Every morning, the sun shines. Or rain nourishes the earth. Birds chirp. Children laugh as they head off to school. We should wake up happy, right?
But we don’t, do we?
We allow anxieties and fears, regrets and resentments, shame and hopelessness to paralyze us. Coffee helps, but doesn’t solve everything.
The good news is that there are so many things we can do to let go of pain, to sweep out the negativity and mental-habits that clutter our minds, so that we can navigate life cleanly and with a fresh spirit.
Here are 41 effective strategies that will help you cope with and move past the pain, even if the future seems bleak, so that you can wake up every day and create a life of clarity, happiness and freedom…
How To Let Go of the Past
1. Forget Regret
I was once talking to Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, about the time Steve Jobs offered him 33% of Apple Computers for $50,000. That would be worth about 200 billion dollars now, making him the richest person in the world – by more than twice! Nolan said, “yeah, I think about that now and again”.
Nolan is a happy man. He went on to found Chuck-e-Cheese, raise wonderful, productive sons and build circles of friends.
You can’t win them all. Focus on your wins. And simply create more of them every day. Even if it’s something small like a thoughtful gesture.
2. Return Your Childhood Dreams Back to Childhood
It’s been well stated that if we all became what we said we wanted to be on those 5th Grade Career tests, we’d have a planet full of Princesses, cowboys, astronauts and teachers.
What we wanted then is likely not what we want now, but until you release those dreams (i.e. financially naïve fantasies), they will tug at you.
If you can experience that fantasy game on the field at Yankee Stadium, or climb Everest or paint a landscape painting- ad it doesn’t cost you too much time or money – have at it. Note the level of happy-charge it has for you. Chances are releasing the charge will be a happier experience than the experience itself.
Otherwise, write your childhood dream on a piece of paper and set it floating downstream, or burn it up in a sacrificial fire, devoted to freeing yourself from the past.
3. Release Past Labels
Whatever an ex called you or “made” you feel – it’s past. It was their perspective. Their baggage, not yours. You are free to self-define. Always. Start now.
4. Take Responsibility For How You Got Here
There is a huge chasm between taking 99% of responsibility for the condition of your life and taking 100%. As soon as you blame someone else for your state, your funds, your relationship or lack thereof, your mood – reverse your focus. Look within. How did you create your situation. What can you do to change it.
How To Let Go of Stress
5. Kick Perfectionism Out the Door
Perfectionism is the enemy of action. Perfect is the enemy of pretty good. And pretty good is what gets us forward. Move toward your goals. Don’t worry about accomplishing them immaculately.
6. Don’t “Should” on Yourself
One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I heard was from my son when I asked him which college he wanted to go to. After all, I said, this decision will determine your friend set and your network going out into the world. “Dad,” he said, “there are 100 ways of making the right decision”.
So it is.
Things are as they are, not as they “should have been”. Which brings us to a second great piece of wisdom, which I learned from my father. “Life deals you cards and you play them.” There are no shoulds involved in that.
Just play your cards and make good decisions as you go.
If you think you can’t think when your desk and room is cluttered – you’re right. Clutter takes up brainspace. And according to psychiatrists, taking even tiny step in improving your life such as cleaning your desk boosts your feeling of control while knocking down your stress level. Plus bonus here – you can find things.
8. Stop Trying to Impress Anyone But Yourself
Those who are hard to impress won’t be impressed. Those who are easy are not worth your efforts. Either way, strive to impress yourself. Because you are your own best beacon.
9. Create Reminders For What’s Important
Create a list of 5 things you must do tomorrow before you go to sleep. Then check in on them and do them. Wear a wrist band and flick it when you catch yourself acting out, shouting, hurting those you care for or procrastinating. Train your mind to take action when you drift off your higher purposes.
10. Make a Change
Stasis is your comfort zone. More or less. Leaving stasis can be scary. But staying in stasis is a kind of death of the spirit. Learn new skills. Arts. Crafts. Tech skills. Break into new areas of creativity with new skills that call to you – rather than bemoan the skills you never mastered in the past.
