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Want to Succeed? Let Go

Photo by Cyril Lookin
By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning. ~Lao Tsu

When I joined my college improv comedy troupe during my freshman year at UPenn, I wasn’t the only newly inducted member in the group. Another guy named Pete came on board with me.

Pete and I were total opposites. Right before a show I was a ball of nervous energy, while Pete was super cool and relaxed.

I worked hard in practice, memorizing the rules of each game and studying what worked and what didn’t, while Pete — always on cruise control — seemed to just wander into practice and wing it.

I didn’t like Pete at first. I didn’t think he was a good performer and didn’t trust him in scenes. He would say something totally random that no one else was prepared for, and the scene would suddenly turn in a completely different direction.

There was just one thing though — Pete was funny. Real funny.

Excel By Letting Go

Audiences instinctively smiled whenever Pete entered a scene, and they always got a kick out of the wacky, off-the-wall stuff that came out of his mouth. And the crazy part was, Pete wasn’t even trying to be funny! Pete wasn’t trying anything; Pete was just being Pete.

So how did he do it? How was Pete able to be so damn funny on stage, without putting much thought or effort into his practice time?

Answer: He let go.

On the surface it sounds like Pete should have been worse at improv after letting go. How can you excel at something if you don’t work your absolute hardest to be best at it?

Well, here are three reasons why letting go actually makes you better at the thing you’re trying to accomplish:

1) It Means You Work Smart, Not Hard

To get good at something you have to work at it, we all know that. But what does it mean to “work,” exactly?

When people hear the word “work,” they instinctively picture themselves hunched over a computer screen in a tiny cubicle lost inside an office of tiny cubicles. That’s what work is, right?

Well yes, that is work. There’s just one problem: Most people work for money, not to get good.

If your goal is to actually get good at something — be it creative, athletic, academic or even career-related — why would you ever incorporate the principles of standard everyday work where the goal is simply to not get fired and continue earning income?

Instead do the opposite. Take what you consider work, and let that go. Let go of all the hardships associated with accomplishing a task, and suddenly the road to glory seems a lot less daunting, less intimidating.

Of course you still have to put the work in — but now you’re working smart, not hard. You’re not over-working in some desperate attempt to win at all costs. Instead your mind is at ease, which makes the work itself more manageable.

2) It Gets You Out of Your Head & Into the World

When you hold onto things, your muscles tighten. Anxiety creates tension in both the body and the mind.

Letting go loosens not only your mind, but your muscles as well. To let go is to free yourself of a mental and emotional burden. But the consequences of such a powerful decision go far beyond the mental and emotional, they affect your physical world as well.

We all know what it’s like to be stuck in our heads — the tension, the anxiety, the desperation — it’s so overwhelming. But what most of us don’t realize is that during those moments of being stuck in our heads, our bodies clamp up. Our shoulders hunch, our hands turn to claws, our teeth grit and our eyes narrow.

Basically, we turn into a villain from a superhero movie.

The way out of that physical burden is to free our minds by letting go of the anxiety, concern and mental tension that constricts our bodies. Letting go allows you to puff your chest, straighten your shoulders, extend your fingers, smile and see the world with eyes wide open.

Basically, it turns you into a superhero.

Or to put it another way, letting go gets you out of your head and into the world. Suddenly we are engaged and active instead of ponderous and reactive. We’re able to achieve progress in our endeavors, rather than succumb to procrastination.

Success isn’t buried in the inner reaches of your mind. It’s waiting for you out there, in the world at large. Letting go is the first step to finding it.

3) You Get to Enjoy the Journey

You’ve probably heard the phrase Life is about the journey not the destination. Meaning, of course, that it doesn’t matter where you end up in life, all that matters is how you get there. Most people spend the majority of their lives on a journey, so it’s the journey that counts rather than the destination or end goal.

But did you know that if you focus on the journey you will actually change your destination? And not just change — improve.

The reason is simple: The journey is your present, while the destination is your future. By focusing on the journey — the present moment — you free yourself from the angst or worry that inevitably comes along with imagining a future event. You are living in the present moment, which enables you to let go and achieve better results.

In other words, by focusing on the present journey, you are able to have fun. And having fun is the key to success, for you can’t truly excel at something unless you enjoy it.

Focus on the destination, and you may or may not get there. Focus on the journey, and you’ll arrive at a destination far stronger and more gratifying than the one you previously imagined.

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About the author

John Freund is an author and improv comedian. He performs regularly at the People’s Improv Theater in New York. His first e-book, Fake it with Confidence: How to use Improv Comedy to be More Confident in Social Situations is available here. You can also visit John at his blog. John lives and writes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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