If you’ve never ridden a horse, here’s a tip: don’t hold on to a runaway. It hurts like hell, and you’ll end up losing the horse!
Similar wisdom can be applied to situations in our personal and professional lives. At times, we can hang on so tight to something that we end up being dragged away from what we’re really trying to accomplish. Whether it’s solving a challenge at work or crushing a personal goal, the lesson is the same: you cannot Get Shit Done (GSD) when you’re being dragged. You have to let go.
You may be thinking, "I get it, but letting go is a friggin’ hard thing to do." I agree! Most of us—me included—are challenged with letting go. In this blog I’ll share three warning signs to watch for–signs that indicate you may be holding on too tight–along with three actions you can take to let go. But before I get to that, I’d like to share a recent personal example of when I was holding on too tight.
While writing my last two blogs, I found myself hitting the same creative wall over and over again. Even though I knew what I was trying to say, I was having a hard time putting the words together to express the GSD principle of “Take People on the Journey With You.” Writing both parts was a slog!
I hit the pause button to examine what had created the wall, and that’s when I realized I was holding on too tight. But what was I holding onto? My new business! I was focusing so much energy on what was going to happen, when it would happen, how it would happen, etc., that I wasn’t able to let go long enough to actually allow it to happen. I was holding on so tight to what might (or might not) happen tomorrow that I wasn't Getting Shit Done today.
Three Warning Signs You’re Holding On Too Tight
How do you know when you’re holding on too tight and need to relax your grip? Though yours might differ slightly, here are three warning signs that signal I’m about to get dragged.
1. My options are clouded. Normally, visualizing the path forward is fairly easy for me. Whether it’s architecting a story for a client or preparing for a breakthrough jam session, I’m able to easily see multiple options. But when I’m holding on too tight, those options don’t appear so easily.
2. I’m anxious when I wake up. I have a spiritual practice that helps me get grounded each morning, and when I wake up I automatically “flow” into that practice. However, some mornings my mind immediately starts “informing” me of all kinds of things I need to focus on—none of which actually need to be handled today. Next week, maybe, but not today.
3. I don't allow room for flexibility. This last warning sign is a big one for me. When I’m grounded I’m great at making the adjustments necessary to get through any situation. Here’s a quick example: I’m a big fan of SoulCycle, and one of my favorite SoulCycle instructors is fond of saying “Let the beat come to you.” In other words, when I'm comfortable on the bike and “in the flow” of the music I'll easily find the beat. When I’m holding on too tight, it’s super hard to let the beat come to me.
Three Techniques for Letting Go
Once you realize you’re holding on too tight, how do you then let go? Here are my three “go to” techniques – use them to inspire you to action.
1. Be of service. Typically, holding on too tight means focusing on what’s happening to me. So, I’ll look to focus on someone else for a bit. I’ll touch base with a colleague to see how a big project is going and if there’s a quick assist I can provide. I’ll call a friend who may be going through a rough patch and see how their day is going.
It doesn’t have to be a big action. I find that even that brief moment of service helps me “get out of me” and let go.
2. Focus on the next action. You’ve heard that every journey begins with a single step? It’s true. However, we often get tripped up by the perceived difficulty of the entire journey instead of just taking that first (or next) step.
If we’re holding on too tight to a project, it may indicate we’re worried about the outcome. Note I said “worried” rather than “thinking.” Of course, we need to think about outcomes, but when we worry about outcomes, it’s paralyzing. Try this: Instead of thinking about a project as a single, overwhelming assignment, break it down into manageable chunks. What do you need to do today to move it forward? When I stick with that approach the project moves faster—and the outcome materializes much more easily.
3. Take a short fitness break. I’m a big fan of exercise, but it’s tough (and expensive) to regularly hit the pause button for daily SoulCycle classes! Beyond the obvious benefits of exercise, taking a 10-minute walk or doing a micro-workout can be just as helpful for me in letting go. Again, the whole idea is to get out of my head and focus on something else so I can come back grounded and re-energized. According to this Wall Street Journal article, mini-workouts during the day can pay off physically as much as a long 60-minute session.
Putting “Let Go” into Practice
What’s the payoff of letting go? For me, it’s all about getting back to a more grounded, balanced, and integrated state. When I’m in that state I make better decisions and deliver higher-quality work—without feeling exhausted.
Remember these tips to put "Let Go" into practice:
Recognize your warning signs for when you’re holding on too tight
Have 2-3 techniques you can use to let go
Be gentle with yourself as you learn how to do the first two
That last one is so important, I’ll say it again: be gentle with yourself! Letting go is a lot harder than it sounds, and it’s not one of those things you magically do once and you’re done. It’s an ongoing practice, and the goal is progress—not perfection. I’ll continue to work on my own journey of letting go, and I hope you will, too.
As always, thanks for checking out my blog. I hope you found this helpful! What are the warning signs that signal you’re holding on too tight? And what techniques have you found that help you let go? I’d love to hear from you! You can e-mail me at email@example.com or connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.