Contrary to popular opinion, letting go doesn’t mean being lazy or passive. It doesn’t mean to dissociate or let the world pass you by. Letting go means saying yes to what’s happening right now by allowing the moment to unfold without your having to control or manipulate it.
Letting go is relinquishing your need to change people and situations to fit your plans. It’s a strategy to live “in the flow” instead of resisting it. By embracing and facing each moment instead of forcing or avoiding it, you shift from shutting down to showing up and from being controlling to being open and available.
In The Tao of Leadership, John Heider translates Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching as follows:
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need… My best work is done when I forget my own point of view; the less I make of myself, the more I am. When I yield to the wishes of the person working, I encounter no resistance.”
It’s not easy to just drop our need to control or our grudges and grievances. We can think about letting go until we’re “blue in the face.” However, a controlling demeanor and holding grudges both trigger the stress response, creating a physiological response. This can include chronic shortened breathing patterns, increased heart rate and overall chronic muscular tension.
Letting go isn’t just a helpful way to get along with others, it’s also good for our health. If you’re prone to work-related tension and angry outbursts, you’re five times more at risk for a heart attack and three times more at risk for a stroke according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Letting go, and dare I say, even forgiving others activates the parts of the brain that controls our capacity to feel empathy towards others and regulate our emotions. However, letting go is often easier said than done. Especially in the workplace where you’re likely to encounter your grudges on a daily basis. While fixing and forcing people and situations often feels like necessary measures, in the long run, letting go makes us happier and healthier.
How to Begin
You can let go of forcing or fixing people and situations at work and home with a simple practice I call Let It Go, Let It Be. Here’s how to bring a little more mental wellbeing to the workplace:
Check in with your body.
Pay attention to your body’s sensations that signal stress associated with forcing or fixing (i.e., stomach churns, body stiffens, breath shortens, cheeks burn). Be on hyper-alert when you’re with people or in situations that trigger you.
Ask, “Am I trying to force or fix in this moment?”
Asking the questions interrupts your busy mind and destructive habits. It also stops you in your tracks and helps you to shift into your natural state, where you’re much more likely to allow than to control.
Remember to let it go and let it be.
Create a few reminders for yourself to help you remember to let go. Place them in visible places, like on your computer screen, phone screen and refrigerator. Sticky notes work great.
Notice the space in your mind and body.
When you let go and let be, tune into how your shoulders may relax or your heart may open up or you simply may feel lighter. Acknowledge and appreciate this sense of freedom.
Instead of tackling the biggest inconveniences and the most difficult people — a financial issue, an ex-partner or a boss — start by letting go of the coworker who never makes the coffee. Or the supervisor whose frequent negative comments irks you to no end. Starting small will help you build confidence and courage for the large-scale situations and people.
When you allow everything to be and let go of your need to control, you’re liberated from the heavy burden of thinking you have to fix everything and make everyone happy. You open yourself up to “becoming more of who you might be” and “receiving more of what you need.”