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The Science of Letting Go


“What is your first thought when you think about ‘letting go’?” The replies to this question would usually string back to unfortunate past events, an ex-lover, unattainable chances, and et cetera. Letting go could simply be redefined as relinquishing, where one would completely cease their attention and withdraw their involvement in a situation to move forward. Great American psychologists such as Charles Darwin and Carrol Izard concluded that emotions are determined by the consciousness and empathy of an individual, which certainly relates to anger, guilt, regret, and fear which are identified as the potential main drivers of being unable to let go. These drivers are hence recognized as the driving factors or triggers that fuel the reluctance to relinquish from what are supposed to be past events, where we seal the door so tight that we subconsciously imprison ourselves to the past


Stopping cravings that are accumulated from eating habits and giving up thoughts of that savoury cure, getting over a lost business contract or a promotion opportunity after you’ve invested so much time and effort into them, trying to forget a past relationship or friendship when everything links back to them, forgiving grudges and arguments that fuel your anger – all of these undeniably requires the great superpower of letting go. For many, a cherry-picked hardest case would be letting go of a past relationship, but why is it so hard? A relationship is linked to affection, daily habits, and trust where we reveal our deepest secrets. It is indeed shattering to even admit it’s time to let go, especially when there are unresolved conversations. We unconsciously hold on to these relationships even though they are destructive, simply because they are the only leftover linkage to the closeness we desire. Unconsciously, we are afraid of losing it completely by holding on to a hanging, unrealistic hope of recovery. Eventually, the action of holding on becomes habitual and is also what keeps us leashed to a storm of constant pain. But is it worth it? 


Eventually, the sun will still rise and we will still need to march forward by default. So how do we break the circuit and escape from what in reality is actually detrimental for us in this case? Recognising the drivers and addressing each of them will definitely give us the token of peace to move forward. Anger from what we thought was unfair or from being mistaken keeps us from letting go because we think that what we give is supposed to align with what we get by nature. Guilt that manifests into thoughts of, “What if I had done this instead?”, “Maybe if I’d been a bit more patient,”, and “Maybe if I cared a bit more,” pile up and transform into wanting to rectify the situation and relive all those past experiences again; regret from not giving it all we had when we thought we did and knowing deep inside that we could’ve done better, not keeping up with promises when all of a sudden we don’t have a chance to fulfill them anymore; fear from all the uncertainty after letting go showing obvious changes in our routine and forcing us to get out of what was once our comfort zone – the more we recognize these drivers, the more discouraging it becomes to move on. But it is only when we overcome them that we can be relieved.


As painful as it seems, it is certainly essential to recognize which drivers relate to our pain. The first step is always the toughest, but once they’re recognized, we’re only left with resolving them. An in-depth understanding of what causes the drivers will sprinkle salt on our wounds, but did you know that salts are antiseptic by nature? If you could choose to get hurt only once in your life or eternally, would you still choose eternally? Journaling, learning a new skill or sport, meeting new friends, meditating, cultivating a new hobby, exploring a new city, and so on will aid in refocusing the mind while letting go slowly as we reinstall our habits and perspectives in life. Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to tolerate changes – tends to decline after the age of 25, hence it is clear as to why it is so hard for us to let go of the beliefs and efforts that we had poured into what we presumed would succeed, or why we are subconsciously inclined to live in the loop of old habits. Especially when human nature tends to rationalize our actions as good and righteous, deferring every hint of reality. 


If we thought that what we had presented deserved to win that contract, if we thought that we had loved so hard that we deserved to keep the relationship, then why can’t we do it once again to win that contract with greater glory or fall into a more nurturing relationship? Maybe we weren’t fortunate enough to meet the right person, environment, and opportunity at the right time, but if we ourselves are the ones who pull the plug and refuse to move on, what about those who really care about us? ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear showed how it is possible to change over time with gradual seeds of effort, ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ by Robin Sharma shared how it is possible to move on to what really matters. All that is left now is for you to accept the challenge and surprise yourself later.