Have you ever dropped a hot piece of toast that was burning your fingers? Chances are you started to feel better as soon as you let go of it.
It’s easy to do that with physical items because they’re tangible, and letting go brings quick relief from the pain you’re experiencing.
When it comes to emotional or psychological things that are damaging us, we tend to hang onto them because we either feel that they’re important, or we’ve become accustomed to them. In truth, we need to relinquish our grip on them so that we can feel better.
Here are 20 things that are best released as soon as possible, and it’s easier to let go of them than you might think.
1. Old hurts
Are you still holding a grudge over something that happened when you were a child? Or mentally replaying awful things that hurt you?
These things may have occurred years or even decades ago, so why do you keep bringing them back up and chewing on them?
It’s one thing if you’ve been through a horrifically traumatic experience and these thoughts come unbidden because of PTSD, and another if you’re intentionally choosing to get upset about them all over again.
If you’re no longer in that circumstance, and that person isn’t harassing you right now, then let it go. What’s passed is past, so leave it there.
2. Unrealistic expectations
Almost all of us have expectations about how various things are “supposed” to be.
For example, one person might have the expectation that people will be as kind and giving to them as they are to others. Or that they’ll have their entire life figured out by the time they’re 30.
Flow with life as it unfolds, rather than trying to map out a path on ever-shifting sand. We have no idea what tomorrow may bring, so being dead-set on things occurring to a schedule is unrealistic.
Instead, set up some goals that you’d like to attain and take steps to reach them. Then, when life inevitably changes unexpectedly, you can shift direction with it more easily.
3. People who bring more grief than joy to your world
Almost all of us have at least one person in our lives who weighs us down rather than lifts us up. Maybe it’s an old friend who dumps their emotional misery on us to make themselves feel better. Or an ex we still feel a connection to, but talking to them reminds us of the crap they put us through when we were together.
Unless someone is a close family member whom you have to stay in touch with because you’re helping to keep them alive, cut them loose. Keep communication to a minimum and don’t give them any of your energy. Instead, save that for people who bring joy and light into your life.
4. Unhealthy rivalries
Is there anyone in your life whom you’ve consistently been in competition with over the years? Maybe you were friendly sports rivals as teens and have continued to compete with one another ever since. Or you have a sibling who’s constantly trying to one-up you with who they’re dating, what they’ve purchased, how fit they are, and so on, and you try to retaliate in turn?
While this rivalry might have begun as good fun, it’s now more of a weight and obligation than anything amusing. You’re not in competition with anyone. Just live your life the way you want to, and don’t worry about keeping up with or surpassing anyone else.
5. Comparisons between yourself and other people
My neighbor has two dogs: a German shepherd and a golden retriever. The shepherd is an amazing guard dog who patrols the property, while the retriever is sweet and affectionate with the children. These dogs can’t be compared because they’re different beings. They have different genetics and different roles in the family.
So it is with every living creature on the planet. No two beings have ever been exactly alike, so they cannot be weighed or measured against one another: simply appreciated for who they are as individuals.
When you think of the people you love most, do words of kindness and support come to mind? Or hatred and cruelty? Would you turn to your best friend and mock them for their body shape? Call them ugly, stupid, or useless?
We all change countless times over the course of our lives. Sometimes we’ll be proud of our accomplishments and happy with our physical appearance, and other times we’ll struggle. The key is to be kind and patient with ourselves during difficult times instead of cruel or admonishing. A caterpillar literally turns into a slurry before re-forming into a butterfly, but nobody is calling it “disgusting” during that metamorphosis, are they?
7. Trying to please others
You’re never going to be able to please everyone around you. Furthermore, in trying to please some, you’ll inevitably alienate or enrage others.
The key here is to not pander to what you think are other people’s expectations, but to instead live an authentic life.
This doesn’t mean that you need to rail against those you disagree with, nor even express how you’re feeling to those around you. Chances are they don’t even care about what you think or feel. Just know your own mind, and follow the path that’s right for you.
8. The need to “fit in”
All of us have come across someone who was desperately trying, but failing, to fit in with a particular crowd. It was obvious that they were masquerading and trying to play a role which made both themselves and everyone else uncomfortable in the process.
Those who try hard to fit in will never do so because they’re not in the right environment. They might wear the right clothes and say the right phrases, but they’re merely playing along instead of being true to themselves.
