Free Yourself By “Letting Go” of What You Can’t Control

We all want to feel like we’re in control of our life and are masters of our destiny.

Think of a time when things started to feel out of control in your life. How did you feel? What did you do?

Did you do everything in your power to regain control, and cling to the little bit of direction you had left?

Many people become consumed with what they can’t control and obsessed with making things different.

If we ever want true emotional well-being and spiritual freedom we have to learn to “let go” of what we can’t control.

When we dwell on what is out of our control, whether something that happened to us in the past, or something we’re awaiting in the future, it prevents us from experiencing the beauty in the moment and having peace of mind.

The paradox of control

The more we try to control things the less control we will experience. Things will inevitably be different than we expect and can change in an instant. When we can embrace that things are ever changing we begin to loosen our grip on the many areas of life we try to hold sway over.

When we desire control and don’t have it, it leads to worrying and agitation. We become irrational and start thinking about all the negative things that could happen. The more control we crave the more we begin to live from fear and desperation.

Here are a few ideas to help you “let go”.

Is it that you can’t or you won’t?

This is an important question to ask yourself to help you “let go” of the emotional burden that comes with a desire for control. Ask yourself, “Is this a situation where I can’t change or I won’t change.”

Sometimes we feel like we can’t make a change, “I can’t quite my job.” “I can’t give up this salary.” “I can’t get into college.” “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…” Statement such as these set us up to feel out of control.

Usually it’s not that we can’t, but that we won’t.

When we can accept we won’t change it makes it much easier to let go and move forward. From this perspective, we have a choice in the matter.

Accentuate the positive

When we don’t feel in control it’s easy to focus on what’s going wrong and how terrible things are. We start to feel disempowered and lose perspective on our capabilities.

We may start catastrophizing about all the horrible things that could happen and have trouble looking beyond the immediate situation.

By learning to focus on what’s going right and not letting our situation consume our thoughts, we not only experience less distress but will be able to think more clearly and problem solve more effectively.

Stay mindful and breath

Mindfulness is an approach to experiencing life moment by moment. When we are mindful we can deal with our situation without being judgmental or critical of ourselves or the circumstances.

When we feel unpleasant we don’t have to get caught up in this. We can relax and step back, instead of brooding in this negative state.

Work to be mindful of your breath. Just pay attention to your natural breathing. You can also be mindful of your senses, or your thoughts. The goal is to remain present and nonjudgmental of what is taking place.

Being aware can help simplify a situation and make if easier to deal with it.

Visualize your desired outcome

Visualization is one of the most powerful ways to overcome fears and push past uneasiness. All successful musicians, athletes, and performers visualize themselves completing the task that awaits them.

Visualization is different than simply day dreaming or fantasizing about an outcome we desire. We must take action and put in the work necessary to make a change.

Despite what is taking place at the time we can visualize a successful outcome. This will give us psychological and emotional support to stay motivated and able to persevere, and it will keep our thinking focused on what we desire and prevent us from feeling overwhelmed or panicked.

Keep a sense of humor

Have you ever noticed that when things aren’t going the way we planned, even the smallest things can start to cause stress? When under stress we become overly serious and neglect the many moments of pleasure and gratification that surround us.

Humor can really cut tension and lighten-up a difficult situation.

When things seem bleak looking at things from a humorous perspective can help lighten the load. Look for humor in serious situations and use this as a tool to release your grip on control.

Focus on what you can control

When life seems completely out of control, there is always something amidst the chaos that can help us regain a sense of control.

It may be something very small, and if nothing else we can always learn to control our attitude.

We can’t control everything that takes place, but we can learn to focus on what we can do personally and how we can make a change. This helps us move beyond a victim mentality and to feel empowered to take action.

So, what do you do to “let go” and release emotional tension? How has “letting go” helped change your life?

Photo credit: Carnoodles

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  • Angela Artemis

    This was an excellent article. Why do we think we can control everything? I still try – even thought I know intellectually it’s impossible. I’m getting better though. You’re tips are really helpful though. thank you!

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Angela,

    Thanks for stopping by! I work on this everyday, and am learning how valuable letting go can be. It seems like if we have control we have a sense of safety and won’t be vulnerable. Though, you are right, we can’t and don’t have total control and when we can accept this if really does alleviate much anxiety and worry.

