Letting Go

IMG_1116I am the first to admit that I am not particularly good at “going with the flow.”  I may not be fond of schedules (being over-scheduled actually makes me cranky), but I do like to know what to expect in any given situation.  And the reason I want to know what to expect is so that I can prepare for it, fully and meticulously.  Being prepared makes me feel as if I’m on top of things, and  secure in the knowledge that I’ll be able to handle whatever situation happens to arise.  Trust me, I would have made an amazing Boy Scout.

When I’m going to be spending the night at a hotel, I bring along a box fan, a pillow and a night light, just so I can be sure of getting a good night’s sleep.  (I can only sleep on a soft pillow, the night light helps me find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the box fan drowns out the sounds of my husband’s snoring.)  I don’t set foot on an airplane without a carry-on containing food and water (I was once stuck on a runway for five hours), a light sweater in case they turn up the AC, and a couple of crossword puzzles to pass the time.  The trunk of my car is packed with emergency essentials, including a pair of comfortable walking shoes just in case the car breaks down and I have to walk to the nearest gas station.  One way or another, I like to be prepared.

The problem is that there is so much in my life that I can’t possibly prepare for, and when that happens, I tend to get very anxious.  For example, I didn’t plan to spend last month dealing with complicated dental problems, but that’s exactly what happened.  And the situation was made even worse because I was never exactly sure what to expect at each office visit, which left me feeling completely unprepared and unsure of my ability to cope.  That meant I spent a lot of time and energy in these past few weeks worrying and fretting about dental procedures that weren’t even all that bad when I actually had them done.

I may be almost sixty, but there are still many things I hope to learn in this life.  And one of the biggest lessons I’m hoping to learn is how to let go of my belief that I can actually anticipate and prepare for all the problems that come my way.   Because I realize that my obsession with being prepared is really just a way of trying to stay in control, and there is always going to be a portion of my life that is absolutely beyond my control.   And just like everyone else in the world, I need to find a way to come to terms with that.

A good first step, I suppose, is focusing on the things that I can control (I will always travel with at least a fan and a pillow) and trying hard not to think so much about the things I can’t control.  An even better step might be to remind myself that I am stronger and more resilient than I think I am, and that I am also resourceful enough to find solutions to problems when and if they present themselves.   Because if I can remember that, then it’s so much easier to just let go of all the rest.

76 thoughts on “Letting Go

  1. A thought: consider doing something where you might not have utter control. Do a backpack trip where you can only take just so much? It may help you learn to ‘let go’ and let the Universe guide you. This is something I am learning myself and hope to do someday myself….xo

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  2. I’m am so like you in this respect. I like to be in control of everything, but that just doesn’t work out all the time. I tend to leave my house with sunglasses, umbrella and big scarf….funny but my “scheduled” post for tomorrow is about trying to anticipate all things…..

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    • I worry about that too! (And how’s that for a neat trick: worrying about not being able to stop worrying?) Still, I hope we’re not too old to learn to let go a little. I do think that some of us are just born that way, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change, at least a little bit. I’ll let you know how it works out!

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  3. It took me years to figure out that I am quite fond of thinking I can control anything. More recently, in the last 10 years or so I have learned that really I can control very little. The only true control we have is how we handle things ourselves.
    We cannot control anyone else.

    We can maintain our homes and our vehicles and things like that so that hopefully maintenance issues will less frequent, but things happen.

    I wish I could say it is easier now but it isn’t really because life can be and sometimes just is complicated. What is easier though is knowing that I can’t preplan my way out of most of it.

    I still have to long range plan and have a backup plan, but I have at least accepted the fact that my plan may not be God’s plan. I know that his plan is always better than mine whether it makes sense at the time or not. I find a great deal of peace in that knowledge!

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    • Thanks, Marcia! You are exactly right…we can’t control anyone but ourselves, and we need to remember that. Our plans (and back up plans) are fine, and sometimes helpful. But ultimately, we aren’t the ones in control. And it helps to remember who is.

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  4. As a recovering controlaholic, I hear you Ann! I learned to let go of things that I COULD control first. I made a choice to let go a little and observed myself and my reactions. It’s a bit dipping your foot into the pool, rather than diving off the deep end. Start small and work up to something that really takes you out of your comfort zone.
    My best “letting go” ever, was going on a backpacking group expedition to Morocco. I did go with a friend, so we were able to support each other so out of our normal element.
    It was a powerful and really fun experience. Thankfully the guide we had was well prepared 😉

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    • You’re the second person who has suggested a backpacking trip or hike to help learn the value of not being in control! I think I’m going to need to look into that. I don’t know why it is so hard for some of us to let go of the need to “make sure everything goes right,” but it’s not a healthy way to look at things at all.
      And that’s a very good point that I need to learn to give up a few things I can control first, as a way to get used to it. I’m going to be thinking about that for a while!

