One of the worst ways of spending your day is worrying about something. Whether it’s troubles with money, a fight with a loved one, feeling guilty for something, it doesn’t matter. As long as your mind fixates on worrying about a certain topic, it just ruins your entire day. You can’t focus on anything else and it eats away at you, and the only solution for that is something that’s much easier said than done: letting go.
Everyone tells you to “let it go” when you’re feeling stressed about something, but almost nobody tells you how to let it go, and it’s not easy at all. Usually you try for a few minutes and realize that, if you could, you would have a long time ago. With that in mind, my goal with this post is to explain how you can take those troubles out of your head and enjoy the rest of your day.
First, I’ll show you my formula for letting go and then I’ll explain every aspect of it. Ready? Here it goes.
- Can you do anything about what’s troubling you?
- Yes = Do it
- No = Accept that
I know it seems overly simplistic, but it’s a clear way of remembering the mindset you must have when faced with stressful situations. Let’s dive into it and figure out all the details.
Is There Anything You Can Do?
First of all, you can see that it’s very important to analyze whether you have any control over your troubles or not, because that will determine what you can do about them. If you’re stressed about the results of your job interview, then there’s nothing you can do about it but wait. If you’re feeling guilty because you didn’t work out the entire week, you can simply go to the gym and work out right now to mitigate that.
The problem is, most of the time, we don’t care whether we have control over our problems or not. We worry and worry as if it’s going to change anything, and then feel bad because it didn’t. When you stop and think about how much you can do in this situation, it starts to make that burden lighter because you start focusing on what you can do. You turn your attention to actions instead of feelings.
Once you ask yourself that question, your mindset changes. It puts you in a more logical and analytical position, which is what you need to counter that emotionally charged mindset of worrying about money or relationships, for example. With that said and done, let’s take a look at your options.
If Your Answer Is Yes
If there is something you can do about your situation, you need to figure out what it is. This will force you to accept that you either have to take action or deal with the fact that you put yourself in that position. If you can do something but won’t, you run out of excuses to keep worrying about it.
Let’s say you have a very important exam in a week and you’re feeling stressed. Can you do something about it? Yes, you can study. Now if you decide to study, you can stop feeling guilty or stressed because you are doing your part. Since all the rest isn’t in your control, your best bet is to understand that by doing your part you are giving yourself permission to not worry about it anymore. Feelings aren’t rational and chances are you’ll still feel stressed about it, but your best chance at mitigating that feeling is trying to be rational with yourself. We like to be consistent as human beings so if you show your mind that you’ve done what you could, it’ll be much easier to accept that there’s no need to worry.
However, if you can study but won’t, then you have to deal with that decision. Feeling guilty about it won’t change anything, and you’ve made your mind. In either case you need to get to a definitive answer so you can be at peace. Here you have to accept that you chose not to take action and that’s the end of the story. Put all of this in rational terms so you don’t let your emotions take over. You could do something but you won’t? Fine, then so be it. Accept that and realize that feeling guilty or worrying won’t change the fact that you won’t take action. If you know you won’t study until the night before the test, then accept that and forget about it until the day comes. If you find you can’t forget about it, then study. Whatever you choose, the only way you’ll be at peace is by giving closure to your worries. Do it or don’t, but put an end to it in your mind.
If Your Answer Is No
Now if you can’t do anything about it, it’s a very different story. When the answer was ‘yes’ you had control over certain aspects of your situation. In this case, you most likely feel powerless. It’s one thing to choose not to act and another entirely to not be able to act.
Going back to the exam situation, let’s say you took it and feel you didn’t do well. What can you do about it? Realistically, nothing. Your teacher will grade your exam and all you can do is wait for the results.
This is stressful because you fear the consequences of not doing well on your test, but you feel powerless because it’s too late to study more and you can’t retake it. The key is to understand that there’s nothing you can do, and worrying won’t change that. Although not being in control might seem like a burden, it can actually be your ticket to freedom.
Once you realize that there’s nothing you can do and that being stressed won’t change anything, the only option is letting go. If you’re able to make your mind see the rational side of it, it’ll be easier to realize that all you can do is forget about it until the results come in.
Now I know all of this is very difficult to achieve. Like I said at the beginning: easier said than done, right? But it’s still vital that we understand how this whole ‘letting go’ process should work. In order to help you actually achieve that, let’s take a look at some strategies that might help.
Strategies To Stop Worrying
Whenever we’re worried about something, it’s because we fear the consequences. There wouldn’t be a reason to be concerned with your exams if the grades didn’t stop you from passing the classes, and money wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t need it to survive. We focus on the problems that might arise and get anxious before anything even happens.