  • farouk

    this post came right in time
    obsession with being in control causes a lot of misery

  • Ken Wert

    So true, Chris! I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of humor in our lives. It is critical to learn to take life and ourselves less seriously, to laugh at our foibles and at the daily stresses of living. It reduces tension, as you say, and increases our ability to see life in a larger perspective. When we are uptight and stressed out and angry over what we or others or life does, we close off to the lessons inherent in living. Humor can open things up, lighten moods, and allow lessons to be recognized. And more happiness is the wonderful byproduct.

  • John Sherry

    Spot on Joe, being a control freak means holding so hard onto life that it can’t and we can’t break free. As such nothing changes, all becomes stale, and we resist the natural growth that is built into living. After all if we tried to prevent ageing we’d be living in the past and not being who we are meant to be right now. Trust life and go with it, let go and start flying.

  • Kenya

    Joe — you have made some wonderful points about letting go! I am with Angela about getting better at this but still learning :) Finding humor in situations can place such light on what could be another controlling situation. It helps you to detach with love…

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Farouk,

    Glad the post was helpful. You are right, when we are always focused on being in control it eventually leads to conflict and agitation in some form or another. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind


    Hi, thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. It can be tough to hold onto humor when we are around a serious environment or when things aren’t going so well, though this is exactly when humor can have it’s biggest impact. Laughter is very therapeutic and making efforts to laugh helps us heal and overcome the grave perspectives that society pushes at us.

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind


    Thanks for adding you insight! Wonderful point about trying to control aging, which appears to be a major thing that people cling to and try and control through all sorts of means. Ultimately, we must learn to accept more and try to control less. If we can’t accept much of what life has to offer we’ll simply have low self-esteem and miss out on many joys of life.

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Kenya,

    I love the idea of detaching with love. I think this is what letting go is all about. Keeping peace of mind and a positive spirit while we deal with all the vast uncertainty of life. What a wonderful way to live life.

  • King Author

    Seeing is believing. So visualizing your desired outcome will do wonders. As long as YOU are persistent. 

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks so much for stopping by! It’s true that we have to see it in our mind before we can achieve it. Visualization is a wonderful tool for innovation but it also helps us to be more confident. And yes we do have to be persistent in practicing.

  • Sibyl Chavis

    Joe: Great post. I thought this was really great advice because it is so true that you can feel at times a little out of sorts and that things are out of control. I think if you can identify an anchor and something that you can always grasp onto you will realize that things are not out of control as your mind would want you to believe. I really appreciated what you said about there always being something amidst the chaos that can help us regain a sense of control. Great advice. 

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Sibyl,

    Glad to hear from you and thanks for sharing. There is always going to be times thing feel a little out of control. I think anytime we start something new and important to us, it can feel this way at times. These are times when we just need to let go and embrace the uncertainty without letting it cause us distress.

  • Jonathan Figaro

    Hey JOe,

    I just had to stop by and congratulate you on your new design. Top Notch, very organized and much needed.  Keep up the good work. We all need a new interface now and then..right?

  • El Edwards

    This was a very timely post for me so thank you! There’s a whole heap of uncontrollable stuff in my life right now and so rather than focussing on the madness of it all, I’m just doing the bits I can do and trusting the rest will all be groovy. Anything other than that and I think I’d go insane!!

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi El,

    Thanks for stopping by and glad the post offered some timely inspiration. We can only do so much, so there’s no reason to let all the things out of our control take our joy. I say just try and be the most efficient and effective we can each day.

  • Rob

    Great article, Joe. Indeed, awareness of the control paradox is a big one. With rigid control we cannot get up on the mountain to overlook the whole situation – we are too worried about organizing the pebbles on the trail! With letting go we can approach matters with equanimity – only when I am in this state does my life flow where I want it to go. 

    (I like the new look here, too.)

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for sharing! When we look at things with poise and calmness we can deal with life’s ups and downs and make decisions based on intuition and confidence. When we desire to have control it sets us up for frustration and agitation. Always nice to hear from you.

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  • Reese L. Yant

    Letting go of the illusion of control allowed me to see my former husband’s sex/pornography addiction clearly so I could make the best decision for myself and children.  I needed to realize that I couldn’t fix what wasn’t mine!  Thanks for the great reminder.

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  • Ned Brooks

    Thanks a lot, this is really great one,…