The Art Of Letting Go – Sometimes, You Just Have To
Contemporary management philosophy teaches you to pursue your goals. If in the process you encounter setbacks, it encourages you to fight to change situations and make it more amenable to your goals. However, there is only so much that brute force can accomplish. Beyond that, you have to accept adverse situations and events gracefully, before you can change it in your favour.
Think about it – if something good or bad happens to you, what do you do? You tend to remember it for a long time simply because you have connected emotions to whatever it was, that happened. What you don’t realise is that your response at that time could have been exaggerated or the emotions it evoked very powerful and perhaps not warranted by the event itself.
Consider a person who has worked hard for a promotion and then discovers that he or she has not been considered and instead, someone else has been promoted. If something like this happens to you, you would possibly be very upset and angry. Perhaps it makes you feel that all your effort was wasted and that you should move out of your organisation. Maybe, your feelings were completely justified. But the point is whatever had to happen has already happened and unless your feeling can change that outcome or get you into a much better job quickly, your emotions are only going to impact you and that too adversely.
Hanging on to negative emotions and reliving moments that you were very unhappy in, can only perpetuate your agony.
Sometimes you have to just let it go and move on.
What happens when you harbour resentment and negative emotions?
Harbouring resentment is known to raise the stress level in your body. There are specific hormones that get secreted when you are in a stressful situation. For instance, when you are happy your brain releases serotonin, dopamine or oxytocin that make you feel good and increase the feeling of well-being.
Conversely, your body releases cortisol while you are stressed, which gives you an entirely different feeling associated more with the body kicking into survival mode.
Stress by itself is not harmful. It is actually designed to help the body cope with disturbing situations. However, the human body is not designed to take prolonged stress.
When you go over unpleasant events over and over in your mind, it evokes the same response that being in an actually stressful situation could. What it means is that you continue feeding the stress in your mind and body rather than giving it time to unwind since the event is already over.
The Polygraph or Lie Detector device is designed keeping this very principle in mind. When you are attached to a polygraph machine and asked to answer a question that could incriminate you, your heart beat and pulse rate gets instantly elevated. You also tend to sweat more while answering such questions, all of which the machine records and is able to tell that you are lying.
The long-term health effects of prolonged stress can be highly detrimental to your health.
So why would you want to subject your body to this?
It is not easy to stop thinking about negative events particularly those that have a profound effect on your life, but with some change in your mindset you can do this.
Here are some techniques that will help you cope with negative events and actually use them to spur you into positive action!
1. Write down what you think is the worst possible impact of whatever has happened
When you are stressed your brain’s ability to focus on one topic is limited. Also, in a negative state, you tend to magnify the possible impact of stressful events on your life. When you combine these two factors you will realise that thinking of a possible solution or even comprehending the full impact of a negative event can be very difficult, if you just continue to think. The more you dwell on the event the more cloudy your thoughts will become.
So what do you do differently? Well, just jot down in points all the thoughts that come to you on the impact of the negative event that has just occurred. Continue writing without bothering about the grammar or syntax of what you are writing. Just focus on putting your thoughts down completely.
2. Analyse what you have written and fine-tune it
Now go back and read what you have written. You may find many sentences just repeating one point. Eliminate the duplicates. If you go a little further you will find some of your fears are quite improbable. For instance, if you have been troubled by a persistent pain in your body and you are worried that it may be the result of an incurable disease, chances of you being right are truly remote. For such worries, schedule an action item- in this case, a check-up, to give you a medical opinion.
3. Validate and Strategise
Pick up the top five to ten of the worst possible outcomes that you have listed and see what you can do to validate it. For instance, if you have just lost your job and one of your major fears is that you may go into debt with no income then take stock of your assets and liabilities and arrive at the funds you have available with you.
Now, go over your monthly expenses and determine what is a reasonable amount within which you can manage until you get another job. Based on this number and the available funds ascertain how many months of expenses your available funds cover. Your analysis may show that you are covered for the next 18 months.
Next, analyse what are the chances of finding a job within that time. If you find that you can reasonably get another job within the next four to six months then your fear would be unfounded.
4. Question your assumptions leading to the worst outcome
Go a little further and question the assumptions that you have made while listing your worst outcomes. Going back to the earlier example of losing your job, if you have assumed that you are unemployable now for whatever reason then you need to question this assumption.
Explore other industries you can find employment. Explore alternate vocations. List alternate skills that you can acquire quickly or ways you could make your skills more marketable. When you do this you may come to the conclusion that some of your assumptions were erroneous and therefore what you listed as an adverse impact was equally erroneous.
5. Come up with an action plan
Once you have a realistic view of what a major negative event can cause in your life, you are in a better position to come up with a plan of what you can do to mitigate the adverse impact. For each of the top five to ten worst outcomes that you have listed come up with an action plan with clearly marked action items.
If you have been recently left out for a promotion to the next level that you deserved and someone from outside the company brought in for that role, your action items could be-
- Ask for a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your concerns and chart your career path in the company
- Discuss the situation with your supervisor where you go with a clear view of what you have achieved in the past year and why you think you were the best candidate for that position. Ask for his or her view on what went wrong for you
- Agree on a time frame for the next promotion along with clearly agreed outcomes that you need to achieve to get the next promotion within the agreed timeframe
- In the event that your meeting with your supervisor does not get satisfactory results then schedule a date to come up with an alternate plan for yourself which could include options such as looking at other organisations and exploring moving out of your division to another division or entity within your company.
6. Activate your action plan
Just creating an action plan is not enough to get you out of the situation that you are in. You need to put it into action, which means you need to start working on the action items that you have listed. If for some reason you slip on activating one action item, don’t worry. Just go ahead with the remaining and reactivate the action item that you missed. Whatever you do, do not go back to pondering over your problems. If you don’t feed the worry loop it will soon die out and you will bounce back with some options that could be better than whatever you missed.
7. At times of trouble make sleep your ally
When you are in the midst of a major problem or have just been through a very unpleasant event, you tend to think about it before sleeping as well. Whatever you do, don’t do this. If you focus on your problems just before you sleep, you are likely to impact the quality of your sleep. Lack of sleep is a surefire way of feeding your worries and continuing in a negative loop.
If instead, you are well rested, your capacity to take on any problem will be unhindered and you will be in a better frame of mind to activate your action plan and take it to conclusion.
About the Author:
Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.