like to tell the person and say it out loud then. For example: "I forgive you, [insert name] for having done XYZ to me. I'm no longer angry at you." Repeat this daily for at least a few weeks, a few months would be even better. You'll feel less angry and maybe even at peace after a while.
Pray for the other person. You don't need to be religious to pray. Simply pray to the universe, if you want to. Praying is an internal dialogue with a power greater than us, nothing else. What that power is or if it really exists... Who knows. The important part is that thoughts form and shape our mind and therefore the person we are. Through praying we become more grateful, kinder and more compassionate. Pray daily either in the morning or evening and you'll see a mind shift occurring after some time. Again, there are no rules, no right or wrong way of praying. Write down a short script of what you want to say and read it aloud or to yourself. Over time, you'll feel less angry and might even find closure.
Idea #6: What About Social Pressure?
Hobbies should be fun. They shouldn't be accompanied by negative feelings or even anxiety. When I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to try different hobbies until I found things, I really liked. The only condition my parents had was that I had to try something for at least 8 weeks and if I wouldn't like it by then, I could quit.
I played tennis on a very competitive level. To be honest, competitions were never my favorite part. But they helped me to prepare my younger self for the real 'grown-up' world. It's healthy to learn as a kid that you cannot always win. Life doesn't work that way. When I finally understood that the real person I was competing against was a previous version of myself, everything changed. This was the mind shift that helped me to get rid of a lot of the negative aspects I had connected to competitions of any kind. I could let go of those negative feelings. I was (and am) not competing to prove to others, family, friends, competitors what I'm capable of doing. I'm competing to show to myself how much I practiced and improved.
I'm really really grateful to my parents, that they never tried living some lost childhood dream through me. I enjoyed my hobbies (other sports and music) and developed a certain competitive edge. My parents would never push me though. I excelled on my own in some areas, and in others I didn't. And that was fine. I was good enough to enjoy those hobbies.
Meditation or breathing techniques like the alternate nostril breath technique prior to competing can help to calm ourselves down. A certain amount of adrenalin and positive energy is helpful right before competitions in order to excel, but as soon as you notice any negative energy or even an anxiety attack, don't force yourself. Don't do anything that could be harmful to your mind or body. This is not failing or disappointing others, this is listening to yourself and to your needs. Know your body and your mind. If you feel too much pressure towards a certain hobby, maybe it's time to let it go. Seeing a therapist is a great possibility, especially if you love your hobby and want to get rid of the negativity surrounding it.
The thing about hobbies is that certain patterns can be found again in our professional life. Especially the competitiveness. Some people even choose their hobbies as their professional career. The above mentioned ideas can also be used in professional surroundings. Depending on whether you feel pressured into making certain career choices by your family or peers or whether there's an unrealistic project to be tackled... Or maybe you feel the urge of needing to fit into an environment although deep down you know this isn't the right place for you. Any of the above mentioned techniques might be helpful for you to let go. I know I'm repeating myself: Please bear in mind this is a process. It doesn't happen over night or within an hour. It's a mind shift and takes time.
Idea #7: The Internal Monologue
Whenever you're feeling bad, mad or sad, talk to yourself and ask the following questions:
1) I'm responsible for how I feel about external events, what am I doing to give myself this feeling?
2) Is this thing that's upsetting me under my control?
3) If not, let go and decide that it's fine.
4) How you feel about a certain thing is under your control. This thought can release and relieve you.
How To Let Go of: Materialistic Stuff - Category #2
Possessions can drag us down. Especially the bigger ones. We're responsible for them, we need to pay for them, to maintain them, to take care of them. This is as true for furniture as it is for cars, our homes, everything in it and even more indulgent things like private yachts or planes.
Why do we buy stuff, what's our intention behind? Do we feel pressured into it so we belong to a certain social circle? Or do we think that the next pair of shoes (and the matching handbag) will certainly make us happy? Are we car or watch aficionados and true fans of the craft?
All are different motives for buying the product we think, we need to have to be happy (and one indeed plays a part in contributing to our overall wellbeing). However, the urge to fit in and the need to fill an inner void are both bad advisers. Once we possess the item in question, we never feel as happy as we imagined prior to our purchase. And just after a short amount of time, we get used to it, don't see it as something special anymore and crave the next 'high'. And before we realize it, our homes are cluttered with stuff, we don't need, forcing us to clean them, take care of them and making our lives more complicated (and more expensive). One exception: I do believe, that if someone is a true fan of a certain craft, they appreciate their purchase even after years have passed.
