How to let go of control and free up some headspace

July 8, 2021 - 12 min read

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The importance of letting go of control

The art of surrendering

Letting go in times of uncertainty

The Bridges Transition Model

How to let things go

It's time to let go of control

Letting go of control is hard. 

In times of uncertainty, people feel safer when they have a sense of control. This often leads to attempts to control outcomes, situations, others’ reactions, or the environment. The more uncertain the situation, the more people cling to attempts to control.

In reality, the opposite is true. 

To experience the greatest sense of calm, peace of mind, and agency over one’s destiny, there is a shift needed in this thinking. The shift is toward a mindset that focuses on self-efficacy rather than on controlling external factors.

Self-efficacy is the belief that we can do what needs to be done no matter what is in front of us. It demonstrates confidence in our own abilities to persevere through challenges.

This shift requires us to let go of controlling outcomes. The focus instead is on our inner world of mindset, outlook, and emotional regulation.

Let’s discuss how to let go of control, why it’s important, and five simple steps to add it to your life.

The importance of letting go of control

Once you realize you cannot control external events, your energies can be placed elsewhere. You can focus on the only thing you do have control over your responses, your mindset, your attitude, your outlook.

By letting go of controlling external factors, you increase confidence in yourself. This leads to improvements in physical and emotional health and a greater sense of strength and mental fitness

You will experience increases in performance at work and more joy and freedom. Letting go of what you cannot control also opens the door to exciting or interesting possibilities that you have not even envisioned.

The art of surrendering

Surrendering to the unknown can be scary. To most, surrender signals vulnerability. This is rooted in the belief that we know the right path, and we know how to get there.

But what happens in the face of the unexpected or the unfixable. These are things like a pandemic, the illness or death of a loved one, or a significant change in your work. In fact, it takes strength and courage to surrender.

Amy Johnson, PhD., is a psychologist, coach, author, and founder of The Little School of Big Change. She describes surrender as 

“the complete acceptance of what is + faith that all is well, even without my input. 

Surrender literally means to stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop resisting and pushing against reality.” 

She continues that surrender is not about inaction. It’s about taking action from that place of surrender energy.

Letting go in times of uncertainty

William Bridges was an American author, speaker, organizational consultant, and expert in change. Leaders have used The Bridges Transition Model for over 30 years. 

The Bridges Transition Model helps determine the difference between external and internal factors which affect your uncertainty.

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  • Change is defined as external events. These include downsizing or reorganizations, illness, death, changes in social connection or community. 
  • Transition refers to the inner work that people do to process change and allow them to reorient in the face of the change.

Bridges emphasizes that success comes from focusing on the inner transition. That is, to realize true success, one must focus on Inner Work.

Personal growth comes from working through a difficult situation, pushing through your comfort zone, and embracing the emotions (positive or negative) that are part of that growth.

The Bridges Transition Model

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The Bridges Transition Model includes three phases:

1. Endings

Transition starts with letting go.

This first phase of transition begins when people identify that an ending has occurred and name their losses. There may be overt losses and hidden losses. 

For example, a new job may also mean the loss of an old identity or loss of collegiality with former colleagues.

This is where you determine what to let go of and what to hold on to. 

You may have things that you hold lightly, some that you hold tightly, and some that you let go of because they are not serving you anymore. Without going through that assessment process and having the courage to let go, many people get stuck here.

2. Neutral zone

The next step of transition comes after letting go. 

This is the neutral zone or the in-between time when the old is gone, but the new is not yet fully realized. Here is where you are learning who you are in the new reality, perhaps mourning your old self and discovering how to “be” in the new beginning.

The neutral zone is not a predetermined length. 

Many people make the mistake of rushing through the neutral zone because of discomfort with the uncertain or the unknown. 

This is where the magic of letting go takes root and reveals new possibilities. You discover the new you, what you love, what you want to do more of, what you want to stop doing.

3. New beginnings

Beginnings involve new understanding, new values, new attitudes. You realize your new identity. Well-managed transitions allow you to establish new roles with an understanding of your purpose. 

You will understand better the part you play and how to contribute to the new world.

Many people jump right to the new beginning, such as a new job, without considering the ending or going through the neutral zone. This can lead to decreased satisfaction with the new role. Time spent on endings and in the neutral zone is crucial to successful transitions.

How to let things go

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Letting go is more of an art than a science.

But there is good news. You can learn skills to support your transitions through change and uncertainty. These practices support you in knowing what to hold on to and what to let go of. 

1. Focus on what you can control 

You can’t control external events or others’ reactions. You only have agency over your mindset, attitudes, responses, and reactions. 

You need to learn to trust that the things that are out of your control will happen as they do and will generally work out for the best.

There are a few different ways to build this trust, and different methods work for everyone. For some, religious faith helps them relinquish control. Others put their trust in the universe or fate. 

Others have learned from experience that most things out of their control tend to resolve themselves positively. They may decide to put their trust in pure statistical evidence.

Do what works for you.

2. Don’t rush through the transition 

Fully embrace endings and name your losses (even if they are failures). Think about what to hold lightly, what to hold tightly and what to let go of that no longer serves you. 

Practice letting go of a stated outcome and instead allow options and possibilities to enter your mind. This is where your new beginning might form right in front of your eyes.

3. Be in reality 

You may not like the change around you, but ignoring it won’t change it or support you in managing through the transition.

Adopt a mindset that fully acknowledges the new reality. Don’t ask yourself how you can change it back.

Instead, ask yourself: “Now that this has happened, how will I respond?”

4. Identify your triggers

Identifying the triggers that make you want to control external events gives you information. You can then use interventions to disrupt your thought process and shift your mindset. 

Notice tension in your body or increases in anxiety responses

This is a particularly useful technique for dealing with painful feelings related to trauma. It helps you to avoid a circumstance that might trigger a stress response.

Take action to relax and calm your body and your mind. 

5. Get in touch with you

There are many practices that open space for your mind to process the change. These support your efforts toward a successful transition. It’s not important which one you choose, except that you choose one that works for you. 

A few ideas:

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  • Practice mindfulness meditation to stay in the present moment
  • Use a positive affirmation as a source of inspiration and to control negative thoughts
  • Do what brings you joy, where you lose track of time 
  • Spend some time outside in nature
  • Do some physical exercise that you enjoy
  • Practice mindful breathing
  • Meet up with friends or loved ones, and focus on building a meaningful relationship 
  • Do something new
  • Allow yourself to dream of potential futures, and calmly observe how you feel when pondering these possibilities

It's time to let go of control

It can be easy to want to take control of everything in your life. 

The problem is, if you don’t learn how to let go, then you might soon find yourself overrun with fear, anger, and negative emotions. You may struggle to manage all of your commitments and controlling behavior.

Keep in mind these five steps to letting go and moving past a control issue. You’ll find yourself filled with happiness and inner peace:

  1. Focus on what you can control 
  2. Don’t rush through the transition
  3. Be in reality
  4. Identify your triggers
  5. Get in touch with you

Need help improving your mental fitness or that of your employees? Check out what BetterUp Care has to offer.

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Published July 8, 2021

Nikki Moberly, PCC, CBC

Better Up Fellow Coach

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