Therese: What are five clues you should be letting go of something?
1. You find yourself repeating the same complaint to different people.
We all get frustrated from time to time, but it’s not good for our mental or spiritual health to wallow in frustration. I remember once I got irritated with another mother at my kid’s nursery school after she did something that inconvenienced me. I complained to the first mother I ran into, and then the second. When I heard myself repeating the story for the third time, it hit me that I was making myself more agitated, not less. I was also putting poison in the community well. Someone had made an honest mistake, and I needed to get over it.
2. You’re churning over in your brain what you wish you (or someone else) had done.
You can’t change the past. Period. If you can’t stop thinking about something that has happened, reframe your internal conversation by asking what you have learned from the experience or what you want to do differently next time. Just replaying the same tape isn’t going to get you anywhere.
3. Your body is showing signs of anxiety.
Often our bodies give us clear messages about what is going on inside of us. For some people, anxiety manifests in not being able to sleep. For me, heartburn is a frequent symptom, as well as tight shoulder muscles. If you pay attention to how you feel when you are at peace as well as when you are anxious or angry, you can learn to use your body as a barometer. Awake at 2AM again? That may be your sign that you need to let go of something.
4. You are scheming how to make someone else do something.
Face it: you can’t force anyone else do anything, and the more you try, the more likely you are to push that person away. You can tell them what you want, but if you find yourself imagining ways to get them to do what you want, it’s time to back off and let go. (i.e. “Accidentally” dragging your boyfriend past the diamond store in the mall is not going to make him ready to get engaged, if that’s what you’re hoping.) Focus on making yourself happy, rather than trying to manipulate someone else.
5. You can’t appreciate the life you have because you keep focusing on what could be.
Every one has something to be grateful for, even if it’s just breathing. If it takes you more than several seconds to think of five things you are grateful for, you are probably focusing too much on a picture of how you wish things were. Counting your blessings is a time-tested way to let go of what you don’t have and focus on what you have.
Therese: And in reverse, what are five clues you should be making a change instead of giving up?
1. You can’t let go.
An inability to forget something may be a sign that you need to make a change. If you just can’t accept the fact that your boss doesn’t respect your work, maybe it’s time to polish your resume. If you are still grieving a lost friendship, maybe you need to write the person a letter to repair the relationship or get closure. Sometimes we need to take action before we can let go.
2. The problem will persist if you do nothing.
Forgiving someone for an honest mistake is one thing, but if someone continually does something that you find hurtful or annoying, you probably need to let the person know. Maybe if your neighbor knew that his music was bothering you, he would turn it down. Maybe not, but he won’t turn it down if you never tell him, and you are likely to get a better response if you mention it calmly when it is a minor annoyance, rather than waiting until you are exasperated.
3. You feel jealous of someone else’s accomplishments.
Jealousy can be toxic if we wallow in it, but it can also point us toward our unrealized goals. If you find yourself resentful of a friend who just published her first novel, maybe you should ask what creative venture you have put off. That could be the impetus to look for a writing class or take some other step toward what you want.
4. People you trust believe you should make a change.
We have to be careful about following other people’s advice, but the truth is that sometimes other people see us more clearly than we see ourselves. Psychologists say that depression, for example, is often recognized by loved-ones before the depressed person can see it. Be open to the observations of people who have your best interests at heart, especially if they think you need some kind of help.
5. You angrily deny any problem.
If you get angry when someone suggests that you should be making a change, that’s all the more reason to take the person’s concern seriously. Anger is a typical symptom of denial. One way to break through denial is to look for objective evidence. One man I interviewed for The Wisdom to Know the Difference denied that he had a drinking problem until a counselor gave him a 20 question survey about drinking. When he answered yes to 18 of the 20 questions, he was jolted out of denial, giving him the boost he needed to join AA, a change that transformed his life.
To get to “Living the Serenity Prayer” by Eileen Flanagan, click here. Or visit her website at www.EileenFlanagan.com.