Feelings of stress can manifest in different ways for different people. In some cases, internal tension emerges because situations in our lives do not match our internal expectations, or because things do not go as per our plan. Over the years, I have learned that this internal stress can occur more intensely for individuals who have higher self-efficacy and an internal locus of control. We define self-efficacy as a strong belief in our personal ability to meet our goals. Internal locus of control relates to believing life outcomes are within our power. This is the opposite of external locus of control, where one typically believes that life outcomes and situations are out of one’s control.
If you are someone who identifies as having a strong self-efficacy and an internal locus of control, then this can be both a positive and a negative. The positive side of this is that we actively behave in a way that moves us towards what we desire, and we have a strong belief in our ability to do so successfully. However, the negative side of this is that because we firmly believe we can control the outcomes in our lives, we can get overwhelmed when situations are out of our control. This idea can relate to both small and more significant cases in our lives, whether that is being stuck in traffic, losing a job due to a company downsizing, or something gets in the way of obtaining a personal goal.
When situations like these occur, it is essential to practice the mindfulness principle of letting go. This principle states that if we can learn to let go of expectations or anything that is not in our highest good, the happier and more content we will be. This relates to another mindfulness principle of acceptance, which implies that we need to accept what is to move forward. Putting these two principles together means that when life situations occur that are not what we hoped for, we need to take what is and let go to move forward. If we do not do this, and instead cling to the negative feelings of our expectations not being met, it prevents us from moving forward and cultivating a more positive future. That being said, the more we can let go emotionally and move forward when life does not go as planned, the happier and more content we will be long term.
If the mindfulness principles of acceptance and letting go are hard to put into practice, here are some simple strategies to help along the way.
1. Give yourself permission to feel and accept
As situations arise that did not go as you hoped, it is essential to accept that the situation occurred, that it was out of your control, and feel the natural emotional responses. Honor the feelings that come up first before anything else. Permit yourself to feel disappointed, grieve, get angry, or vent to loved ones. It is crucial to allow yourself to feel what you feel without judgment or criticism. Try not to be too hard on yourself as you feel a natural emotional response.
2. Decide when to let go
As you notice these emotions, tell yourself what length of time you will allow yourself to feel this way, and when you will let go and move forward. For example, maybe you will give yourself an hour a day for the next seven days, or give yourself a full 24 hours to feel disappointed or sad. Hold yourself accountable for whatever time frame you set. Tell yourself that after the time frame you select passes, you will move forward.
3. Create an affirmation
While keeping in mind the chosen time-frame, create an affirmation that relates to accepting the situation and letting go. For instance, “I accept that X occurred, and I will move forward,” or “I will be happier once I accept that this was out of my control and take steps towards my next goal.”
It is vital to create an affirmation that resonates with you. To help the affirmation stick, write it down, or put it somewhere, you will see it regularly.
4. Practice over time.
The next step is to start to use the affirmation(s) to let go. This step can be hard because the mind will want to ruminate and keep thinking about what did not go well. The feelings might come up again. This is where consistency is essential. Continue to use the affirmation(s) each time the feelings emerge and continue practicing this step over time. Practice, practice, practice to keep letting go.
5. Remember “Letting Go” is a choice
Remind yourself that letting go is a choice. Letting go is choosing not to allow what is bothering you to do so anymore. It is letting go of anything that no longer serves your best self or best intentions. Utilize the self-efficacy and internal locus of control to your advantage.
6. Notice the positive of letting go.
Last but not least, it's crucial to recognize the positive impact that accepting and letting go has on one’s emotional wellbeing. Notice what it feels like to not hold onto anger or sadness. Notice how it energetically frees you up to move forward. The more this can be recognized; the more positive reinforcement will help continue this behavior.
In general, letting go is hard for many people, and it takes practice to become skillful at it. Like anything else in life, the more one practices, the more proficient he or she will get at practicing acceptance and letting go. Overall, the more we can let go and move forward when things do not go as planned, the happier and more content we will be.