You don’t have to change yourself to fit in anywhere. Instead, find your tribe and surround yourself with those who dance to the same tune as you do.
9. The idea that you only have value if you’re doing something
The concept of “laziness” was pushed by the Puritans who insisted that idle hands were doing “the Devil’s work.” As such, people were expected to be productive every waking moment of every single day.
Anyone who has worked themselves into a nervous breakdown or physical collapse knows that this is untenable. We’re human beings, not human doings, and rest is absolutely vital for overall health and wellness.
Let go of the guilt associated with resting, replenishing, and nourishing yourself.
10. The idea that there are “positive” and “negative” emotions
The “good vibes only” idea that has permeated society over the past couple of decades has done far more harm than good. It implies that unless you’re happy, supportive, and content at all times, then you’re a horrible, negative creature who’s going to bring everyone else down with you.
Every emotion is a necessary part of the human experience, and each serves a purpose. It’s okay to be angry at someone who has wronged you or hurt someone you love. Grief, despair, rage, and their cousins are just as important as joy and love.
You do yourself a disservice by not honoring the entire spectrum of your emotions, as they’re all vital in the right circumstances.
11. The compulsion to be loved
Almost every person on the planet wants to be loved.
Issues arise, however, when one doesn’t have that kind of bond but is obsessed with the idea of it. Energy that could otherwise be put toward creativity and personal peace is instead poured outward into a sucking void.
If and when that kind of love is meant to happen, it’ll unfold naturally, without focused will. Be present and live authentically, and all will fall into place when it’s meant to. If you have to chase it, then it wasn’t meant for you.
12. The desire to change others to be more like you
You may have seen this behavior in people who hold certain personal morals and ethics. For instance, those who adhere to some religions or hold strict dietary codes often preach to others in an attempt to convince them over to their side.
They may use tactics ranging from encouragement to shame and coercion, simply because they’re convinced that their way of life is the “correct” one. As such, they feel that if everyone else followed suit, the world would be a better place.
While homogeneity in thought and action might seem like a great, peace-promoting idea, it would actually be a nightmarish existence. A healthy ecosystem flourishes when many different beings live in balance. In contrast, if only a few of those life forms are doing well while others are faltering, that ecosystem will fail and everything in it will die.
13. Obsessions about unrequited or unrealized love
Many people hold onto fantasies about “the one who got away.” This person might have been everything you hoped for in a partner: an ideal physique, perfect face, amazing personality, great career.
You may imagine that everything in your life would have been amazing if you two had the chance to live happily ever after. Meanwhile, in reality, things may have gone well for a year or two and then collapsed into a hellscape beyond your wildest imaginings.
If you two had truly been meant for one another, then it would have happened. Since it didn’t, let go and move on instead of gazing backwards, fixated on daydreams and “what ifs.”
14. Unrealistic life goals
We’ve all had dreams and aspirations that we wanted to pursue or attain, but not all of them have been viable. We may not be able to attain them due to unforeseen life circumstances, or perhaps we’ve changed so much that the dreams we were attached to a decade ago no longer fit with who we are now. Sometimes they also can’t come to pass due to certain life choices that made sense at the time.
If there are things that you always wanted to pursue or experience but now you can’t, for whatever reason, then it’s time to let them go. Take time to mourn them if you had a strong attachment to them, but recognize that they were intangible dreams and ideas. As such, they can be replaced by new ones that fit who you are and what you can do with greater ease and joy.
15. Being overly vain
We live in a world that cherishes beauty and youth, and vilifies the old or unattractive. While it’s important to take care of your physical vessel as much as possible, nobody can stave off the ravages of aging indefinitely.
It’s great to appreciate your looks and to put effort into staying fit and healthy, but if your sense of self-worth is inextricable from your appearance, you’re going to have a difficult time as you age.
There are ways to slow the aging process as well as cosmetic surgeries that can give the appearance of youth, but no house can remain standing once the foundations crumble.
Enjoy what you have while you have it, but learn to accept and embrace the changes that come with growing older with grace and dignity as well.
16. Aversion to life changes
All of us have been in situations that made us feel so fulfilled and content that we wanted to keep things as they were forever. That’s never going to happen, however, since everything changes eventually.
