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Some of us think holding on makes us strong;
but sometimes it is letting go.
-Hermann Hesse, Poet
I strongly suggest you read Part 1 of this series:.
FYI: (The Conscious Mind=The Rider; The Unconscious Mind=The Elephant)
What Letting Go Means
It is the final characteristic of the Elephant—being terrified of letting go—that is the ego’s Achilles’ heel. It is by focusing on this point of vulnerability that the Rider can influence the Elephant and create change by using its mental tools of mindfulness, acceptance, and forgiveness to transform fear into love. None of this is intended to suggest that letting go is easy. Like many important things in life, it can be very difficult, although the payoff is substantial. Realizing that payoff, in this case, requires going through a process of five steps, as follows:
- Acknowledge the negative emotions that tell you what you need to let go of. Emotions are often signposts, but are also frequently ignored until they become destructive. Anxiety, stress, depression, anger, and heartbreak are all signposts of negative emotions, as are constantly revisited disheartening memories, grudges, and guilt from the past. Acknowledging our negative feelings fully is a powerful way to supercharge the process of letting go.
- Recognize that you have complete control of letting go. Asking the right questions can help you do this, such as “Does holding on to negative thoughts, memories, people, or things serve a purpose?” “If so, what purpose does it serve?” and “Does holding on move me forward in a positive direction?”
- Accept and trust that it is time to let go. This happens when you become grateful for the experiences you have had, negative or positive, and accept, with gratitude, that all experience has value. The more you accept what has happened and is happening in your life, the more peace of mind you will have.
- Focus on what can be changed. As simple as this sounds, it takes honesty, patience, and courage to accomplish. As I mentioned previously, we humans spend an enormous amount of energy trying to change what cannot be changed. It’s much more productive to focus on today.
- Forgive those who need to be forgiven, including yourself. Forgiveness is the most powerful and remarkable tool the Rider has to let go of the past. You will be given specific instructions for forgiveness in the next chapter.
What We Have to Let Go of
As a concept, letting go seems fairly straightforward. In reality, it is a complicated issue as there are several areas that have to be addressed if you want to live an exceptional life. In order to begin the process of letting go, it’s important that you become familiar with the most common unrecognized barriers that can keep you from doing so. These include the need to be competitive, being overly attached to things, the need to control others, judging, blaming others and being a victim, denial, and, finally, learning to live in the moment. The best place to begin is by examining traditional thinking about competition, the impact of low self-confidence, and how they are tied together.
Letting go of being Competitive to no Purpose
“Competition, which is the instinct of selfishness, is another word for dissipation of energy,
while combination is the secret of efficient production.”
—Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward
The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines competition as “1. The act or process of trying to get or win something that someone else is also trying to get or win: the act or process of competing. 2. Actions that are done by people, companies, etc., that are competing against each other.” In sports, of course, competition is a given. It’s healthy and, as every successful athlete will tell you, it brings out one’s personal best. It’s essentially the same in chess or any other game.
However, while competition is both mandatory and effective in the fields of athletics and games, that isn’t necessarily true in other areas of life. In fact, while competition clearly has its place and its rewards, inappropriately exercised competition can have an extremely negative influence on you and your relationships.
In his book No Contest, Alfie Kohn writes, “The simplest way to understand why competition generally does not promote excellence is to realize that trying to do well and trying to beat others are two different things.” Think about your own relationships. Are they cooperative, competitive, a little of both, or does it depends on the circumstances?
The reason I suggest the question is that the ideal classroom for learning about yourself is in the mirror of your relationships, past and present.
It is here that you will discover clues to how you view yourself in relation to others and whether you have fallen prey to the dark side of competition. As psychologist Carl Jung wrote, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.” Of course, there is nothing negative about the desire to challenge yourself, learn, and grow. But there is something inherently destructive about needing to affirm and define yourself at another’s expense. Putting others down, as well as attacking, sabotaging, or attempting to control and manipulate others are the most obvious clues to low self-worth.
This is where the very nature of competition can cut two ways, and there are several areas in life in which this can be demonstrated.
One of the areas in which competition can be extremely destructive is in the family environment. If parents pit one child against another they will often unknowingly create separation, guilt, and anger. This competitive model of behavior can also have an impact on future relationships throughout the siblings’ lives, and can actually lead to low self-confidence.
The social environment is another area in which competition can have a negative effect. People who compete in terms of their material possessions—homes, money, clothing, jewelry, or cars—and who constantly have to prove that they have the “best” or are the “most successful,” are also often blind to the unconscious statement that they are making about their own self-worth. The reality is that you can always find someone who has more.
