How to Let Go of Something You Cannot Change

Admitting you didn’t get what you wanted or that things didn’t go your way can be difficult, yet moving on from disappointment can be even more challenging. If you’re struggling to let go of something outside of your control, know that it can be done. Acknowledge the way you feel and why you’re upset. Change the way you see the situation and adjust your attitude and thoughts. Finally, be ready to move forward without holding onto the past.


EditPracticing Letting Go

  1. Journal about it. If you cannot quite pinpoint what is causing you pain, suffering, confusion, or what is blocking you from letting go, spend some time writing about your experience and how you feel. You may realize that certain thoughts or beliefs keep you from letting go of something. You can also learn to identify and express your emotions through journaling.[1]
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    • Be completely honest in your journal and share your thoughts and feelings. Write about what might be stopping you from letting something go or what factors make it difficult.
    • Don’t be concerned about spelling, neatness, format, or even making sense. Start writing when you feel like it, and stop when you feel like you’re done.
    • Remember that you don’t have to process everything in one sitting. You may work out your feelings over multiple entries over a period of time.
  2. Practice mindfulness. If you find your thoughts becoming negative or holding onto something, use mindfulness to help let them go. Sit down and ask yourself, “What is it that I’m feeling?” Notice your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Notice these things without responding to them or interacting. After a minute or so, bring your awareness to your breath. Notice how it feels to bring air into your body and exhale it. Continue to let your entire body breathe and let whatever feelings come up be felt, but always return to your breath. Breathe through each experience.[2]
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    • If you get sidetracked in your own thoughts, always come back to your breath.
    • Don’t sabotage yourself by expecting meditation to come easily right away. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can be very difficult at first, but becomes easier the more you do it. Stick with it, even if you are initially frustrated by your drifting thoughts.
  3. Use affirmations. Find an affirmation or mantra to repeat to yourself when you’re having problems letting go. This serves to remind you to avert your attention and accept that letting go is okay. Choose a mantra that resonates with you such as, “I surrender” or, “Letting go is okay.” When you start to feel stuck or uncomfortable in holding onto something, repeat the mantra in your mind.[3]
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    • Some other examples may include, “I am not in control and that’s okay” or, “Letting go frees me.”
    • It may be helpful to write these on sticky it notes and posting them where you will see them frequently, like on your mirror or on your computer monitor. You can even have your phone send you alerts with these affirmations.
  4. Create a symbolic letting go ceremony. You may want to choose a time to let something go and make it a sacred or meaningful ceremony. For example, write all of your thoughts and feelings about what you cannot change. Once you finish, burn the paper to symbolically represent you letting go and moving on. Invite a trusted friend or family member to join you if you feel you need support.
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    • You can also draw a picture or gather items you wish to burn, throw away, or donate. Release whatever you associate with what you cannot change as a way to let go.
    • For example, if you’re ready to move on from an unhealthy relationship, remove anything that reminds you of the person or the relationship. Write a letter saying that you’re ready to let go, then burn it.

