How to Let Go When You’ve Become an Expert in Holding On

As Practiced by a Learning Strategist

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From the moment we are born, we form attachments: to people, environments, things, etc. As we grow and develop, our sense of security and comfort becomes more intertwined with our attachments to various people and things. It becomes the secure base from which we explore our environments, take risks, and find the courage to grow, learn, and mature. Along the way of discovering ourselves and forming what we come to know as our identity or self-concept, we form many habits. Some of these habits have become so ingrained, we no longer take notice of them. They run our lives, and it’s as if we are on auto-pilot.

When you are in a field like the one I am in- namely the mental health field- your training and day to day work ensures that you become very intimately aware of these habits. Mindfulness is a skill you learn and develop throughout your work with various populations. Mindfulness roots one deeply in the present moment, bringing their awareness to the here and now. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you come to find and experience truths that are not always easy to sit with. Once you’ve sat with certain truths, the harder task lies in how to change the things that no longer serve you. Whether it’s a thought pattern, behavior, or attitude you’ve adopted in the past, you have come to the realization that it is toxic to your own and others’ well-being. You want to change but you don’t know how.

As a learning strategist in a private therapeutic high school, I work daily to assist students with various educational and therapeutic goals. I develop action plans and incorporate different interventions to promote learning and growth in very difficult situations. Teaching others how to let go is a part of what I do. So, what happens then when I am the one who is struggling to let go? I take a deep breath and remind myself of what I teach others. I take the time to be still and present with my thoughts. I reflect. I journal if I feel inspired to do so. I practice compassion towards myself. Then, I ask myself some questions. What is motivating this thought pattern or behavior? Is it serving me at the moment? How can I go about changing it?

Many times, these simple prompts can lead to meaningful inward reflection. They can also help one to see and acknowledge how you may know something intellectually but have not established a strong enough emotional response to adopt a different behavior. Our brain is comprised of networks of neurons- in the 100’s of billions- that are malleable. We can influence the way we think and behave, and in turn, change the structure of our brain. We can positively or negatively reinforce our habits by taking small, incremental steps towards new, positive ones. The more vulnerable we are, the more support we can benefit from with our social circles.

In the absence of that, allow yourself to become the first line of defense. As a learning strategist, I’m never done learning. I’m always amending, revisiting, adjusting, etc, with my work with others but also with myself. I try to create the habit of practicing kindness towards myself (not to be confused with vanity), maintaining gratitude lists, practicing patience with myself and others, and allowing my present experiences to be integrated with newer experiences that will help me to achieve the growth I desire. If there’s a specific area in which you are struggling, look for ways in which you can allow yourself to be exposed to something that will help you overcome an obstacle or fear. If you have a fear of intimacy in a relationship, practice vulnerability with others in a space you feel is safe. If you feel overwhelmed with something at the start of your day, practice shifting your perspective with a mantra. A mantra may include repeated, positive affirmations. Choose to be courageous instead of fearful. Affirm what you’d like to be or feel.

As they say, practice makes perfect, and nothing changes overnight. Faith it until you make it, because, sooner or later, you will make it. Surrender, and when you feel like you’ve surrendered enough, surrender some more.

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