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Are you holding on or letting go?

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Trevor Silvester

Autumn 2019

Holding on or Letting Go


We all have our ups and downs.

There’s nothing like starting an article with a truism to make you want to read further, is there? But bear with me. Of course, you know this. If I give you a moment, you could easily slide into recalling the down moments in your life that didn’t feel like moments, but rather a never-ending stream of crap that you struggled to see the end of. And I could give you a boost by enticing you into thinking about the peak moments. What exactly were the best three moments of your life? The high points? I bet they didn’t seem to last as long as the downs. That’s a weird feature of human life. Peak moments seem fleeting, hard times seem endless. I just want you to remember that, especially if you’re in a hole right now.

It used to be that life was so unrelentingly hard that getting enough to eat was a thing to be savoured. A whole life could be lived without a peak experience. ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’ has probably been the experience of more people who have lived than those who haven’t.

And it’s easy to forget that because we in the West are living in a bubble of comfort never before experienced in the history of our species. It gives us the opportunity to take having a full belly – and too often an over-full belly – as a given. And, increasingly, it’s given us the luxury of asking what our life should be about.

The freedom to pursue our ‘best life’. It’s like happiness is now a human right.

It really isn’t.

So, here’s the news. You can pursue happiness as your main goal in life, but it will probably keep annoyingly just beyond your reach. Or, you can dial it all down a bit, have fewer expectations of life being as amazing as Facebook seems to make everybody else’s life, and find that happiness jumps out of your cupboard and surprises you every now and again. If you make good life choices, you’ll spend most of your time bumping along feeling pretty content and, if you’re wise, you’ll realise that’s actually enough to fill your life with what’s really important. Which, if you’re wondering, is real connections with real people, and nature.

Accept what cannot be changed

Also, if you’re wise, you’ll know that bad times are inevitable and unavoidable. I could write an article on how the bad times contain a lesson, that they’re a great place to grow from – and I probably will if I haven’t already. But, for today, I’m going to stick with the fact that bad times suck. Some bad times you have to surrender to. There’s no accelerating through them and wisdom is surrendering to the circumstance – as in bereavement. The more you tune into the imperatives of your need – cry, laugh, sob, scream, the sooner you’ll get through it, but it will take the time it takes. Get through it but probably never get over it. You’ll be changed by any important bereavement, it’s for you to choose what you make that change into.

Change what can be changed

The same goes for bad times you absolutely don’t surrender to. Which is most of them. ‘Take action’ is the mantra. If there’s something that can be done about your situation, do it. ‘Work the problem’ is the principle. You focus on what’s immediately in front of you that day, and you do everything you can to be closer to your solution by the time you go to bed than you were when you left it. Rinse and repeat until the sun starts shining again. And I promise it will.

Letting go or holding on?

One thing that may help you move forward faster is something Dr Maria Sirois shared with me recently. She’s a leading authority on positive psychology and is speaking for the second time at our Questival. She passed on this simple idea: People are usually in one of two places in their life. They’re either holding onto something or letting go of something.

That’s worth stopping and thinking about because earlier I said how your contentment depends on making the right choices. This idea can be a useful filter to apply to help you make them. Think about your life at the moment. As you look around it, list what you’re holding onto. Physically write them down. Include people, possessions, dreams – everything you’re putting energy into maintaining in your life.

Now, look at the list and ask yourself, “What am I holding onto here, that I should be letting go of?” If you’re in a hole right now, this might be a tough exercise. Your partner? If you let go, would it put you deeper in the hole, make no difference, or help you climb out? When you see the answer written down, how does it make you feel? What are you going to do about that (bearing in mind that nothing changes if you change nothing)? Do that with everything on the list and it will evolve into an inventory of what is good and essential in your life, and what isn’t and might be contributing to this down phase of your life.

Then, when you’ve stopped crying, do the same with this question: “What/who are you letting go of that you should be holding onto?” This can be more subtle, but just as powerful. We often let go of good habits when we’re down. We let go of good connections. We push positives away. We blame people or things for our situation and distance ourselves from them rather than keeping ourselves responsible for what’s going on. Be honest with yourself. Look at the list and see who/what brings value to your life. If you reconnected to them/it, would it have a positive effect on your situation? What is holding you back from reconnecting? What are you going to do about that (seeing a Cognitive Hypnotherapist is always one possibility)?

By looking at both sides of this ‘keeping/letting go of’ equation you can gain clarity about just how your actions or inactions are contributing to your life being in a down phase, and hopefully spawn some actions for you to take that will help you start getting back up.

One of the great advantages of exercises such as these is that they remind you of your power in a situation. Research shows that we feel less stressed about things when we feel we have control and a course of action to pursue. Helplessness leads to slobbing on a couch inhaling crisps and waiting for the world to get kinder (and vice versa). As usual, my favourite hobby horse of living with an internal locus of control (ILOC) appears yet again, with this exercise being a good means of training yourself into this best of all mental habits. You choose how you respond to life.

The power is yours

Life has its ups and downs. Enjoy the ups. Be present in the moment, inhale every good thing about it. Ups can be as transient as flowers. Don’t cling to them or you might crush them. Don’t make them the target of your life, make them the consequence of what you devote yourself to.

If someone tries to be a singer for the rewards, they’re likely to have a shorter career than someone who sings because they love to sing. Find the thing you love to do for the doing of it, not for the external gratifications. Perversely, that internal motivation tends to bring external rewards more often. Guard your content, it’s a precious thing. Use it to guide your choices: ‘Will doing X lead to my contentment continuing or will it diminish it?’ isn’t a bad gauge for action.

And then the downs. They’re a part of the rhythm of life. During my dark days, my mantra was ‘better day to come’. Nothing stays the same, so a bad phase of your life will have an end. Endure what you have to, change what you can. If you find yourself catastrophising, pick up your pen once again and write down all the worst things that could happen. Then, beside each thing, write down your course of action if it did. How would you handle it? You’ll be amazed how much less your mind worries about things it sees a solution to.

We all have our ups and downs; remember we’re just passing through both. There are better, and worse, days to come, and you’re going to be ok. And a Cognitive Hypnotherapist might be able to help you to believe that.