6 Lessons On Letting GoLetting go doesn't mean that you don't care about someone anymore. It's just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself. ~Deborah Reber
All my life, I have relied on goal-setting to achieve results.
Whether it came to school work, or even just taking time to hang out with my friends, I would plan the entire day out on outlook or use one of many goal setting techniques that I had learned.
For example, I would stick a piece of paper on the ceiling of my bedroom with my goals written on it so it would be the first thing I saw when I woke up.
And while all this helped me achieve great results, I noticed that I was always chasing the next big thing or the next goal I set for myself. I noticed that I never felt genuine contentment in my life.
It wasn’t just with goals. When it came to my social life, I cared too much about being popular and tried too hard to maintain a good social image by pleasing people. And I constantly felt like I didn’t know who I was, and I definitely wasn’t happy.
Today, I no longer set goals and recently deleted my personal Facebook. What made me do this?
Here is my understanding of attachment and some lessons I learned (I continue to learn them) that have helped me become happier and more productive than ever before.
1. Goals Should Be Treated More Like Guidelines
The way I used to set goals was I would set a deadline for something to get done and set a certain quantity of work to get done by that time.
So, for example, I would say something like, “Lose 10 pounds in three months.” After setting a goal like this, I would look at it every day and visualize it in my head.
The problem with this approach was that it was highly unlikely I would lose exactly 10 pounds in those three months. So I was setting myself up for failure the minute I set that goal.
I learned that it is better to use goals as a guide to get to the end rather than trying to achieve the goal exactly. Initially, I used process-oriented goals as an intermediate step to achieve this. So something like, “I will go to the gym three days a week starting today.”
These days, I don’t even use these and am disciplined enough to listen to my heart to know what to do.
2. It Is Better To Improvise Constantly
Whenever I set any goal, I used to throw everything I had toward achieving it. As I went about my daily life, my goal was always in the back of my mind and heavily influenced any decision I made during the day.
Initially, this method yielded excellent results. Because I was so devoted and invested in my goal, I achieved a lot.
But this also meant that I would get incredibly upset when I didn’t achieve my goal. In other words, I was heavily attached to a specific outcome in the future.
I learned that since things change every day, it is smart to change our goals and priorities to reflect these changes. When you are really rigid and don’t change with the times, you are prone to suffering.
3. Letting Go Of Attachment To People Doesn’t Mean You Have To Become A Recluse
My self-identity used to be dependent on the people around me. Most of my actions were aimed at pleasing people and maintaining my social image.
I learned that letting go of attachment to people means that you don’t let your sense of identity be affected by the actions and words of anyone, including your loved ones.
This way, you are not running away from your loved ones but you are also not saying things like, “Without this person I wouldn’t survive.”
I learned that it is possible to love a person without being attached to that person.
4. Having Fewer Possessions Makes You Happier
Attachment to material possessions can get dangerously toxic. I used to have a tendency to accumulate more and more. But recently I have moved towards living a minimalistic lifestyle.
Things I used to dream of as a boy, such as owning a big mansion no longer excites me (unless I have a big enough family to fill that mansion).
I have realized that I feel much happier living with fewer, high quality items which fulfil my needs and not more.
5. The Past Doesn’t Matter, Nor Does The Future
I already talked about the problems associated with living in the future, i.e. setting goals and being too attached to them.
But to add to that, it is important to realize that yes, we have a say on what happens in the future depending on the actions we take in the present.
So it is okay to think about the future when you make decisions right now. But to worry about it is nothing more than a big distraction.
What about the past? Events that occurred in the past are meant to stay exactly there, in the past. However, it is important to learn the lessons that the past teaches us. Other than that, dwelling on the past has no use to us.
6. It is Easy to Become a Slave to Your Emotions
Just like with attachment to people, letting go of attachment to emotions doesn’t mean you should stop feeling emotions. That’s what robots are for :)
All it means is that it is OK to feel emotions but it becomes a problem when you let them change your self-identity.
For example, if you just suffered a bad break up, you feel pain. And that is OK — it’s part of life. But you shouldn’t let that change the way you think about yourself.
Just like the saying goes, “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” Accept the pain and move on.
Another example, when things are going great, you feel very happy. It is okay to feel this too. But the minute you let it turn into pride and start thinking of yourself as superior to others, it’s bad.
Although it is easy to write about and learn the things I have written above, to actually practice it takes a lot of discipline and time to master.
It is something that I continue to master and one I fail at a lot too. But as long as you learn your lessons and accept that this is the practice of a lifetime, you will feel much happier in life.