What are you willing to let go of?
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”
— Joseph Campbell
2010 has arrived. We have entered into a New Year. This milestone, although an arbitrary marker, is a customary time of year when people reflect on their lives and make or renew resolutions to improve their quality of life; it is an opportunity for new beginnings, for initiating changes. According to a Marist poll taken in December 2009, 48% of Americans stated that they are somewhat likely to make resolutions for 2010. However, the same poll found that of those who made resolutions in 2008, 65% kept their commitment for at least part of the year, while 35% never made progress. In general, the goals that are commonly set as part of New Year’s resolutions are only temporarily met, if at all. No matter what goals people set for themselves at the beginning of the year, even though well intentioned, eventually their ingrained habits most often persevere. So perhaps setting New Year’s resolutions is not the most effective way to make positive changes in your life.
Instead of making resolutions, the best way to attain your goals may be to minimize the obstacles that are in your way, the obstacles that you are, in fact, holding onto, intentionally or unintentionally. To do this, I recommend becoming aware of what you are willing to let go of. You can start this process by asking yourself what is in the way of you being the person you want to be or you having the quality of life that you seek?
Take, for example, one of the most common resolutions that are made at the New Year: losing weight. Without taking a look at attachments that drive you to eat when you aren’t hungry or eat foods that aren’t healthy for you, such as an emotional pain that you are soothing with food, those attachments are likely, sooner or later, to sabotage your attempts to maintain new eating habits. Whereas by acknowledging and releasing the emotional attachments that drive your undesirable eating behaviors, you can be more successful adopting new eating behaviors for the long term.
Likewise, if you want to change the toxic nature of a relationship you with have someone, it is best to begin by letting go of any lingering anger or resentments that you are holding against them. As Ann Landers pointed out, “Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.” Only after releasing animosity that you are holding towards someone can you freely choose the manner in which you would prefer to relate to this person, whether that is to engage with them differently or minimize their presence in your life.
Letting go can be a difficult process, one that we most often resist. After all, it is human nature to hold onto and repeat patterns that we know well, even those that aren’t serving us well. “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” (Thich Nhat Hanh) However, to make effective changes in our lives and to improve the quality of our lives, letting go is necessary. Lao Tzu said it best: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” This year, instead of making resolutions that are likely to fall through, endeavor to cultivate the skill of letting go of those things that are in the way of having the quality of life that you seek and deserve.
“As I started to picture the trees in the storm, the answer began to dawn on me. The trees in the storm don’t try to stand up straight and tall and erect. They allow themselves to bend and be blown with the wind. They understand the power of letting go. Those trees and those branches that try too hard to stand up strong and straight are the ones that break.”
— Julia Butterfly Hill