One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to be more willing to disappoint others to be true to myself. I took the line from a poem I love called The Invitation in which the author says: ‘I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself’. That line has always been poignant for me, because it is something I find challenging.
Over the years I’ve gotten better at letting go (particularly of things I don’t like). But then there’s the challenge of letting go of things you love but that aren’t working for you. The more you love and care about what you’re letting go of, the harder it is, of course. Why let go of something you love? Because sometimes, even the things we love are getting in the way of things we want more.
It’s with mixed emotions and a lot of sadness that I’m letting go of my yoga class at Evolve on Thursday evenings. I love the people I teach there and feel such an affinity and connection with everyone. So there is great sadness. And then there is the knowledge that right now, it’s the right thing for me to do. I hope to stay in touch with the wonderful people I’ve met there. I’m leaving the class in the capable hands of Davina, the lovely teacher from whom I took over when she left for Thailand. I know my students will be in good hands.
It was hard for me to let go of a class I have grown attached to and it prompted me to think about the topic of letting go and being willing to disappoint others more broadly.
I’m currently writing about culture and conflict resolution and seeing what light neuroscience and psychology can bring. This has me thinking about culture more: my mother is part Scottish and doesn’t like waste. I’m not a fan of waste either. But letting go of things that no longer serve us is not waste: it’s following our truth. Eating when you’re not hungry to avoid waste is actually a bigger waste itself.
This holding on (that we all do) comes back to a primal fear of survival, which is part of every human being. The desire not to disappoint has the same roots.
Louann Brizendine MD, neuroscientist and author of bestseller ‘The Female Brain’ explained in an interview with me that we are hard-wired to be highly sensitive to our social surroundings and to seek approval. According to Brizendine:
‘…much of our brain circuitry is dedicated to tracking social interactions. We’re always looking for feedback on whether we’re fitting in or not fitting in. We’re getting feedback from our social group about whether we’re being accepted or rejected. We have alarm bells in our brain that go off rather vigorously called ‘anxiety circuitry’ that tells you when you’re not fitting in, or you’ve made a faux pas, or you’ve done something that others might reject you for or criticise you for. Or you might be extruded from the group. The biggest fear for humans is being left alone to die.’
So it’s hard to let go of things, because deep down we fear that we may not have enough to survive. And it’s hard to tell people things we think they may not want to hear because deep down, we’re afraid of being alone and left behind, unable to fend for ourselves without our group. We are wired to make it that dramatic, because at some points in our evolution our survival depended on us being triggered to avoid these things. But now we know better. In order to thrive and not just survive, we need to let go – sometimes even of things we love – in order to be true to ourselves and to flourish.
Here are my top three tips on letting go and being willing to disappoint another in order to be true to yourself:
1. ‘It’s always your choice’. Know that you always have options. I sometimes hear people say ‘I have no choice’. This is never true*. Maybe you just don’t like the choices that you’re aware of: you don’t like the consequences of the choices you don’t like. I’m not trying to minimise people’s hardships – you always have a choice. If you don’t believe that, you put yourself into deeply disempowering ‘victim mode’.
Don’t force yourself to do things. Choose. And know that you are choosing. It’s empowering. Even for the ‘little’ things. And if you’re choosing to stay in a bad situation. Know that that’s the choice you’re making. It’s more empowering than feeling like a victim, I promise.
A simple example of this is that people think they ‘have’ to get out of bed in the morning. Years ago, on the days when I found it hard to get out of bed, I would begrudgingly force myself up. It wasn’t fun and I felt a lot of resistance and grumpiness. The day did not start well. It was really tiring! I no longer do that.
On a month-long Forrest Yoga teacher training course that I attended, we had long days. I like to do my own meditation before going to practice with everyone – so I would get up around 5 am most mornings. There’s no messing around with Ana Forrest – if you miss any part of the course without a medical certificate you don’t pass. Most days we finished around 6pm and were sent home with homework (on top of cooking and washing clothes from two sweaty practices a day). On the days I wouldn’t feel like getting out of bed after five hours sleep, I would use this technique: I say to myself, ‘Mia, you don’t have to get up. You can stay in bed all day if you like’. And then I listen to my inner voice and see what comes back. My answer, almost invariably is: ‘No, no, I want to get up’. (With the underlying text that I don’t actually want to miss out on the things I have planned for that day or on the unexpected joys it may bring). I’m not saying I never hit the snooze button! But the day starts very differently when I know that I’m choosing and not being forced.
2. Separate decision-making from decision-communicating. This is key. Communicating information that is going to disappoint someone is hard enough for most of us. If you start thinking about telling someone something that’s difficult before you’ve even decided, you can end up cringing, getting into a muddle and never even making the decision. Set that part of the process to one side. And decide what it is you really want. Once you’ve decided, there may not be anything you need to communicate! If there is, then figure out how you will communicate your decision.
In my early 20s I found it near impossible to tell people things I thought they didn’t want to hear. I came up with this system and it has served me ever since. The only complication is… some things can’t be decided in isolation… so you may need to have a different conversation to make your decision!
3. Listen. Listen. Listen! And don’t rush to know the answers too soon. We want to get there, we want to know what the decision is going to be. We want certainty. But sometimes we just need to ‘be’ with not knowing. A while back I had a decision to make. I saw a couple of options and oscillated between them but listening more closely, I realised I was missing information. The only decision I could take at that point was to find out more information.
The purpose of yoga, meditation and other introspective practices, is to teach us to listen and navigate situations that don’t always feel comfortable with more and more grace: to teach us how to be true to ourselves.
Good luck with your journey!