11. Move Your Body
Exercise. Run. Walk. Jump up and down. Hit the gym. Take up a sport. Dance. Dancerjumpercize.
It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters that you move your body, which decreases stress hormones and increases your happy hormones (endorphins).
It’s the quickest – and most legal – happy drug there is.
12. Speak Your Truth
Brene Brown tells us that shame festers in the dark. So does righteous anger and resentment. Like shame, bring it out into the light. Find a (safe) way to let loose. Either on paper or to a trusted friend. Blow off all that roiling angry energy and clear your mind so you can make positive, helpful choices in your life.
Speak your truth. It’ll only turn into poison if you keep it in.
13. Come Back to the Present Moment
When I got married, my vows were all committed to returning the “now” in our relationship. That means being fully there, fully attentive, fully listening. But it also meant releasing attachment to the future and the past. When you are living in the past or the future, you are not only causing pain and suffering in those around you who don’t the “whole” you here and now (and are often made to feel inadequate), but you are in constant tension with what is.
So let go of non-presence by bringing your full attention to what’s happening right now in your life, free of expectations, regrets, resentments, hopes and dreams. You will see anew what is possible.
14. Cheerfully Release the Need to Be “Right”
Here’s a shocker – you’re not right. I mean, you’re partly right about most things. But you’re also partly wrong. So are we all. It’s the destiny of us not actually being Gods. We have partial perspective. We get emotional. We operate on habit.
Rather than hold on to the thrill of feeling “right” – let it go and discover the new thrills you will discover when you choose instead to be happy.
How To Let Go of Negative Emotions
15. Release Guilt in 3 Steps
Guilt is when you feel bad because of something you did. It can weigh you down like an anchor around your neck. But the past is done and what you’ve done is done. However, the residue or impact of what you’ve done may not be done. The only path to release guild is to face what you’ve done and to whom you did it. No fuzziness here. Just two simple steps (1) admit cleanly what you did, your responsibility and your feelings around it (2) ask for forgiveness (3) ask for or propose restitution.
You may not receive forgiveness, but you can release the guilt of what you’ve done now and forever.
16. Let Go of Shame in 4 Steps
Shame, unlike guilt, is not that you’ve done something bad but a haunting feeling that you “are” bad at core. Releasing shame is a crucial step to living a happy, open-hearted, loving and pain free life. Brene Brown, the great shame researcher offers a 4 step process you can do over and over again, so that shame will loosen its grip on your heart.
(1) Know what shame is and call it out cleanly. And admit that you identify your essence on some level with shame.
(2) Understand what activates your feelings of shame. “For example, I can expect to be triggered as soon as I feel like I have disappointed someone or let them down.” Now you can greet it when it happens and say, ‘I get it, but not this time.’ ”
(3) Practice critical awareness. Ask yourself with your best thinking, for instance – “is it really true that I am not worthy of love because I lost this one relationship.”
(4) Reach out. Shame can’t survive being spoken. It thrives in the shadows and dies in the light. So admit it to a friend. As Brown says, “talking cuts shame off at its knees”. And you’re likely to discover that those shame feelings you thought you alone had are common to a whole lot of others!
17. Transform “Rejection” With A Changed Perspective
Rejection activates the same areas in your brain as physical pain, which explains why it can hurt so much. The feeling of rejection sparks your deep, evolutionary need to belong. When we get “rejected”, we can get depressed, find it hard to think clearly, remember to act for our own benefit and make good decisions for ourselves.
I recommend reframing the whole idea of rejection.
It’s not one whole person rejecting another whole person. It’s one person acting in a moment for momentary reasons that most likely has nothing to do with your “identity” or your “worth”. They are just doing what they need to do in the moment and you have the choice to create your life in response any way you want. The Tao gives a wonderful metaphor that we may yell at another boat drifting toward us on a river if there is a driver, but if there is no driver, we just navigate around it.
