A recurring theme in my life lately is the importance of letting go. From Marie Kon’s Tidying Up book about organizing your living space via a surprisingly simple method to the more holistic approach of the Minimalists movement, it seems getting rid of stuff is the new key to happiness. Yoga instructors too are very keen on this concept. My classes frequently begin with the instruction to “leave it on the mat” in order to have a better practice. Indeed, a few weeks into applying the KonMarie method on my house, I do feel calmer and excited about the promise of more joy as I declutter and reduce. It didn’t take long to ask myself where or what in my life, besides the material, could these concepts be applied to reduce stress and live a more meaningful life. Could I apply this to my career, my relationships, habits, or even (especially) outdated beliefs and opinions? Of course, these non-material items in our lives aren’t comparable to things. Getting rid of objects carries a relatively low risk – items can be easily replaced if we change our minds or decide we were too hasty in our purging. But walking away from a job or relationship and later regretting it isn’t as easy to fix. Though I certainly had some intangibles in my life I had considered walking away from, I felt that before I took any step, I owed it to myself to be sure letting go was the right thing.
I have learned that questions, if properly framed, can bring an awareness that ignites change. If you find yourself wondering whether it’s time to change jobs, end a friendship, or even rid yourself of long-held beliefs, your answers to the below questions will guide you to a decision:
- How is this serving me right now?
- Am I free to be authentic in this situation, or when I am with this person?
- Can I change or redefine the relationship/situation?
- What is hanging on to this costing me right now? or What opportunities could open up if I were to let this go?
How is this serving me right now?
The first question should be the easiest to answer as it involves the primary reason that you are in this to begin with. Even if this is a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal, it should still add value right now. This isn’t a selfish inquiry. It merely asks that you consider your motivations before you make a decision. When I first started my career, I took a job with a large firm where you were expected to learn independently at a very fast pace, work long hours, and perform well in an extremely stressful environment. Initially, this firm met my goal of moving up the ladder in my field as quickly as possible. But I was so intent on the end goal that I burned out quickly from the long hours and deadlines and ended up going to another job that was wrong for me and really took me off course. Looking back on that experience, I think I may have stayed at the firm if I had stopped to focus on the fact that I was getting invaluable exposure. Sometimes, there is no current benefit to staying or the negatives far outweigh any value.
I think this question is worth asking on a regular basis, especially if the current job or relationship is particularly stressful. If you have a hard time answering, you may want to consider an exit strategy.
Am I free to be authentic in this situation, or when I am with this person?
The second question is very powerful as it requires you to know yourself and what you require out of your relationships, career, etc. In other words, what makes you tick. Don’t underestimate the power of your intuition here. If you think about prior experiences, you will probably agree that our bodies often know when something is right or wrong before our mind does. Do you experience a vague but nagging feeling that something is not quite right when you interact with a particular person? Here is where we really need to pay attention. Just as physical discomfort serves as a warning that something may be wrong in our body, our mind send us signals such as irritability, restlessness, inability to concentrate or unjustified anger as a warning that something in our current situation may not be working for us. For me, this question is key. If the answer is no and you cannot answer yes to the next question, letting go would significantly improve the quality of your life.
Can I change or redefine the relationship/situation?
I like the next question because it puts you in control. Sometimes, when we don’t like a situation, we may feel a desire to walk away. But that’s different from consciously letting go. You may temporarily walk away from a situation that doesn’t feel right but never really take the steps required to get closure. This often leads to regret. A better approach is to take the time now to decide instead of putting it off. If there are some things that you like about your job or relationship, it may be as simple as taking inventory of the good and the bad aspects. With a realistic view on hand, it’s easier to decide whether you can do anything to change what you don’t like or simply choose to accept it. Sometimes, we simply don’t have a choice to walk away. For instance, we may be taking care of an ailing parent, need the current job to pay the bills, etc. Even a tiny shift in our perspective can make a big difference in how we deal with the difficulty of being unable to walk away.
Another reason I like this question is that, by going through this process, you may end up turning an undesirable situation or relationship into a positive, even beneficial one.
What is hanging on to this costing me right now? or: What opportunities could I be open to if let this go?
Sometimes, there are things that we don’t really want to let go but that we feel are keeping us from something else. We may keep them because they bring us comfort, enjoyment or we may even have formed an attachment. For the last ten years, I have been running on a regular basis. I love the convenience of walking out of my house and getting a great workout with little planning. I love the way running clears my head. It’s one of the first things I turn to whenever I don’t know what to do about something. And yet, over the last couple of years, my body has been rebelling against it. Nothing major, just minor injuries and pain here and there, but enough that I’ve taken notice. I decided to cut back on the miles and used the free time to explore other types of active hobbies that have brought me many benefits and enjoyment. I probably wouldn’t have tried them if I remained fixated on running.
This last question brings everything full circle. Just like listing the benefits of a current job or relationship, it is helpful to be aware of what is costing you to stay put. For example, the same job that provides you with a level of financial security could be creating unbearable stress which could cost you your health or your relationship with those closest to you. Continuing to spend your time, energy, and resources on a demanding and unappreciative client out of loyalty could be costing you the opportunity to attract a more valuable client. Similarly, staying in a relationship that is going nowhere out of fear that you may end up alone could cost you the chance to experience real love.
Whatever the outcome may be, going through this process on a regular basis is an important part of your personal growth and happiness.