How to Let Go and Move On
Life is always changing. Sometimes it brings positive shifts that are easy to embrace, but sometimes change can be challenging.
We all take comfort when we feel like our life has a sense of routine to it. We feel safe when life seems predictable, when we know what to expect, when we know our role and when we can depend on those around us to know theirs.
Changes that we choose and make intentionally are also easier to accept and remain steady with. We love to feel in control, don’t we?
Being in control is a part of what keeps us feeling like we’re in charge of what happens to us (even though we never really are). It’s not as scary to make changes when you’ve given them careful consideration, weighed your options, and had a chance to think through the results of the changes.
What makes change difficult to accept is when it wasn’t our choice. This layers in unpredictability, which usually triggers varying degrees of fear, discomfort, anxiety, and worry.
Change means we are forced to let go of the way something was, and that can feel not only unsettling, but downright paralyzing. Not being able to accept and let go of the way things used to be can present a full stop and a block of our normal, healthy energetic flow, preventing us from moving on. The flow that keeps us moving forward; the flow that not only helps carry away pain and loss, but the same flow that needs to remain moving so it can carry in goodness, opportunities, joy, abundance, forgiveness, and love.
What happens when we can’t let go and move on?
When we get stuck and locked into tightening our grip on trying unsuccessfully to deny or allow unexpected change, it can make us feel unsafe, anxious, sad, frustrated and worst of all – out of control. Trying to stop change is futile. Not even the might and grip of Hercules can stop the movement and evolutions of life.
What am I talking about when I say change is hard to accept?
Anyone going through the death of a loved one, a frightening health diagnosis, a divorce, an empty nest, a painful injury, or even being fired from a job – all can feel unexpected, unwanted, and more unanticipated emotional struggle than you thought it would.
So, since we can’t always stop changes that are unexpected or feel scary, we are only left with control over how we react and how we respond.
This is key – no matter how out of control you feel about changes in your life, you always have control over how you feel about them and how you will move on from them.
The subtle but important difference between reacting and responding.
This notable shift has helped me process life changes with so much more grace and with less impact to my overall wellness than it would have had in the past.
To react is the behavior you exhibit toward something or someone that is fresh and has just happened. Reacting is usually associated with immediacy, so your reaction tends to be your first reflex – your first thought or action when faced with challenging change.
Response in comparison, is how you mindfully reply to the situation.
Here’s an example to help clarify. You receive an inflammatory email from someone. Let’s say the sender uses terse language and accuses you of doing something wrong that you didn’t actually do. You could react – by immediately hitting the reply button in the heat of anger and indignation and defending yourself with an equally harsh tone and sharp words… and click SEND.
Or you could feel your initial emotions and reaction (it’s nearly impossible to avoid feeling that initial reaction), and then pause, for a few seconds, minutes, or even days. You could give yourself a hot minute to process your reaction, to settle down, to gain perspective, to consider the healthiest way for yourself to feel and then, you respond.
See the difference? When you react, you don’t have much control. You’re letting your emotions and initial reflexes to make choices for you in what to do next, and about how to feel about it.
When you take a minute to let your reaction settle, then you’re back in control of how you respond.
Maybe, the best option for you is no response at all. Or maybe you will decide the best course of action is to reply with much less explanation and engagement.
Taking pause to digest and to decide how you will respond to change is not to protect anyone but yourself. By being mindful about how you choose to engage and expend your energy, you are making decisions that will ultimately hurt or help you. Your peace, your wellness, your choice to let go or your need to hold on to your emotions makes a huge difference to your state of mind and your energy – and btw, also affects your blood pressure, your level of anxiety, your heart and respiration rate, as well as your tolerance and patience for those you love. It’s all connected!
We don’t have much choice over how we feel when we are in the initial react mode to whatever unexpected change has arrived in our life. But we have every bit of control over how we choose to respond.
And that leads me to the power of letting go and moving on.
Letting go of emotions and of expectations of how we wanted life to go is a part of the process of how we respond. We do need to feel all the feelings, to sit in the pain, loss, agony, fear, anxiety, sadness… but the period of reacting is limited. After reaction, we can choose to dwell longer in those disappointments and in that grief over the way things were and no longer are, or we can decide to start letting go.
