The Power of Letting Go

Earlier this year I was approached by Happiful to write an article on acceptance and the power of letting go. The article has been published in edition 85 of the Happiful Magazine and you can download the article here.

What follows below is a breakdown of 3 questions the editors of the magazine asked me to answer. These questions are all focused around the idea of ‘the power of letting go’.

happiful

How might an inability to let go and accept things in our lives affect us?

Everything that shows up in our body and mind has a purpose. See them as internal messages of wisdom, shedding a light on the things we care about. Because if you didn’t care, why would these feelings and thoughts show up in the first place? The same is true when we struggle to let go of something. The inability to let things go, reveals our attachments, our values and what truly matters to us. And in that space, there is a bit that is useful and a bit you can unfortunately lose yourself in.

Whilst acceptance is typically seen as the answer, it is often misunderstood and lies beyond our reach. So instead, I recommend starting small. Work on noticing what is showing up for you. And from that space of awareness, you can develop skills to allow, accommodate, and create space for this difficult stuff that is coming to the surface. Practising these skills can help you take the sting out of these experiences, so you can better follow up on how you want to respond, instead of letting these internal messages control you.

Because this can happen with resentment. Resentment comes from the French word ‘rentir’ meaning, to feel again. Resenting someone or something is like you’re holding on to a red hot coal, waiting to throw it to someone else, but you never do.

Prison of Resentment (Poem originally by Russ Harris)

Surprisingly though, resentment can have a silver lining. Me and my partner’s journey through years of fertility struggles was a difficult pill to swallow. Acceptance was not even on my radar—instead questions like “Why me?” filled my mind as we were both healthy and young. What did we do wrong to deserve this? Seeing other families with less healthy parents was personally difficult because it reminded me of the unfairness of life. Yet within that frustration, a persistent desire for having a family still stubbornly lingered.

In a way, our resentment reminded us to continue to explore alternative ways to have a family and not to give up. Now, we do have a family and I am forever grateful that we somehow managed to make room for our pain and remembered what we cared about. 

Could you tell us more about ACT, and explain why you are passionate about it?

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and is a mindfulness-based form of cognitive behaviour therapy. ACT views things like ‘human suffering’ as normal. Not a disorder driven by pathological processes. Adopting this stance, symptom reduction (like reducing anxiety) is not a goal within ACT (even though they tend to go down). Symptom reduction doesn’t equal improved quality of life. The model actually assumes that attempts to ‘get rid’ of symptoms can actually magnify and compound problems (or in other words: increase it).

ACT is all about expanding your repertoire of behaviour (what you are able to do with your body and focus) in the presence of difficult stimuli. Or in plain English, when you find yourself in tricky and challenging situations, finding a way to make room for these experiences so you can still put your attention on doing what matters?

ACT has made me a more open and aware person, and has made me a more well-rounded coach. Coaches are typically very equipped at holding their clients accountable to the future and setting goals. But what if your clients struggle to keep themselves in the present or get caught up on things from the past? And that’s where ACT comes in.

ACT has a very strong evidence-base and it’s a very welcoming and supportive community. I very much like the skill-based element as well. That you help your clients develop a set of psychological skills, such as acceptance, enabling them to be more aware and open and put their money where their mouth is. Because all these skills link to behaviour, and in the end that’s what I am interested in. Changing behaviour, and making behaviour change last.

Do you have any advice for people who struggle to let go of the negative things that happen to them?

Actively work on skills that might help you take a different stance towards these internal messages that have so much control over you.  You can do this by working on your ‘inner noticer’. That part of you is good at observing, witnessing things. 

You can do this informally by engaging in activities like sports, dance or other kinds of movement. Or by being in nature. These activities will help you expand and redirect your focus, by connecting with your body and your surroundings rather than being constantly busy in your head. For a more structured approach, consider trying out sessions with an ACT practitioner or exploring mindfulness-based apps, depending on your preference. But the key here is to keep practising. Practising doesn’t make perfect, but it does make you better equipped to respond more consciously next time when life decides to throw you a curveball.

A link to edition 85 of the Happiful magazine can be found here.

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