Tip #1: Before You Buy Stuff
I don't want us to not buy things at all. What I want is to encourage a rational check and having an honest inner conversation before buying:
- Is this something, I really need?
- Am I in this shop out of boredom?
- Do I want this item, because XYZ also has it? Or do I want it to show off? Do I want it to feel better about myself?
- Do I own this already only in different colors or a similar style (e.g. clothes, accessories...)?
- If I own this already and it's still working flawlessly (e.g. smartphone, laptop...), why do I want to buy the latest model? Will it improve my life significantly?
- Is it a convenience product? Could I maybe create it myself/ with a friend and have fun doing a DIY project?
- Is this something, that will make my life easier or more complicated?
An example for a purchase that would have made my life more complicated: While living in Germany, I lived in the city centre of Stuttgart. One day the question popped up, if I should get a car. But after thoroughly thinking about it, I decided to save that money. Why? Living in the city centre meant almost no parking spots (for sure no dedicated one), being stuck in traffic a lot and paying for parking meters (or fines). On top of that, I could easily walk almost everywhere or use the excellent public transportation system. If I really needed a car, there were different car sharing options, giving me a great deal of flexibility. In the end, I also saved a whole bunch of money for things like servicing the car, tire changing or fixing any defects.
But maybe you live on the countryside without any access to subways or buses? Then the same thing, that would have made my life more complicated, makes your life easier. It always depends on the circumstances.
Tip #2: Declutter Your Home
Apart from checking in with ourselves before buying anything, taking inventory of all the things we call our own from time to time (I do this at least once a year) helps to have an uncluttered home and life. As I already described above, how I cleaned out my apartment before moving abroad, I won't get into too much detail now. Here's a recap of my process and a few ideas how you can get rid of things:
I always have three categories. 1) To keep 2) To give away/ to sell 3) To throw out.
- Where to sell things: Ebay classified ads, craigslist, trade-in online platforms, flea market, yard sale, bulletin boards (at school, uni, work, gym...), friends, family, social media posts and groups, online forums...
- Where to donate things: Local charities, local church or other religious congregation, Red Cross, children's home, home for the elderly, hospitals, soup kitchens, women's shelter...
- Where to throw out things: Please make sure, you recycle your trash responsibly at a dedicated depot, especially electronic devices. Some companies even offer buyback options when you buy a new device.
The only items I exclude are those with enormous emotional value for me like childhood memories, photo albums and heirloom. Call me sentimental 🙂
Tip #3: Further Resources to Use
The book 'The life-changing magic of tidying up' by Marie Kondo is an excellent source of information about how to declutter and organize ones home. Her approach is different of what you usually read about that topic and is based on Japanese values. She advises to follow her system of 5 main categories, which are the following:
- Personal papers
- Miscellaneous small items
- Sentimental items
So instead of tidying up room by room, you declutter each category, which again is divided into subcategories. An example for clothing: That's divided into 'dresses', 'tops', 'pants', 'underwear', 'shoes' and so on. You can learn more about her bestselling book and her method, called KonMari, on her site.
Another practical modern-day example of the 'Less is more' approach I've encountered is a duo called 'The Minimalists'. I first stumbled upon them on Netflix, when I watched their documentary about Minimalism (about 1.5h long). It definitely is an interesting life concept worth exploring. Those two are the masters of letting kind of everything go. Start best by reading their intro blog post, and if you're intrigued, they published a whole lot of essays on how to use minimalism in all areas of life on their blog.
How To Let Go of: People - Category #3
Sometimes, there are people in your life, that either passively block your personal growth or actively seek to hold you back and keep you small. These people don't have your best interest at heart and should not be part of your life going forward. Especially toxic people should be eliminated from your close knit circle as soon as you can. People cross your path and some join you on your journey for a while. Part of growing up is to meet different characters and to learn to decide, who should be close to you and who shouldn't.
I had a whole bunch of weird and sometimes toxic people around me, some of who I called 'friends' or even 'family'. It took time, a few profound disappointments and often distance to figure out, who really was a friend and who wasn't. Nowadays, my friends and family fill my life with kindness, positive inspiration, and emotional support when needed. Although we all live in different parts of the world, we continue being there for each other. How did I finally manage to get rid of negative influences and toxic vibes? Here are the steps, I took:
Step #1 - Evaluation
Blood is thicker than water. I don't think so. Although my mum is from a Latin-American country, where family is everything, she even doesn't think so. And my mum's almost always right 😉 So please feel free to include toxic family members in the following evaluation. Answer the questions as honest as possible and take your time doing so.