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  5. For some reason I seem to forget that I can be strong, resilient and resourceful the moment I no longer need to be. In the intervals between those occasions-for-which-it-is-impossible-to-plan-or-prepare I am utterly convinced that I have never coped, could never cope, will never cope, everything is bound to go wrong, it’s all going to be so embarrassing … 🙂

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    • I know exactly what you mean! When something is coming up, I’m quite convinced I’ll never be able to cope (running screaming out of the dentist’s office, for instance), and yet when the time comes, I find the inner strength to do what needs to be done. I wonder why it is so hard to remember that we are much stronger and more resourceful than we think we are? Thanks for the comment, Linda, it helps to know you feel the same way!

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  6. Ann, as one of your other readers said, I do a lot of preventive maintenance; do a regular tune-up on my brain, use the proper fuel in my tank, rotate my treads to ensure long life, and keep the air cleaner in my mind free of dirt. Bottom line is, as you also realize, there is very little I actually control although I sometimes try really hard. I say, “Please God” in the morning and “Thank you God at night.” All else is in my Higher Power’s hands.

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    • Thanks, Larry. Deep down, I believe that too. But sometimes I just want to micro-manage the details, even though that doesn’t always work out so well! When I am thinking straight, I always think of a sermon I heard once, years ago. The gist of it was “always give the best you can, and trust God to make it enough.” That helps me.

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  7. This is a hard one…. usually when I don’t know what to expect I try to stay with a positive attitude like ” what an exciting day waits for me a head” even if I have no clue how it will all turn out. Sometimes it’s hard to control oneself so I just give up for now at least to control others or the situation.

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    • It is hard, isn’t it? The positive attitude helps. For instance, when I was so worried about root canals, crowns ,etc (I made the mistake of looking some of it up on the internet and read all about the things that can go horribly wrong), I tried to focus on the fact that I did have access to good dental care, and that if a problem arose, they knew how to deal with it. That helped! Thanks, Svet!

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  8. Your post again shows to me how much we have in common. One key item is the need to be prepared. As a former boy scout I understand exactly what you mean by anticipation of future events, gathering the things be it toothbrush or the right kind of pillow. But with age and experience we also realize that not all things can be prepared for. My motto for my life has always been, even if it seems impossible to accomplish everything that is on our to do list, we seek order in a world of chaos. Thank you, Ann, by firing up my 75-year old synapses and giving us cause to reflect1

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    • I think I will always feel the need to prepare for things, as much as I can, and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s even helpful! But what I’m working on is letting go of my need to be so anxious about the things that I can’t control or prepare for. And as you say, the older we get, the more we realize how much of life is out of our control! Like you, I long for order in a chaotic world, and sometimes I manage to achieve it in my own little corner. But I never know when the chaos will intrude, and then all I can do is deal! Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Peter!

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  9. As the saying goes, “Man plans and God laughs.”
    So if you believe God has a sense of humor, at your expense of course, then the only thing you can do is prepare as much as possible and in the words of the movie, Frozen….let it go😊

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    • I love that saying! And definitely believe that God has a sense of humor. Did you ever hear of the book, “And God Said, “Ha!”?” If I remember correctly, it was written by a young woman who had saved every penny she could to move out of her family home and buy her very own (and very small) house, which she didn’t have to share with anyone. One week after moving in, her mother fell and broke her hip and her brother was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. Neither could live alone any more, so they both moved in with her. It was a very hard adjustment, but they made it work, and ended up growing much closer than they had ever been….. We just never know, do we?

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  10. YOU ARE stronger and more resilient than you think you are, and you are also resourceful enough to find solutions to problems when and if they present themselves. Because if you can remember that, then it’s so much easier to just let go of all the rest!!!! Your words cutie!!! 🙂

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  11. hehehe OK I was TOTALLY gonna wax poetic about the liberating and centering effects of a backpacking trip, but far wiser (and more prompt) friends have already made the suggestion.

    I know that “being flexible” is something I really need to work on. And putting myself in situations where it’s just not possible to be independent or in control was a lot like my first cliff dive. The force keeping me from taking that last (big) step seemed overwhelming. And sure, I think my heart stopped on the way down. But surfacing again after the plunge felt like a baptism.

    And this of course isn’t “advice” Ann. You’ve clearly got a great head on your shoulders already! Just thought I’d share a few nuggets that you reminded me of.
    Thank You

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    • I bet that was a life changing thing to do! There’s something about stepping out into the unknown (in your case, literally) that is very liberating. And I hope you don’t mind me putting a link to your blog in my comment section, but I really thought your posts about your backpacking experience beautifully illustrated the point I was making with this post. (And if I make any money off of this, I promise to send you royalties….) Thanks, Gabe!!

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  12. The backpacking idea is a great one, Ann. I think we’re all agreed on that! But start small, perhaps – go out for a day’s hike with the bare minimum of essentials: waterproof in case, drink, lunch, map and compass (if needed).

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    • I think that is a good idea. For one thing, I doubt I could carry all the stuff I’d need for a long hike (fans are heavy, and the generator needed to run them in the wilderness is even heavier). But seriously, I love this idea and there are several places with good hiking trails nearby where I could try it. And I’m gonna take a compass!

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  13. I once had a boss who was an Einstein of human nature. He was especially talented in putting together teams and he always paired me with a woman who had to plan out her trips to the restroom. It annoyed the hell out of me, so I complained.

