People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.
Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master, Buddhist monk,
author, poet and peace activist

My inspiration for writing articles often comes from the most unlikely of places.
Last week I trekked into New York City to meet a colleague of mine. I mean, literally, to “meet” him. Two years ago, Gary Bradt and I were engaged by best-selling author Spencer Johnson to create a speaking program based on his newest 100-page parable “Peaks and Valleys.” In addition, we were asked to do dozens of nationwide interviews promoting the project.
While different in style, Gary and I are totally aligned when it comes to our writing, speaking and coaching. Over the past two years, we have spoken on the phone for many hours, exchanging ideas and cheering each other on. We’ve shared stories about our families as well as our dreams. He had become like a virtual family member, but we had never met in person.
Accompanied by a close friend, I finally met Gary. It was a stimulating lunch, the three of us telling “business speaking” war stories and bringing each other up-to-date on our latest ventures. Somewhere in the middle of our conversation, Gary shared a story that stimulated my thinking as I hope it will engage yours. The following is my interpretation of what I heard and the insights gained.
During his speaking presentation on finding “The Ring in the Rubble,” Gary picks up a chair in his left hand and says, “This chair represents all the negative stuff you hold on to from the past: regrets, anger, resentments, outdated ideas, negative attachments and fear.” With his right hand, he then picks up a second chair: “This chair represents – ‘Shoulds,’ ‘Only ifs,’ ‘When I have enough money, I will…,’ as well as fear of failure and possibly even fear of success.”
Holding both chairs aloft, he continues, “Now, imagine that you offer me a third chair that represents ‘opportunity.’ What must I do to grab this opportunity? I would have to choose to ‘let go’ of either the negative stuff I’m holding on to from the past or the negative thoughts I project in the future. And, if I really wanted to get a good grip on the opportunity, I would have to let go of both.”
What a simple and vivid demonstration of a very challenging concept!
“Letting go” requires not only a major shift in thinking, but self-awareness and a challenging change of behavior. Previously, I’ve portrayed the conscious mind as a small ‘rider’ perched on the back of a massive, powerful ‘elephant’ – which is the subconscious mind. The subconscious elephant does not like change and, when given a choice, will always choose to stick to the ‘status quo’ – the way things have always been. And the rider is very good at justifying the elephant’s choices.
The downside of staying on the familiar path is that, not only do we often miss opportunities, but we also stay trapped in a dead past, based in fear, or an unborn future, based on fear-based expectation. WE GET STUCK.
On the macro-level, being stuck in this in-between world is a challenge to businesses and, on the micro-level, it restricts the individual. If a leader makes self-defeating choices based in fear, then his team or even the entire organization often follows suit. In organizations, this way of thinking often becomes the “corporate culture” and is, in turn, passed to future leaders. In the family, children grow up and pass this “stuckness” of fear-based thinking to future generations. Being stuck is a killer of creativity. Letting go ignites the spirit.
How do you let go? You must become aware if you are stuck, then choose to identify the thinking that is keeping you stuck, and understand the payoff – what you are getting out of holding on to these ‘attachments.’ Then – do what you need to do to let go. For some, it is as simple as becoming aware; for others, it requires forgiveness of self or others. And, letting go always requires a strong, emotionally based vision that will move the elephant to change what is familiar and the willingness to be a little uncomfortable until you hit your “new normal.”
The process of letting go begins instantly when the rider encourages the shy elephant to turn inward and look at its beliefs, experiences, habits and fears. By the way, the elephant really doesn’t find self-introspection very comfortable and readily gets agitated. Being uncomfortable is also part of this process.
The good news is that the rider can, in fact, influence the elephant to let go, feel safe and step off the old familiar path. It all depends if the power of the vision of what you really want is more powerful, more vivid and more emotional than the warped vision of a fear-based way of thinking.
So, if you feel you are stuck and want to learn to let go, here are five questions to consider:
1. “What area, specifically, do I feel stuck in my life or business, one that I have tried to move forward but haven’t been successful?”
2. “How, specifically, do I want my future in that area to look and feel like?” This requires that you “visualize” and experience in your imagination “as if” you have already gotten unstuck and achieved your future vision.
3. “What would I have to change about my choices including my beliefs, expectations or even relationships in order to get unstuck?”
4. “If I went to sleep tonight and woke up tomorrow and that change had miraculously occurred, what, specifically would I notice?”
5. “What beliefs do I hold or mindsets do I have – that I would need to shift in order to achieve my vision and get unstuck?”
Answer those questions and you will know what you must “let go” of to get unstuck and you will have created a powerful enough vision of the future to motivate your elephant to move forward on a new path. Now, the choice is yours, and – if you choose not to let go – ask yourself these final questions: “What do I get out of holding on to a fear-based past or future? What is the payoff? Who or what do I get to avoid?”
Let go of the chair and seize opportunities – now. Learning to “let go” is at the core of living an exceptional life.