Holding on too tightly to the past (which was both two minutes ago or twenty years ago) strangles our ability to make choices that help us grow, expand, learn, and embrace the future (which is happening every single minute).
You are suffering from the changes. I hear you, me too. All of us are. Change is happening to every single one of us, at all times, whether you notice it or not. I know each of us feels like we are facing changes that are worse than anyone else’s. But it’s not a competition. You won’t get a ribbon or award for being in the absolute worst “change situation” ever.
Our capacity for accepting change and to let go of what was varies, however the opportunity we each have to learn to let go, clear out the despair, recover, and go on to thrive, is equal.
When I feel down and think about what challenges I am facing, it helps to look at examples of other people who’ve overcome incredibly difficult change and have moved forward to let go, accept, and you may not want to hear this, but they’ve gone ahead and made the tastiest most amazing dang lemonade from the rotten lemons change brought to them.
An impressive lemonade maker that immediately comes to mind is Amy Purdy. She was a young talented downhill snowboarder on her way to make Olympic fame when a random illness resulted in a dramatic and unexpected change – the amputation of both of her legs. I’m sure she went through initial reaction, pain, loss, grief, self-pity… and then, she chose how she would respond.
Her response was to fight for herself. She chose to accept the loss of her legs and let go of the pity party and sorrow over what was.
She could not ever have her own legs again. She chose not to live in the past, but instead she responded to her circumstances by finding the courage to channel her energy, and her response, to fight for her well-being. To fight for her happiness, to fight for her dreams, to create opportunities where there were none.
She has gone on to become an accomplished Paralympic Snowboarder, a best-selling author, and has even been a contestant on television’s Dancing with the Stars.
“When you accept that there are certain truths in your life that you can’t change, it allows you to embrace your new reality and move forward.” – Amy Purdy
The big question: what do you want?
The healthiest way to move forward and to move from reaction to response is to decide what you want. Do you want to feel drained, frazzled, stuck, defeated, negative, and hurt, or do you want to move toward resilience, clearing it out, healing, acceptance, and letting go. You can’t make space to invite and allow new energy, new experiences, and wonderful opportunities for positive change if you don’t clear out the energy and emotions of what is now (like it or not) your past.
That’s not to suggest you will or should forget the past.
Everything you experience in your life is like a paintbrush stroke on the canvas that is the painting of your journey. Some strokes are big and wide and dark, some strokes are light and wispy, but they are all there. They are all permanent, they make you who you are – the good, the bad, the ugly. You wouldn’t be you without each unique color and stroke. Here we are with choices again! Accept and embrace it or sit in the darkness of denial.
Protecting your energy
Take some time right now to consider what difficult changes you’re coping with. How are you choosing to let that change affect you? Are you clinging too tightly to the past and not encouraging the process of letting go?
Are you still paused in the energy of reaction, or have you given yourself the space and grace to choose how and if you will respond. It’s never too late to shift your perspective and choose to respond differently.
Taking the pause to reflect before you respond is a practice in protecting your energy. You deserve to feel a sense of control (and thereby a bit of peace) over your feelings, and to move through whatever is changing in your life with a modicum of grace.
Choosing where and when to expend your energy by responding lets you be you.
That bit of space between reaction and response gives you the opportunity to be true to yourself, to your values, to how you want to show up in the world. It gives you choices about where you focus your energy and thoughts. It affords you the gift of letting go, of acceptance, and of caring for yourself.
The next time big change comes rolling into your life, especially the kind that would usually throw you into a negative and reactive tailspin… think of loving yourself and protecting your energy. Think about taking a few deep breaths before you react, take that moment (or hour or day or month) to decide what, if any, response will be in your best interest.
What response serves you best as you move forward through the inevitable changes. Sometimes, this requires a retraining of what your go-to reaction/response patterns are. Something that is well worth examining, especially if you’re struggling to cope.
Letting go, accepting change, and moving on is by no means easy but is the healthiest, most productive path toward living well and thriving despite the challenges.
Wishing you much comfort and wisdom as you navigate difficult changes in your life. – Marlene
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