Some of the stuff that keeps you up in the middle of the night is real, big, and scary. Stuff that you need to hold in your mind. How to coach the performance of the new, struggling salesperson. Whether to have a second kid. How to talk to your boss about a promotion. The health of your family (and you).

 

But how much mental capacity are you giving to things that simply don’t deserve it? Carl Richards, writing in the New York Times, points out that “We have only so much bandwidth. We only have so much time. Do we really want to invest any of our precious resources...into something that will return nothing but misery?”

 

You know what he’s talking about. We all carry around grudges, worries, and what-ifs that take up an inordinate amount of our time and emotions and creative energy. Did your office neighbor speak in a weird, snippy tone this morning? Is that politician driving you insane? Did you not deserve to get that traffic ticket? Did you squabble with your spouse this morning?

 

And are you holding onto these situations (and the drama around them) with white-knuckled hands?

 

Cutting your losses to move forward with ease

 

Richards says, and I agree with him, that “there is an actual cost to holding onto things we should let go of. It can come in the form of anger, frustration, resentment or something even worse. The question is, can you really afford to keep paying the bill?”

 

The answer is no. As a busy professional and, well, person striving to live a good life, you can’t afford to invest your resources into this crappy stuff. I know it’s bewilderingly hard to let it go. Especially when we’re overwhelmed, we think if we perseverate on this or that, we’ll get some control over the overwhelm.

 

It doesn’t work. It becomes, as Richards says, emotional dead weight. “The faster we learn to drop [it],” he writes, “the more room we create for something better. I’m talking about everything from stewing about the guy who cut you off in traffic this morning to still refusing to forgive an old friend for an event 20 years ago.”

 

Richards recommends starting small—really small. Ask yourself, “What’s one thing you can set down this week?” And pick one thing. Choose it, toss it, “and then pause. For just a moment, simply pause and savor what it feels like to no longer carry that burden and pay that price.”

 

Now, Richards writes, use the energy, time, or other resource you freed up to do something you want more. A walk at noon. Some deep belly breaths to calm down. Dinner with your kids at the park. A nap. A focused afternoon on an exciting project.

 

You only have so much to give. So invest yourself in the things that will make you happy, not keep you clenched with misery.

Read more on Carl Richards’ advice about letting stuff go.