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Kirk Loftin

The Importance of Letting Go

At work we’re surrounded by people we may not have necessarily chosen to be around, which makes it easy to feel like we lose control of our environment. The good news is that we do have control over how we respond to it. Sometimes, good things happen, and that’s awesome. Other times, bad things happen, and that’s...less than awesome.

A full-time employee spends over 2,000 hours at work per year. That’s a lot of time to be miserable, stressed, or grumpy. It’s unlikely we can be happy or content every second of every day (especially at work), but by being more cognizant of our moods, what affects them, and ways to regulate it, we can ensure that we won’t lose control over our wellbeing. Keeping a mindset to let go of the bad things can make our professional lives less stressful, more enjoyable, and ultimately more successful.

Think about the last time you had a nice meal at a restaurant. The food was tasty, your server was attentive but not overbearing, and everything went well. Did you leave a review? Probably not. Now think about the last time you had an awful meal at a restaurant. There was a bug in your food, your glass had lipstick on it, and the waiter was rude and didn’t even refill your drink once. It’s much more likely that you left a bad review (or told a bunch of people about how bad it was). Humans tend to remember negative experiences moreso than positive ones.

It feels nice when nice things happen. I know this is not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but we do tend to forget it. When James saves you a piece of birthday cake from the break room before it’s all gone, or when Martha emails you her notes from the meeting you missed yesterday, showing gratitude (and being genuinely grateful) makes a big difference. Obviously to your co-workers (who certainly like to be thanked), but also to you, because staying in a mostly positive mindset tends to keep you thinking positively.

However, when negative things happen, like when Karen was rude about needing a report nobody even told you existed, or when Jason calls you the wrong name, it’s best to put on your Elsa wig and just let it go. Holding onto that negativity just allows it fester and grow, and the next thing you know you’re throwing your co-worker’s donut in the trash because you don’t like how loudly he sneezes.

So although it may sound like an overly simplistic “feel-good” piece of advice, but by adopting this attitude of response generally in your life, it really can make some real changes in how positive your day will feel. It’s not a fix-all, however. It will still drive you crazy that Steve laughs really loud and fake-sounding, or Brenda is cooking fish in the breakroom microwave AGAIN. But by working on our responses to these unpleasantries (and responding positively to pleasantries), it can help regulate our moods and give us a more positive professional life. Which, at 2,000 hours a year, we really should try our best to make work as pleasant as possible so we don’t hit Chris Pratt in the face with a keyboard after cursing out our boss (I usually link to the movie references I make, but this is from the movie Wanted, and the clip is ‘not safe for work’, what with all the language and the aforementioned violence of hitting Chris Pratt in the face with a keyboard).

NOTE: I do want to clarify this very important point: when I talk about letting bad things go, I’m talking specifically about the innocuous little annoyances that happen in a workplace, like a loud food chewer or a pencil tapper. I am absolutely not referring to serious offenses such as discrimination or harassment. These are zero-tolerant issues. No one has the right to make you feel unsafe at work. Just ‘letting go’ is NOT the proper response to something like a Les Moonves situation. These should be reported to HR, your boss, or whomever is the proper person to report these very serious violations.

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