The neurology of letting go

By Jake Wiskerchen

Our brains chemically respond to stimuli in the environment. A passing car, a crying child, the smell of fajitas…they all trigger a neurological response in the middle/rear part of the brain to tell the frontal part of the brain to respond. How we respond depends entirely upon our world view and what people have programmed us to do when we experience those things. Warm sun on the face of one person can mean something completely different to another person.  

When we experience stimuli in the environment we have an emotional reaction. This is science and it cannot be disputed. You “feel” something literally every time something happens around you. Now, how you acknowledge that depends on how attuned you are to what you are feeling. This is why emotional understanding is important. You can learn more about this by watching these two videos.

What does this have to do with letting go? Well, in order to tolerate or endure something to the point that we can let go of it, we need to know what it is from which we are releasing ourselves. If I cannot identify sadness – or at least identify it accurately and not mislabel it as anger or something else – then I will struggle to let go of it. The tough part is that letting go inevitably involves having to step into the unknown. After all, if I let go of one thing and do not have something else with which to replace it, I can experience emptiness, which is uncomfortable. This is especially true if I am used to holding onto something and it is why people remain depressed rather than letting go and choosing happiness.

Chemically speaking, the brain is always processing, sending signals, telling us what is going on. The limbic system just keeps running. If we are good at interpreting what it is telling us, then going through experiences becomes much easier and letting go happens a lot faster.

However, if we use words like “overwhelmed” or “frustrated” or anything else nonspecific to real emotions, we have a harder time letting go because we mislabel our experiences and struggle to identify what we are actually feeling. Hence, we struggle to move through it. To let go is to invite uncertainty, the uncertainty of what we will grab next. That breeds fear, and fear is a very precise emotional experience. If we are not good at handling fear, we will struggle to let go.

My invitation to you is to have courage enough to face your fears of uncertainty. Doing so will allow you to let go of that which you may know very well but does not work for you, all in order to experience something greater. Granted, that something greater is not yet defined, and possibly not even visualized, but the first step is letting go.

Let go of what is not working, what is no longer serving you, what is bringing you pain instead of joy. Acknowledge the fear signal that your brain is sending and choose not to be paralyzed by it. Instead, say to yourself, “I have been here before and I was okay then. I will be okay again,” and let go of what is no longer good for you.

Make peace with fear and embrace the mystery. Step into your destiny. It is scary, but it pays off.