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Learning How to Let Go

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Learning How to Let Go

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Learning How to Let Go
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You can't let go of your ex, you wish you'd spent less time on the job and more time with the kids, you have a closet full of clothes that don't fit—but you can't bear to part with. What do these scenarios have in common? "They all weigh you down, leaving you stuck in the past," says Ryan Howes, Ph.D., a psychologist in Pasadena, California. We turned to experts to find the best ways to get past key issues: Anger, regret, your ex and clothes that don't fit. Learning how to let go isn't easy, but it's surprisingly satisfying, leaving you with room in your life for something even better.

How to Let Go of Anger
While it's completely normal to get upset when someone does you wrong, it becomes unhealthy when you can't stop stewing over it. "Mentally replaying the transgression over and over is a never-ending cycle that just intensifies your outrage and saps you of energy," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of California, Riverside.

Researchers suggest writing down everything that happened and how you felt about it. "The very act of putting words on paper forces you to take a step back, be more objective, and label your emotions," says Lyubomirsky. "Getting into the analytical mode makes the incident less personal and lets you understand the reasons behind it so you can let it go."

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How to Let Go of Regret
Few people go through life without wondering about the path not taken or wishing they'd made a different decision at a crucial crossroad. "That's part of being human," says Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life. "The second-guessing typically starts in your 20s over things like not pursing a relationship or choosing the wrong major in college. And in midlife, your doubts are more likely to be about past choices—that you didn't quit an unsatisfying job years earlier or have children when you were younger."

If you find yourself constantly asking, "What if?" that's a sign there's something missing from your life, and you should consider listening to those daydreams, says Miller. For example, if you're kicking yourself that you settled for a stable job instead of pursuing your love of acting, try out for a production by your local community theater and see what happens.

MORE: How to know if it's time to make a major life change

Not all remorse is so easy to let go. Miller says that in situations where you can't go back in time and make everything right, you have to recognize that you did the best you could in that moment. But don't let yourself off the hook entirely. "It's those little pangs of guilt that help us become a better person," says Miller. "Maybe there's some sort of action you can take now to make amends."
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