When we balk against change, we keep ourselves from experiencing great things. A baby bird might feel cosy in its shell, but if it doesn’t crack its way out as it grows it’ll suffocate and die.
You may not want to leave this city or this house because you’re comfortable and happy where you are now, not understanding that your joy and life options will expand a thousandfold in the new place you’re moving to.
Let change happen, flow with it, and see what great adventures unfold next.
17. “Stuff” you’re not using
Do you have a junk drawer in your house? I know I do. In fact, there’s one in my kitchen, a box in my bedroom closet, and a few giant bins in back room storage. I have no idea what’s in any of them as I haven’t looked in them in years, yet I haven’t emptied them out yet.
Why do we hold onto physical items that don’t serve a purpose? Maybe we hold onto some pieces for sentimental value, or because they were gifts from people we cared about deeply at the time. Those who gave us these items may not even be in our lives anymore, so why hold onto empty mementos?
Go through your belongings and be ruthless about getting rid of things that aren’t serving you. If you haven’t even looked at an item in three to five years, let alone used it, then get rid of it. Let friends and family at it first, then donate the rest to charity, or throw out/recycle whatever isn’t salvageable. You’ll have clean, extra space in your home to use, and you’ll have gotten rid of clutter that was only weighing you down.
18. Caring about what other people think of you
I have a friend who takes hours getting ready to go grocery shopping because she’s afraid of how people may judge her. She agonizes over every outfit, and even has anxiety attacks about buying certain items because of what others will think about her life choices.
Here’s a difficult truth to process: nobody thinks or cares about you anywhere near as much as you think they do. And furthermore, why should their opinion matter?
If you’re worried about what others think of you, take time to ask yourself why. Additionally, know that those around you have far more important things to think about than you.
Furthermore, your assumptions about them may be way off. The person you think is judging your outfit may instead be mourning their dead child and thinking of how they would have loved that T-shirt, for instance.
19. The past
Do you remember what you had for breakfast on April 8th, 2009? If not, it’s probably because you left emotional attachment to that meal behind after you’d consumed it, and the nutrients you consumed from it left your system a long time ago. You enjoyed the food in the moment, but it’s unlikely that you still roll the memory of it around in your mind on a regular basis.
Try to approach other past experiences the same way.
There’s a huge difference between learning from past experiences and clinging to them. This clinging can happen with positive as well as difficult experiences. Those who have been through difficulty will weigh everything they go through against that experience.
In contrast, those who felt great joy in a situation might either try to re-create it or lament the fact that they may never do so again. Instead of appreciating where they are now, they obsess over that One Great Thing for the rest of their lives.
Try to remember the lessons while discarding the emotional weight that’s associated with them. If you spend all your time thinking about things that happened in the past, you’ll waste both the present and the future.
Most people feel fear because they either want to be able to control their life circumstances, or they don’t want to re-experience past pains or difficulties.
For example, some people feel fear about the future because it’s uncertain, and they don’t have personal control over variables that will affect them. Others are afraid of the pain they might experience due to illness or fear dying because they don’t know what will happen afterwards.
Once again, this is where being present is absolutely invaluable.
If you’re reading this right now, your track record for getting through difficulty is 100%. Pain and loss are inevitable, but if you’re drowning in fears about losing your loved ones, that keeps you from cherishing time with them right now.
Are you worried about pain? That can be managed with analgesics. And death is inevitable for every living thing, but you are alive right now, right here, in this moment.
When you’re present, you don’t need to fear the unknown. After all, 99% of life is unknown. We might think we have certainty about how some things will unfold, but we’re wrong most of the time, aren’t we? Nothing ever unfolds the way we expect, but it’s a lot easier on our hearts and minds to face life with curiosity and openness than with fear and trepidation.
The only thing that fear does is robs us of our current peace in favor of tomorrow’s uncertainty.
Let it go.
Remember that although it may feel like letting go can be hard, it’s a lot easier to let go of things than to cling onto them. Try this with an item that’s within reach right now, and you’ll see that it takes effort to grip that item, but it’ll fall away when you relax your hand and release it.
Write things down and burn them if that helps you to let go of them, or create a mantra that you can repeat when and if intrusive thoughts distract you from peace in the present moment.
If you find that you’re having difficulty letting go of these things, then consider getting help from a trained therapist. They can offer techniques that can help you release old hurts, or break free from cycles you can’t seem to get out of.