Navigation is always your choice, regardless of other people’s priorities, nastiness, constriction, cruelty or forgetfulness.
18. Hell, Let Go of the Pain Caused by Repressing all Your Emotions
We discussed letting go of anger. But clean the whole house. Too often we bury our feelings or deny them because they are too painful or uncomfortable to feel. But the truth is that the way out is through. Only be stepping into a feeling can you experience it in its fullness. Only then can you release it in its fullness.
19. Stop Criticizing Yourself
A wise man said, “Do not complain about the things you cannot change. And the things you can change? Do not complain about them either”.
In other words, if there are aspects of your personality or life you’d like to change, release condemning yourself and simply take steps to start changing it. Action inspires self-love, motivation and joy.
20. Turn Envy Into Appreciation
I have bad news: somebody is always going to be taller, richer, thinner, stronger, more accomplished, younger, prettier or luckier than you.
And I have good news: so what? Let it go. It could be worse.
Here’s your cure…
When you catch yourself envying another, first, celebrate their good fortune. This way, you share in the good vibes of all that is around you. You are not jealous of a mountain for its strength or a lake for its beauty. Choose to see the whole world – people and everything – as a bounty of gifts.
21. Shut Down the Pity Party
Again – it could be worse. When you mope about your state, it distracts you from (1) enjoying what’s good and (2) taking action to improve your state. The quick cure: do something nice for someone else- you’ll like yourself better.
22. Learn Optimism
Optimists see more choices. Feel more buoyant. Are more well liked, and more popular. Get hired and befriended more. Be realistic but drop the habit of expecting the worst. If you need help, check out Dr. Martin Seligman’s landmark work, “Learned Optimism”.
23. Stop Comparing
It’s so easy to watch the happy vacation pictures on Facebook and wonder why our lives suck so much in comparison. Or we could realize that those happy vacationers might have cancer, have lost a child, may soon go broke, might fight like thieves when the lights go down.
You don’t know.
So don’t bother.
24. Cry It Out
Nothing heals like a good cry. Rather than keep a stiff upper lip because that seems admirable, soften your heart and cry it out. Medical studies show that crying releases negative chemicals that stress piles up in your body.
25. Do an Emotion-Check With Your Friends
Too often we let emotions get in the way of our clear thinking. “I’ll never be loved again.” “I’ll never get another job.” Do a fact check with your friends. Ask them if you’re thinking straight. And listen to what they have to say.
26. Put Yourself in Other’s Shoes
You have your perspective. Everyone has his or her own, as well. We all see the world based on our parents, our friends, media we’ve consumed, our experiences. Make it a practice to put yourself in the shoes of anyone whose actions you resent or can’t figure out. You’ll grow wiser as well as more compassionate.
27. Stop Criticizing Others
Attention? Turn it inwards. Wasting your breath on putting down others is a transparent way of boosting your status in front of friends. It cripples your compassion and your curiosity. You never know the pain that made that guy the jerk he is, but I guarantee, you’d treat him differently if you did. Everybody is on a journey of healing. Some people’s are just way longer than yours.
How To Let Go Of Frustration
28. Exchange Worry For Thought
The frontal cortex can busy itself by spinning worried thoughts, or it can set about solving problems. It can’t to both at the same time. Some neurologists guess that worry is a way to move energy out of the fear-inducing amygdala. But it’s a bum trade. It’s up to you to release worry and focus on step-by-step solutions for problems at hand. Make the transition by asking yourself “what’s one step I can take right now toward a solution”.
29. Ask For Help (You’re Allowed)
Too often we feel we have to prove that we can do things ourselves. We don’t. We are a tribal species underneath it all. We do best when we lean on each other. We feel connected. Supported. Aided. Educated. And perhaps even cared for.
30. Breathe Far More Deeply
A friend of mine once wrote a book called “Meditation in a New York Minute”. The beauty of this concept is that you can change your state not only with hours of meditation but with a few simple deep breaths.
