On transitions and loss (part II)

Transitional periods are a mix of both letting go of the old and experimenting with the new. Relationships, habits, patterns, behaviours, identities, ideas…

It is not simply the case that a transition is a clean switch between two known states, the before and the after. Usually the after can’t be known. It arrives after a period of experimentation and exploration, peeling back layers of the before to connect with that which we find truly important. What aligns with our values and speaks to our hearts? We see that we are not simply defining a new future and figuring out ways to proceed successfully towards it. 

Instead we need to focus on the things we must let go of and find ways to do so, however painful. Letting go creates the space to look around, to explore, to try out new things and see what we are drawn to. Space here is the notion of psychological bandwidth, of attention, of easing up on the utility of goals and of time pressures. Without that space we can’t see the possibilities of life; we are too shrouded in the noise of the present reality or blinkered by our goals. A peripheral opportunity can’t get our attention, can’t break in to our consciousness.

This takes time. Time needed to allow our deep insights to bubble to the surface and become noticed. Only then can we connect with them. Time that inevitably means being in a period of uncertainty, a personal inter-regnum, if you like, or liminal space. These are periods in which only our internal compass, once we connect with it, can truly offer direction. 

New initiatives are unlikely to work if we don’t create the space for them to land; whether we want to start daily writing or twice-weekly running, test a new idea or find our life’s vocation. To write 500 words every morning I started getting up 45 minutes earlier every day. I’ve also stopped commuting, which gains me another 45 minutes twice a day. If you want to exercise more, don’t just start by going for a run, but work out what you are going to stop doing to accommodate it and make it easier to do. 

An innovative new project needs some part of business as usual to be stopped so that a team has the time and capacity to adopt the innovation, or it needs extra resourcing. But even then, layering more and more new requirements on top of the old will eventually grind people and systems down. Organisations and lives can be examined through the equivalent of an archeological dig, excavating layer upon layer of old new initiatives, piled on top of one another until their sheer weight fossilises them forever.

To avoid this we have to shed those things that are not adding value, that are weighing us down. Minimalism is a response to our predilection to collect stuff. Have you ever felt the sense of psychological liberation that arises from clearing your desktop of hundreds of temporarily-saved files? Or from getting around to setting up a trusted task system so that you don’t have to spend your precious energy juggling commitments in your mind? That’s the freeing up of your psychological bandwidth. That’s a step closer to the ability to truly relax. That’s also letting go.

Human nature is to be drawn to the new and notice the novel. To start something, gain something, to plan for more. Sometimes the most valuable thing we can give ourselves is time to stop and think. Distraction-free time. Reflection time. See what emerges. Letting go is not simply a vital part of moving on, and usually the most overlooked, but it is also critical to our well-being. What, deep down, do we know we need to stop and let go of?

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