EditAdjusting Your Mindset

  1. Show compassion to yourself. It’s hard not getting what you want, and acknowledging that you’re receiving a different outcome than your desired one is one way to show compassion for yourself. Think about how you feel and why you might feel that way. If you’re sad or upset, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and express those feelings.[4]
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    • Say to yourself, “It’s hard not being able to change something to an outcome I want.”
    • Discussing the situation with your friends can help you normalize your experience. It can be very helpful to hear that your feelings are normal and they would feel similarly, too.
  2. Consider what you need. You may think you need someone to apologize to you to feel at peace, but consider if this is your only option. Perhaps it feels like that is the only way to experience peace, but does it have to have that outcome? You can experience peace even when you don’t get what you want.[5]
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    • You can move on from hurt feelings by choosing to do so. You don’t need anything from someone else to move on or let go. Try saying “I choose to forgive this person and move on with my life.” You may not feel it or believe it at first, but that’s okay.
  3. Recognize what’s in and out of your control. Feeling in control of outcomes and the environment is associated with an increased sense of well-being. Feeling out of control can be threatening.[6] If you’re having a hard time letting go of something, think about what is actually in your control. If you cannot control a situation, control how you ‘’’respond’’’ to it.[7]
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    • For example, you may not be able to change the fact that you did not get accepted to medical school. However, you can control how you react to it and how much it affects how you feel. For example, you may feel sad, upset, and not smart enough. Yet, does this define how intelligent or worthy you are? Choose to maintain your sense of self even when you don’t get what you want.
  4. Look at the big picture. While something may feel hugely impactful to you right now, ask yourself how it will affect your future. Will it ultimately matter in five years? Are there positive things that can happen, even if you didn’t get what you wanted? Even if you feel disappointed now and don’t know what to do, it doesn’t mean that other opportunities will not arrive for you that will benefit you.[8]
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    • Think about what other opportunities may be available for you. Maybe you didn’t get your dream job, but you may find a similar opportunity, or you may decide to pursue a different direction in your career.
    • Consider, too, past disappointments. Did you eventually get over them? Did they impact your life irreparably, or were you able to move forward and let them go? This can help you gain perspective.

EditMoving Forward in Your Life

  1. Accept change. Part of letting go is accepting change. If you were set on one particular outcome, letting go can be more difficult. Accepting change means moving out of living in the past and accepting your new present and future. Change is almost always uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re not the one making the changes. Once you move past the discomfort, consider moving into a place of accepting your circumstances.[9]
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    • For example, if you wanted to buy a house but your offer was not accepted, acknowledge that you will not get the house. While you may feel disappointed, gather your efforts into looking at other houses that may also be a good fit.
  2. Find the positives in change. Think about the silver lining that may accompany letting go of what you cannot change. While you may feel devastated by the outcome of certain events or experience the pain of change and letting go, look for whatever positives can come from them.[10]
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    • You may realize you’re much stronger and more resilient than you could have ever imagined. You may become clearer in the goals you want to pursue or what direction you want to take for your life. You may even recognize who your real and true friends are.
    • For example, if you’re struggling to let go of a breakup, you may realize that you have excellent support from friends who love you and help you through the hard times.
  3. Forgive. If you need to forgive someone in order to move forward, do so. Perhaps you resent your parents for not being there for you as a child or are bitter about a recent divorce. If other people have hurt you and you’re struggling to let go because you still resent them, consider how forgiveness may help you accept what you cannot change. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you excuse their behavior or forget what happened. Forgiveness is about releasing yourself from the pain someone else has caused you.[11]
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    • For example, to a parent you can write or say, “You did your best, but I needed more from you when I was a child. Now that I’m an adult I can meet my own needs and forgive you for not being who I needed in the past.”
    • You don’t need to offer forgiveness or let someone know you forgive them. You can do it privately, even with someone who has passed on.

EditGetting Help

  1. Lean on friends and family. Find someone who is a good listener and who cares about you. Don’t feel like you’re a burden or that you’re weak for talking about your feelings. Someone who cares about you will support you and be there for you when things are difficult. While it’s best to meet with people in person, a phone call, email, or video call can also help.[12]
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    • Find time to meet with friends regularly. If you feel like isolating yourself, make an extra effort to connect with others.
    • Remember to let your friends share about their lives, too, and do your share of listening. This can help negate any feeling that you are burdening them. Friendships are give and take, so encourage your friends and family to lean on you, too.
  2. Join a support group. A support group is a place to join with others who have similar experiences as you. It can be a place to share stories, offer support, give and receive advice, and connect with other people. If you feel alone in your struggles or like nobody can relate to you, a group can show you that you’re not alone.[13]
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    • Join a local support group or find an online support group.
  3. See a therapist. If you’re struggling to let go of something and think you may need some help or support, a therapist can be beneficial. Perhaps you’re worried about new behaviors or habits you’ve started developing or you’re not coping well with the stress. If you think you could benefit from talking about your difficulties, find a local therapist near you.[14]
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    • Find a therapist by calling your insurance provider, local mental health clinic, or general practitioner. You can also ask friends and family for a recommendation.

EditSources and Citations

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