    He listened to me howl then said, “Go to your cube and look at it. Look at your desk, look at your filing cabinets, look at your bookcase then open your calendar and page through your notebook……. then look at her stuff and get back to me on my decision to put her on your team.”

    I never got back to him on it.

    Sometimes what we see as a weakness, others see as a strength.

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      • We all struggle because of who we are and when we get thinking, oh if we could just more of this and less of that – we lose sight of our strengths.. Sure, we can all improve – but sometimes we might not be aware that others envy us.

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        • You’re exactly right…it was a revelation the first time I realized someone I worked with thought I was actually good at my job, and was nice enough to point out exactly why she thought I was good. Honestly, it had never occurred to me that someone might see me that way. We do need to focus more on our strengths and less on our weaknesses!

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  14. You have the self-awareness of those traits, Ann, so you’ve already curtailed the potential for it to get out of control — like with, say, so-called Catastrophe Thinking, in which people become neurotically obsessed with, and anxious over, scenarios that could play out badly, though most likely won’t. A nicely written, insightful and candid piece, for which many thanks. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Hariod! You are always so generous with your encouragement and wisdom, which is one of the reasons I enjoy your comments so much. As much as I enjoy the writing aspect of blogging, I have found that I really look forward to the communication with my readers as well. Because I always, always learn something from the comments, and find that whatever point I was trying to make with my posts is expanded and improved via the reader comments.

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    • I post a link to my blog on my Facebook page, and one person said that he has learned to have enough confidence in his ability to cope with problems that he has learned to stop feeling the need to prepare quite so much. But he also said that when his actions will affect other people, then he does prepare, because he feels he owes them that. And I think that was a very good point! “Go with the flow” isn’t always the best approach.

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  15. Ann this post is so well written and humorous, and just very down to earth, honest and “real.”

    I hear you! I think it is good to know what the specific things are that we need to do or have, in order to feel as calm amd in control as possible. For me I love feeling organized, yes ( that’s the what I CAN control part) and for the “out of control” part I use breathing techniques when possible. 4 breaths in, hold, 6 out, (tongue tip on roof of mouth near front teeth) it really does work for me 🙂 ….

    Peta

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    • I also like being organized, which may go hand-in-hand with being prepared. But being organized also means I don’t waste time looking for stuff I need, which is a good thing. The next time I am stressed, I’m going to try your breathing technique! Thanks for the tip and the comment!

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  16. Oh, you and me both, Anne. I’m like this too. Not quite as much as a decade ago, but I still have small (and sometimes large) freak-outs if things go in a way I hadn’t planned. You might find, though, that as you get older that things which worry you so much now, won’t matter quite as much. This is mostly (I think) to do with the way our brains and bodies slow. So it might not even take a change of direction for you now, just patience with yourself and time?

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    • You’re right, Val, I think it does get easier as we age, because the longer we’re alive, the more we realize that there is a lot in this world we can’t control at all! I think I will always like to be prepared to a certain extent, because I like being organized. But I’m working to learn to let go of my anxiety about the stuff I can’t control, because it just makes life so much harder than it has to be. And I believe you are correct that patience and time will help, a lot!

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  17. Hi Ann!
    I can totally relate to your post! I too am a big worrier and am trying to learn how to worry less. Being prepared is half the battle, right? Wrong! We know we can´t control everything but somehow we still keep on trying… that backpack trip sounds like a good idea to. Actually I just came across a blog post that gave me much food for thought, here´s the link:
    https://whenwomeninspire.com/2017/07/26/tired-feeling-tired-why-exhausted-all-time/#more-158513

    It led me to another very good article that might also be of interest for you. I´m putting the link to that article in an additional comment ´cause sometimes they don´t come through if you put too many links in one comment (here we go again, worrying!! 😀 ) But I think the link is also findable via the blog post.

    And I think one is never to old to learn a new trick 😉

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    • Thanks so much for the links! I will certainly read them. Personally, I think a little bit of worry is a good thing, and so is a little bit of being prepared. But as you say, it’s when we are constantly worried and trying to prepare for everything that the trouble starts. Because we can’t control everything, and we just frustrate ourselves when we try. And I agree that we are never too old to learn something new, especially when it can help us so much. Thanks again for your understanding, and for providing the links! I really do appreciate it!

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  18. You strike me as an incredibly strong woman Ann and one that would cope no matter what, and even if you felt unprepared. We often give ourselves less credit than we should. I like to be in control too but I find that travelling into unknown situations actually brings out the best in me because I cope far more than I think I could in ordinary normal situations. We never stop learning about ourselves do we?

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    • Thank you, Miriam! I agree we never do stop learning about ourselves, and one thing I have learned as I’ve gotten older is that I am stronger than I thought I was. Being prepared makes me feel secure, but as you say, there are those instances when we can’t be prepared, and usually we are more than up to the challenge. And personally, that gives me a wonderful feeling of accomplishment!

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  19. that reallly is the only thing we can do. Focus on things that are within our control. And also just focusing on the moment. The now. It is tough at first but then you get the hang of it with some concentrated practice.

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