The classroom is also an area in which people sometimes compete to no purpose. In the classroom, the dynamics of interaction are a very important aspect of student motivation. In a competitive goal structure, it is assumed that learners understand that they will be rewarded based on comparison with others. However, while evidence shows that a competitive environment works well for extremely high-performers, it can actually be a disaster for average students. A reward system based solely on competition can have a negative impact on both motivation and self-esteem, and not only leave many children thinking and feeling like losers but also follow them through life.
Perhaps the most extreme example of destructive competition is in the business environment. In fact, the contemporary business paradigm has been constructed with competition at its core. And, as in sports, competition among businesses is healthy. A company wants to provide better products and/or services than its competitors, and the desire to do that can spur individuals as well as organizations to be creative and to excel. However, because many businesses also purposely or unconsciously structure their internal paradigm of competition on sports, pitting team against team or individual against individual, the very thing management wants and needs—creativity and innovation—is undermined.
By only encouraging competition instead of cooperation within the company, creativeness and self-motivation slam to a halt. In other words, while competition may motivate some people, many of the silent majority simply give up. The competitive philosophy of short-term thinking goes hand in hand with short-term gains and long-term losses. You only need to look in the news to know the truth of that statement.
LIFE THOUGHT: YOU DON’T ALWAYS NEED TO COMPETE TO WIN.
Does this kind of thinking sound familiar? Do you feel the need to compete with others even when there is nothing to win? Do you suspect people are always trying to get “one-up” on you? Are you determined to always be right even when there is nothing at stake? Like many of my clients, you may be unaware that you are extremely competitive, or that your need to compete is having a negative impact on your health and your relationships.
However, unless you can recognize to whatever extent you are competitive, there is nothing you can do to alleviate the problems it can cause in your life. In order to do so, it’s important for you to bear in mind that being competitive isn’t just about others, it’s about you—how you feel about yourself, what you feel you deserve, and what you feel others deserve. It is ultimately your willingness to take a good hard look at yourself that will enable you to put together the puzzle that forms your self-image and learn to let go of the rope.
This exercise is designed to help you determine how competitive you are by examining relationships in your past. As such, it will present you with an opportunity to recognize and, hopefully, let go of the need to define yourself through others. It will also encourage you to develop a healthier attitude toward your relationships, shift your mindset so that you can begin experimenting with new behaviors, and recognize that cooperation and compromise are not the same as being wrong or losing. Finally, it will show you that you can choose to give up the belief that you must always be right, dial back your need to be competitive, give up the struggle to compete, and let go of the rope.
First, list five of your most important relationships—either personal (friends or family) or professional (boss or coworkers). Then, on a scale of one to ten (ten being the most competitive) rate each relationship on how competitive you feel when you are engaged with that person. Once you have done the ratings, look at those with whom you feel most competitive, think about the feelings you hold toward them, and examine the actions you have taken and the choices you have made in the past when engaged with them.
The ultimate purpose of this exercise is to determine if, in your attitude, communications, or actions with these people, you were cruel, hurtful, or destructive toward either them or yourself. It is only identifying the beliefs behind these behaviors that gives the Rider the knowledge, power, and freedom to make new choices in the future.
As in many other areas, one of the best ways to learn about yourself is to ask questions. You can get a better understanding of how competitive you are toward those around you by asking yourself questions like these:
- Have I put myself down by comparing myself to someone else I consider to be successful?
- Have I purposefully hurt a sibling, friend, relative, spouse, or coworker by sabotaging their success in order to make myself feel better?
- Have I lost sight of my real goal because I’ve chosen to make it my goal to ensure that someone else loses?
- Have I felt guilty about how my competitive choices have affected others?
- Have I slandered or discredited others to further my own ends?
- Have I felt competitive at work toward team members who I know are supposed to be on my side?
- Have I taken credit at work for others’ ideas or put them down behind their back to raise my own importance?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions you are clearly being unnecessarily competitive and need to adjust your attitude. And it can definitely be done. Many of my coaching clients have not only gained insight by answering questions like these but have also been able to change their perspective about the nature of competition and, therefore, the choices they make. Perhaps the most dramatic change I’ve seen—and I’ve seen it often—is that they begin to help others achieve their goals. The great motivational speaker and writer Zig Ziglar said it best: “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
Learn to “LET GO” you will create an exceptional life for yourself and others.
James Mapes is a best-seeling author of Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind. He is an international speaker on the imagination, leadership and wellness.
IMAGINE THAT! Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance is the first web-supported book with access to 21 video-coaching clips. Please go to the home page www.jamesmapes.com , read the description and you will find the direct link to Amazon.
“Your ability to focus your imagination, manage your thinking, love, and be loved determines your success and happiness more than any other factor. IMAGINE THAT! Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance opens your mind and heart in a beautiful, intelligent and inspiring way.”
-Brian Tracy, Author, No Excuses: The Power of Self-Discipline and Million Dollar Habits
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