A while back, I noticed that I became restless when I couldn’t work out or go to the gym. I was so used to working out that I made it a part of my identity. I couldn’t let go of it.
Do you know what that feels like? It’s the same when you can’t stick to any one of your habits—good or bad. Waking up early, reading, meditating, journaling, you name it.
What happens if we can’t stick to our good habits? We become restless. That’s harmful behavior because you’re not fully free. I mentioned the working out example to my friends recently, and every single one of them who worked out regularly could relate.
Whether you’re attached to good or bad habits, you’re being controlled by your urges. That’s the bottom line here. If you don’t do certain things you oblige yourself to do on a day, and feel bad about failing to do them, your emotions are in control.
One of my goals is to remain free from my desires and urges. I want to be okay with letting things go. We all desire certain things in life. We want to be healthy, to always look young, to be loved, to be wealthy, etc.
If we don’t get those things, we become disappointed. We can’t let go of the desire. There are also a lot of things in life we despise. We don’t want to become overweight, ill, old, lazy, jobless, you name it. And we do everything to avoid what we hate.
Let go of all that stuff! All the desires and the aversions. This idea comes back in different philosophies. There’s this quote from the Buddha that captures the idea well:
“You can only lose what you cling to.”
How to practice
Clinging to anything is not helpful. We’ve all experienced that when we clung to an idea, promise, goal, or loved one. We must let go. But how do you practice letting go? I came up with a simple exercise that helps to control your urges and habits. It looks like this:
- Are you addicted to the gym? A few times a year, decide not to go. Make that decision consciously. When you feel great, just say, “I’m not going this week because I decide to.” Don’t worry, you won’t lose your strength or stamina. That only declines after 1-2 weeks.
- Are you addicted to posting things on social media or on a blog? BOOM, get off for a week. The world will not end. People might miss you, but they will be fine. I’ve done this with publishing articles. Earlier this year, I stopped regularly publishing because I didn’t want to cling to it. Nothing happened. I just picked it up when I came back.
- Are you addicted to working in the evening? Stop and hit the couch for a few evenings. You won’t turn into a slouch. Just pick up your work the next day or week.
- Are you reading every day? Consciously decide to stop reading for a week. Take that time to do nothing. Let all the information you acquired brew in the back of your mind.
You get the idea. This exercise helps you to distance yourself from your habits. Because most of what we do comes from fear. We fear that we lose our job if we don’t work enough. We fear losing people’s interest if we don’t post enough. We fear we lose our health if we don’t work out.
You and I both know that as long as we’re driven by fear, we’re not free. True freedom means you’re not attached to any habit or thing in life. Remember, we own nothing in life. No one said it better than Epictetus in The Good Life Handbook:
“You cannot really lose anything because you don’t own anything in the first place. Not the stuff you have, nor your spouse, nor your property. They are given to you to keep temporarily. So never say, “I have lost something.” You just returned it.
And how painful it is to admit this, the same is true for the people in our lives. Clinging to people we love will only suffocate them.
No matter how you look at attachment and clinging to habits, objects, or people, it’s something you want to avoid. When I reflect on the times in my life when I attached to things too much, it never ended well.
In contrast, most good things in my life come from letting go. Once you learn to let go consistently, you will become free. That will not only improve your own life—but also the lives of people that surround you.