Letting go. Having “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” in the words of the Serenity Prayer.
We want that serenity; we want to let go. We’re tired of constantly trying to control things that we can’t change. We’re tired of worrying, criticizing and obsessing.
But how can we learn to let go? What are actions that we can take that can help us grow in our ability to accept the things that we can’t change?
1. Get Specific
In Letting Go, Part One, we talked about general categories of things we cannot change: Most things about other people, the past, some things about ourselves, some circumstances, and the fact that we have limits. The next step is to get more specific.
Think of a situation or relationship that’s bothering you. Then make a list of things that you can’t change about the situation, being as specific as possible. Write down the specific past incidents that you regret most. List precisely all the things about the other person that you really wish you could change, but know that you can’t.
Your list might include things like:
- “I can’t make my father get help for his alcoholism.”
- “I can’t change that I got angry and yelled at my son.”
- “I can’t change that it’s a difficult job market right now.”
- “I can’t change the fact that losing 30 pounds will take time.”
- “I can’t make my daughter enjoy cleaning her room.”
2. Notice Your Tendencies
What are the ways you try to control things that you cannot change? What do you do when you’re hanging on rather than letting go?
For me, it’s trying to please others to make them like me, and obsessing about any criticism I might receive. I also micromanage by constantly trying to find ways to fit more work into less time.
For some, it might be trying to control other people by constantly reminding, correcting or manipulating. It might be obsessing about one area of your life, like what you eat, how clean your house is, or improving your golf game. Or it might be worrying about the future and the “what ifs.”
If we can become more aware of our negative tendencies, then we’re more likely to be able to catch ourselves and change.
Look over your list of specific things that you cannot change. Then picture yourself looking out on a backyard that’s enclosed on all sides with a nice fence. Read through your list and visualize each item on your list as being on the other side of that fence. The things that you can’t change are not in your boundaries. They are not your responsibility. If they were in your yard, you would need to take care of them, to mow and weed and water. But they are not up to you. They are not in your yard. Visualize placing them on the other side of the fence and pray that God will help you to let them go.
An alternate way to visualize releasing responsibility is to picture placing each thing that you cannot change into God’s hands. Prayerfully visualize releasing each item from your own grip and letting it fall into God’s cupped hands placed beneath your own, while telling yourself that God’s got it.
Another visualization exercise that can help in letting go is what I call the Open Hands Prayer. To begin, sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands resting on your legs, palms up, hands open and relaxed. Take a few deep breaths in and out. Then as each of your tendencies to control comes to mind, pray, “God, I give you _____, and I receive _____.”
For example, you might pray, “God, I give you my desire to gain my supervisor’s approval and my obsession with being liked. I receive the confidence that comes from knowing I have your unconditional love and acceptance.”
Or, “God, I give you my fears for my son and my tendency to criticize him. You know how I long for him to make better choices. I receive the serenity that comes from knowing you love my son and watch over him.”
Sometimes I like to exhale while giving the negative to God and inhale while receiving the positive.
I find that the more I am able to let go of the things I can’t change, the more energy I have to focus on the things I can change.
Question: What do you think? What helps you to let go? You can leave a comment by clicking here.