How to Let Go in Three Steps

" A person's wisdom yields patience; it is to one's glory to overlook an offense."Proverbs 19:11

How to Let Go
How to Let Go

Nobody really wants to be Kevin Bacon in Animal House ("Thank you sir, may I have another?"), willingly subjecting themselves to abuse,  but in yesterday's post (here) I made the argument that the smart person makes a choice to overlook insults.

To be clear, overlooking doesn't mean you're clueless when someone is insensitive or rude; you just decide not to pay any attention to the offending event. You don't waste your time being sensitive to people who are insulting.

If the proverb is true, ignoring insults isn't just smart, but the response is to your CREDIT (aka "glory"). In other words, your character and integrity grow when you turn the other cheek.

That's the good news.

However,  the challenge isn't deciding whether it's worth ignoring insults,  but understanding how do to so from a practical perspective. How do you blow off someone who is condescending, insensitive, or just plain evil to you?

How do you respond when every fiber of your being tells you to lash back? I wish I knew!  ... O.K. wait ...

I have some ideas, but I want to be careful not to cast any false images that I'm great at "letting go."  Quite the contrary.  I'm familiar with "what works" precisely because I've tested so many terrible options.   I struggle to practice these principles consistently, but on really good days, here are three steps I've found helpful:

Step One: Decide in Advance

Before you can let go, you must recognize you have a choice as to how you respond.   You are not a victim of another person's character flaws.  You are ALWAYS in charge of your attitude.  If you allow someone's sour disposition to impact you, you have given away your power.

Do you want to give away a perfectly good day to the mean girl at the company event because she says your shoes are ugly?  Are you content to allow the rude guy at the car wash ruin your morning?  Do you want the rancorous person at your kid's school to take away your enjoyment of the parent activities?  Of course not!

The only way to combat these people is to, whenever possible,  prepare for their barbs in advance.  However, instead of spending time daydreaming witty retorts, daydream strategies for crafting a silent smile and changing the subject.  This strategy works for even little kids (BLOCK! Rainbow...), and it can work for you.

Step Two: Wrestle your Emotions

Even if you decide in advance to overlook insults, the decision alone won't carry you through the heat of the moment.  The distance between your heart and your head is enormous.  If you REALLY want to let go, you'll have to routinely wrestle your emotions to the ground.  This task is more or less challenging depending on the nature of the insult.  Still, I think there are two big "don'ts" that help.

  1. Don't  defend yourself or offer excuses.  This feels counter-intuitive, but I agree with John Wooden's sentiments: "Never make excuses.  Your friends don't need them and your foes won't believe them."  The second we slip into "defense" mode, we double down on the emotions of the moment.  The more you defend, the more committed you become to winning.  The more committed you are to "winning," the more emotional you become about the issue.  The more emotional you become, the more likely you are to be defensive.  Not a pretty cycle.
  2. Don't dwell on the insult. I love a good story and when someone insults me, I LOVE telling the story over and over again. I like finding "funny" or "can you believe it?" parts that make my listeners laugh.  I relish the story-telling aspects of the insult as a way to make me feel better.  The only problem -- the strategy doesn't work.  The longer I tell the story and replay the incident in my head, the larger the grudge grows.  If I really want to unload the incident, I need to stop pushing "replay" and quit telling the story (even if it's only in my head!)

Step Three: Practice your Logic

The final piece of the equation is to practice your logic skills in processing petty remarks.  This allows you to put your mind on more productive thoughts.  There are two specific ways I try to keep my brain in the game...

  1. Think long-term.  Before responding consider, "how will my response impact me in the long run?"  For instance, I'm often tempted to respond to put-downs with a sarcastic remark.  However, IF I think about the result of such a retort, I can recognize that sarcasm is is almost always mean and being mean isn't going to help any relationship -- ever.
  2. View insults as a foreign language.  I think about this as a "Jedi mind trick" for dealing with difficult people.  ("That was not an insult, you're really trying to compliment me!").  In seriousness, we shouldn't make someone else's problem our problem.  Just because they are rude doesn't mean I have to be rude or churlish in return.  Instead, I can look at their behavior as an oddity, strangely out of step with my mindset.

In the end, if we're wise in our relationships, we'll make patience the hallmark of our interactions.  When patience is present, it will be to our credit to ignore those who don't have anything nice to say!

Am I missing any steps you use?