Claim Your Own Mental Fitness

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Letting Go for the New Year, Part 1

I’m in favor of simplifying, even over-simplifying, in the service of getting a handle on things. The FORMULA is an example of this. Looking forward, I’ve focused my self-observation on how “letting go in the New Year” can happen in a big-picture way for me. In fact, as I think about this, I realize that I’ve been forced to let go over and over in my life. I seem to embrace the letting go strategy only as a last resort. This is both good and bad. I might gain character as I hang in there in the face of the evidence that I might fail. I could gain humility as I admit that I will indeed fail. I finally could enjoy freedom when I actually let go of the goal or plan I’d embraced, but then I’ve lost the battle and must grieve it first.

So here I am telling you that letting go is a wise strategy for 2016, with all these dubious results. Here’s why it’s still worth considering. I think you’d agree that you’re carrying forward at least a few unresolved and painful issues as you go into the New Year. Like your closet, your mind holds worn out and unfashionable items that you keep because you think you might need them sometime. Things that never made you feel you looked your best, or that were too baggy or too tight. It feels wasteful to unload them, and you have to admit that you made a mistake when you bought them, or that you changed sizes, so now they don’t fit.

Many of the things in our mental closets are just like this. The grievance against a friend that causes you to distance from her. The project that saps your energy, but no longer nurtures you. The loss that you’ve reprocessed until it’s as tired and faded as your kitchen sponge. In a year if you hang onto these you may feel more foolish than humble and more eccentric than of stronger character. For me to let go of these things I have to be sure I’m not losing something valuable. These things have been rewoven so much over the years that they’re part of the fabric of who I think I am. But when I have glimpses of life free of them, I don’t want them back, for a while. Then they creep back in to fill the gaps left when I tried to drop them.

In my book I discuss how we can work through a grief process that allows us to hold on to what is precious from our losses. It’s a creative, very personal process that’s often continued throughout our lives. When we undertake it with the deliberate approach of mental fitness, we can lay a lot to rest. Over and over I find it’s the hurt or anger and sense of unfairness that I hold on to. Yes, I can let myself feel my sadness, but I haven’t moved into acceptance of it all. For me it comes down to a stubborn grip on the eleventh toxic belief, that I’m somehow more special than all those injured people I read about in the paper, and should be spared the pain of human existence.

Letting go, I believe, requires that we recognize this tendency to feel that we’ve been cheated when we have to face our human vulnerability. It’s both terrifying and infuriating to confront this over and over in our lives and so we fight it. To let go in this truly hopeless battle, each of us must find acceptable answers about what it means to be human. Many humans find that feeling a connection to some higher power, and a better future after this, comforts them as they must face their human losses. Others can find peace in believing that death simply brings a definite end to it all. Part 2 will describe how this searching process is related to mental fitness.

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