Breathe 3 times to the depths of your belly – a four count down and four count up – slowly – and watch how your mind clears and your body calms.
31. Look Back From Your Future Self
You can either view your life from your current conditions or you can view them from future possibilities. When we lose track of our visions for our best life, we sink into despond. Regularly vision your ideal life. Make a vision board. Write your future. Or talk it out with a friend or loved one. Then figure out what steps you need to take to get there.
32. Laugh It Out
Studies show multiple benefits of laughter – it soothes tensions, boosts your immune system, even provides pain relief. If you don’t have funny friends, subscribe to a favorite comedian’s channel on Pandora, or watch funny videos on Youtube or Netflix.
33. Celebrate Yourself
Celebrate your victories. Reward yourself for taking even small actions. Clear your desk. Delete negative people from your Facebook feed. Lose 5 pounds.
34. Get Hot
I hit my hot tub about three times a day. It gets me into nature and I read, undistracted by the temptation of the Internet. Studies show that people who sit in hot tubs or saunas even just twice a week are less stressed than their peers.
And if you want to follow the lead of people like Wim “The Ice Man” Hof and adherents of his like Tony Robbins, duck yourself into an ice bath once a day. That, or even 5 minutes of a cold shower will wake your body up, boost your immune system and set in motion a whole host of neuro-beneficial and fat burning processes.
35. Leave Gravity
Float tanks are making a speedy comeback. Imagine – what would you think if you were suspended in pitch black and absolute silence in body-temperature saline water that made you feel weightless. Want to find out what your brain does in the induced waking alpha-state? Want deep Pain relief? Natural endorphins produced? In float tanks, the brain gives out alpha waves associated with relaxation and meditation. You emerge after two hours refreshed and profoundly calmed, in a unique way.
36. Remove the “Tall Poppy Cutters” From Your Life
There are people who feel so bad about their own lives that they expend their energy cutting down those who grow tall and happy as a way of self-solace. It never works of course, but it can affect you on your path into self-expression.
In Australia, they call them “tall poppy cutters”. If you can release those relatives and “friends” and acquaintances from your daily life who put you down, do it.
If you can’t (mother, sibling, etc.) – then you can – and must – set boundaries. For example, without anger or drama, simply say “if you put me down at all again, I will simply hang up/walk out and go home”.
And follow through.
37. Don’t Try to Control The Uncontrollable
Do you shout at thunderstorms when they threaten your picnics, hoping they will retreat? Well what other people’s character? Same difference. You will have a happier life if you focus your energies on what you can control – namely, your thoughts and actions.
38. Stop Slowing Down Your Body
Want to feel energetic rather than sluggish? We are only now beginning to understand just how damaging to our moods, our immune system, our daily energy and our natural joy factory-processed foods cause. The solution: eat as much organic vegetables as you can stand, along with lean meats, nuts and some fruit. The closer the food is actually growing from the Earth itself untouched and unchanged, the healthier and more vibrant and vital you will be.
39. Get Real About Love
It’s only an idea that you have one “soul mate”. If you lost someone, there’s no reason not to believe that you can perfectly well love another. We can love whom we choose. There is no pre-existing “twin flame”. Remember what G.S. Shaw said about marriage, that it’s “based on the exaggeration of one woman’s value about all others.”
40. Make New Friends But Keep The Old
Reach out to old friends. Make new ones. Hey, we are not a computer screen-born species; we are a social one. Every study out there shows that the more good friends we cultivate, the happier we are.
41. Love Yourself Right Now
Too often we allow ourselves to love ourselves only on condition that we accomplish something in the future. A job. A new record. A relationship. It’s a mistake and it causes so much internal stress and pain. So buy yourself a dessert. New shoes. A trip to an exotic beach. Throw a party in your honor. Say “I love you” into the mirror and over as Louise Hay recommends. Whatever the form or formula, simply, love yourself now. It’s all you’ve got.