How do we decide what to hold onto and what to let go of? This is one tricky situation in which we all find ourselves from time to time. In fact, we’re probably in it far more often than we realize, but we become accustomed to what’s comfortable and forget to stop and take the time to ask:
- What am I holding onto?
- Is it worth holding onto?
- How can I prove, objectively and empirically, that it’s worth holding onto?
- Make a “pro & con” list. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: pro and con lists can be powerful tools because they force us to commit every component, the rational and the not-so rational, to paper. Things usually look different when you bring them out of the darkness of your mind and expose them to the light in writing.
- Test. Test. Test. Again, you’ve heard me say it before, but it really is the key to my decision-making process. You can think of it as the scientific method, adapted. First, I identify what I’m holding onto. Then, I remove it temporarily. Next, I take stock to see what effects this amputation has had. If there’s no difference, or if my life improves, then I make its removal permanent.
- Separate logic from emotion. We tend to hold on—to things, people, routines—out of fear: fear of the unknown—where your subconscious whispers, “What if I need this in the future and am in some strange situation where I will suffer some illogical consequences from not possessing the thing in question?”—and fear that, once lost, something might become unattainable. But keep in mind that fear is emotional, not logical. For a great example of something let go and then reclaimed, you can check out this story about Sylvester Stallone and his dog, Butkus. Now, I’m not saying that emotion is without value. The degree of fear that you feel about losing something could be an indication of how much it’s worth to you. There is danger in believing that you can always get back what you have lost. Before you make a sacrifice, ask yourself honestly, “How will it impact my life if I’m never able to recover this loss?”
- What do you want? When do you want it? Even though it’s an emotion, desire can be a strong motivator. Focus on what you want, why you want it, and the urgency with which you want it. Coupling that desire with the cold, hard facts of your pro & con list, your tests, and your logical inquiries can help you to see what to hold onto and what to let go of.
The risk in holding on is always complacency. If you are holding on simply because it’s the path of least resistance, then that’s bullshit. But if you are constantly assessing and evaluating by asking yourself, “Why am I holding on?” then you’re being the furthest possible thing from complacent, as long as you’re answering yourself honestly. The difference is in active decision-making—waking up every fucking morning, looking yourself in the mirror, and asking what in your life benefits you. If the benefits outweigh the detriments, then hold the fuck on to that anchor. But don’t stop there, because even a big anchor can be undone by a bigger wave. Do not just ask yourself, “Why am I holding on?” but also, “How am I holding on?” If you’re not doing enough, then you’re setting yourself up to lose your hold.
And a word of caution if you are one of those numbnuts who thinks his strength comes from tethering himself to many anchors: When you have yourself chained to points all around you, chances are you’ve trapped yourself, you’re drowning yourself, or you’re choking yourself. ONE ANCHOR is enough, even for the biggest of ships, as long as it’s the right anchor. And if it’s not the right anchor, then nothing’s gonna save you from getting dragged off course.
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“Fear is the primary enemy of creativity.”—William Ball