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Learning How to Let Go


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.

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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."

How to Let Go of Feelings for Your Ex

A past relationship often feels like a death according to Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. "One of the hardest things to accept is the end of a romantic relationship," she says. And, with your heart and mind consumed by your ex, there's no chance of you finding the next amazing guy.

If you're still in love with your old boyfriend, purge him from your life. First, get rid of all the stuff you have that reminds you of him. Make a point of avoiding your old haunts and try to replace rituals you did as a couple with new ones.

Next, Orbuch says, ask yourself whether you truly miss him or if you're just lonely. Test it out: Write down five qualities that are important to you and see if they match what he had to offer. "The majority of the time, your ex didn't have what you need and want," says Orbuch. Still not convinced? Ask your friends and family for their view. "We tend to forget the negative and focus on the positive," says Orbuch. "But other people in our life don't."

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How to Let Go of Clothes that Don't Fit

You might think that a wardrobe full of clothes that are too small is motivation to lose 10 pounds—but it's actually the opposite. "Those size 6 pants that will look perfect when you lose weight are about an imagined future where you're a thinner version of you," says Peter Walsh, author of Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier With Less. "But they lead you to feel like a failure." Keeping a set of "fat clothes" is equally demoralizing, suggesting that you may gain weight at any point.

The solution isn't rocket science. "Go through every piece," Walsh says. "Ask yourself, ‘Is this adding value to my life right now?' " Be brutal. If the answer is no, donate it. By clearing out aspirational clothes, you free up space for pieces that make your current body look amazing.

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