- Does this person have a positive influence on you?
- Does this person enrich your life?
- Was this person a positive influence in your life but isn't anymore?
- Is this something, that can be changed, or did this person fulfill his/ her task in your life?
- Can you let go of this person without having a bad conscience or without feeling guilty?
- Do you hang out with this person out of habit or because you have no other options?
- How can you exclude this person from your life, if he/ she has a negative influence on you?
To structure your thoughts, I recommend writing. See "Chapter 5. Idea #1 - #3" above on how to start a writing habit and what kind of writing can be helpful. Another good way to structure your thoughts is to talk with someone about your problem. This person should meet certain criteria:
a) Can he/ she be neutral? Or is that person too close to me or the other person to be objective? Often the stranger at a kitchen party or your therapist are the best people to talk to, as they either don't know you or have a professional view. Also you don't tend to play a role with people you don't know and probably won't see ever again. That helps to be yourself and to be honest. One of the best conversations I ever had in life, was with a woman, I've never seen before and haven't met again so far. She was the friend of a friend and we spoke for hours while having casual dinner with our friends, sitting outside on a street corner during a mild summer night in the city center of Frankfurt. So random and deep at the same time.
b) Check in with yourself: Do I only wanna talk and somebody to listen to me? Or do I wanna hear the opinion and maybe even the advice of someone? If you only have the urge to talk, how about you record yourself and listen to it afterwards? Every smartphone nowadays has a recording function. It can be really insightful to listen to yourself. You could also talk to your pet (no joke). I spent hours talking to my late doberman. She often seemed to understand completely what I was going through, at least her expression and intelligent eyes said so.
c) If I decide to talk to someone, can this person keep that conversation to him-/ herself to avoid gossip and rumors?
Step #2 - Take Action
Now to the part, that probably nobody really likes: How to resolve the conflict or how to eliminate the person from your life. I only try to resolve the conflict, if the person is still important to me and if I want them in my life going forward. If you decide, that the relationships is worth to be saved, then follow my advice in "Chapter 5. Idea #5" above about resolving conflicts. Here are other strategies on how to exclude people from your life for good:
Option 1: Tell them wholeheartedly that you don't want them in your life anymore. Depending on your guts, you could do this personally face-to-face, via phone, via a letter or e-mail. Written communication helps each party to sort their thoughts, to read as often as needed, to understand and accept the situation. Don't do this via SMS. Never. It doesn't matter how much someone hurt you. If you decide to communicate, do it properly. I prefer the communication option vs. the ghosting option (see below), although those conversations can get nasty. Nonetheless, it helps you (and the other person) to get closure, it's easier to put an end to it, and the other person knows what's up and (hopefully) won't bother you in the future.
Option 2: Ignore the person and don't communicate aka ghost the person. Whenever he/ she reaches out, ignore it. My least favorite option. I recommend having the guts for an open confrontation. Ignoring someone can lead to super awkward situations especially if you and this person share the same friends or are within the same social circles. This only works well, if there's some regional distance or the city you live in is big enough for both of you. I've used that strategy a few times for people who turned out to be real psychos. Apart from that, ghosting someone isn't nice and you should think about how you wanna be treated by others before using that strategy. Yes, I believe in Karma no matter how shitty the other person is.
One important thing I learned about a person's character: It doesn't change. Or better put: You cannot change a person's character. Especially, if the person is a grown-up. People only change if they want to. And even then, it's not easy. But you can't change someone, you can't force them or try to convince them otherwise. Yes, the relationship to the person might improve if you change the surroundings. Let's say you move to another city or country and the relationship to your partner improves due to that (he/ she feels better, more accepted, less dependent etc.). The relationship is still the same. Superficially it might seem like there's an improvement. But the fundamental issues you and your partner had, are most likely still existing. One of my best friends has a great saying: 'Nina, I know exactly what this is! It's called cozy shit. It's cozy, which is why you don't wanna leave it behind - but it's shit nonetheless!". In the end, you'll still be unhappy in that relationship or that friendship.
Once you understand, that having this person or this situation in your life doesn't make any sense, you can start to let go. Get closure. Say goodbye. Grieve. And then look ahead. Each end is also the beginning of something new and exciting.
Thank you for reading. I really hope this extensive post was worth your time and that you find value in it. And as always, please share your feedback with me. What's your opinion about how to let go of anything that doesn't enrich your life?