One way of easing that pain is by doing some smart thinking on these very consequences. We have a tendency to exaggerate what would happen if things went wrong, which is one of the reasons why we worry so much. When you look back, you’ll see most of your worries never came to be and were probably much more dramatic than what could have happened. This quote (usually attributed to Mark Twain) captures that feeling pretty well:
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Challenge your mind to give you concrete reasons to worry so much about everything, and you might just realize your worries might not be justified.
Now if your worries are justified, think about how big the consequences actually are. As I’ve said above, most of our fears are blown out of proportion. The best way to deal with that is by going through what would be the worst case scenario, how you would get out of it, and what is most likely to happen.
The point here is that we always find a way out, so if you force yourself to actually go through how bad the worst case scenario would be and how you would overcome it, your mind is getting used to the idea that no matter what happens, you can turn this around. It’s also a way of showing you that the consequences are usually much smaller than we make them out to be. Didn’t get the mark you needed to pass a subject in high school? You’ll do it next year; it doesn’t matter at all in the big scheme of things. Lost your life savings in an economic crash? Of course that’s much much worse, but you know you’ll survive this. There’s always a graver situation that’s been overcome before. You know you’ll find a way no matter what happens.
Letting go is about determining whether you can do something or not, and then acting on that information. It’s also about realizing that our problems are much more manageable than we tend to realize. In the end, people who are at peace and comfortable with letting go understand that 90% of what we worry about doesn’t matter in the slightest. Once we focus on what is truly important, it becomes harder and harder to care about all the small annoyances of life.
Nice article! I love this logical approach to letting go of things – it just doesn’t sound very problematic when you put it like that!
I think the problem is that, deep down, we tend to hate having to take responsibility for things, and facing these problems head on requires us to take full responsibility for our own actions.
It is much easier to just look the other way and let our problems eat away at us indefinitely!
Yeah… agreed. If we don’t take any action against the problems that we can actually take action against, then they’re never going to go away… that’s why I love the simplicity of Julien’s approach.
That’s definitely a great point, Mathias.
Taking responsibility and facing problems head on does require a certain degree of motivation and initiative. I agree that this is probably one of the main reasons why it’s so hard to look at the logical part of letting go.
I also really like the way you touched on a key issue: we think we can “let go” by not dealing with our problems while they keep eating away at us, which means we haven’t let go. If we would just face them and get it over with, we’d be actually letting go because our problems would have been dealt with for good. It’s a great way of making ourselves realize we have to face our problems if we truly want to let go!
Good article. I feel like it coming down to the fact that worrying doesn’t solve any yet most of the time we can’t get past that point. If the problem is out of your hands, then stop worrying because you can’t do anything in the first place. If you can, do something about it!
Yep! If you can do something about it, then quit complaining or worrying and just change something ;D
It’s funny how the formula is so simple in theory, but hard to apply in practice. I think once we start realizing how much relief we would get by actually trying to apply the formula, it becomes easier to go ahead and just do it.
I needed to hear this. I have been struggling to let go of some things and people recently so I wanna thank you for this well-written and motivational post.
Love it… I hope all goes well for you Luna
Thank you for your kind words, Luna!
I’m very glad this post helped you in some way, and sincerely hope you get through whatever it is you’re experiencing. 🙂
Julien, this is simply great. That’s another wonderful way of understanding “letting go.”
I believe in living in the moment, in every moment. Sometimes I find myself thinking too much. All I need to do is just look at something else (literally), or go for a walk, or better yet, just busy myself.
I also believe in the power of time. One truly needs time to know themselves, to realize what’s good or bad for them. We are all unique, everything doesn’t work for everybody. I’m constantly reminded of how valuable my time is. Like what you say, worry can be so exhausting–but it doesn’t change a thing. It’s okay to experience these kinds of things, but we should continuously learn from them.
Very true! Worrying is such as waste of time and can be exhausting can’t it? ;D
“One truly needs time to know themselves”
I love that you brought this up because I believe it is indeed one of the most important aspects of personal development. It’s amazing how much we need time to really understand certain aspects of our lives, what makes us miserable, what makes us happy, and so on.
I also think living in the moment really embodies letting go because it’s a very effective way of learning to appreciate what we have and focus on it.
Thank you for your comment and insights, Ethan! 🙂
“One truly needs time to know themselves”
Absolutely spot on statement. Self-awareness is the foundation for all self-improvement and success. without an in-depth knowledge of your own strengths, weaknesses, habits and thought processes you’ll end up spinning your wheels moving nowhere fast.
Learn to control your thoughts and you control your life.