Letting Go of Frustrations & Stress

Letting Go of Frustrations & Stress

Little note from Courtney: This is a guest post by Leo Babauta.

If you’ve been experimenting with simplicity, you’ve been practicing letting go.

But if you’ve found some frustrations with trying to simplify, or have a fair amount of stress in your life … it might be time to try some Advanced Letting Go Practices. Luckily, it turns out that you’re well prepared with the letting go you’ve already been practicing.

We all face stress, but it can pile up as we try to make changes in our lives but also have a crapton of work to do and maybe mounting holiday obligations and (in my case at least) kids who seem to need your attention every waking minute (and bless them for it).

We all face frustrations, but simplifying your life comes with additional frustrations, especially if you have others in your life who aren’t totally on board.

What are we to do?

We practice letting go. And in the process, we find peace.

The Letting Go Process

Let’s take a quick look at the process you might already be practicing as you let go of your possessions:

  1. You ask yourself whether something is worthy of being in your life (ex: that treadmill you had high hopes for but only used twice, in separate bouts of optimism).
  2. You realize that it’s causing more headaches than joy.
  3. You are a bit fearful but purge your life of this burden in a fit of ecstasy.
  4. You find that this results in a newfound sense of freedom and release.

Does that sound familiar? Your particular process might either have more fear and tug-of-war of desires involved, or perhaps you’re a pro and let go of things as easily as I can eat vegan pie (really easily). But even if your process is a bit different, the rough outline is probably similar.

What does this have to do with overcoming frustrations and stress? It’s the same process.

The Things That Frustrate & Stress Us Out

So let’s now make a list of some things that might be causing you frustration and stress (they won’t apply to everyone, of course):

  1. When other people criticize or don’t understand.
  2. Having too much to do — or more accurately, wanting to get it all done.
  3. Having lots of obligations and commitments.
  4. Needing to drive around and do errands and drop off kids.
  5. Christmas shopping.
  6. Not having enough time to simplify.
  7. Having too many emails or incoming requests.
  8. Kids who make a mess.

This isn’t a complete list, nor will these apply to all of you. But you might recognize a few causes of frustrations and stress here from your own life, and it might be a good idea to add your own to this list in the comments below.

Here’s the thing that will help us in the letting go process: it’s not really the other people or the incoming requests or the shopping or errands or messes that stress us out and frustrate us. It’s not the external circumstances — it’s our desire that relates to these circumstances.

What do I mean? Well, having errands (external circumstance) isn’t the cause of stress — it’s wanting to get all of them done by a certain time, and the worry that we won’t, that stresses us out. Having someone criticize you (external circumstance) doesn’t cause stress — it’s wanting to not be criticized that causes it. Kids making a mess (external circumstance) isn’t the cause of frustration — it’s wanting them not to make the mess that frustrates us.

The external circumstance is never the cause of stress or frustration — it’s our internal desire. But what if we think we should have that internal desire?

That’s where advanced letting go comes into play.

Advanced Letting Go Practices

We want to have our desires. We want to be able to wish that other people wouldn’t criticize, or that our kids wouldn’t make messes, or that life would be calm and peaceful without a million demands.

And that’s nice, but in reality, life is never that way. Never. Life is never without a million demands, and we never are free from people who make messes, and we’ll never have everyone understand us and refrain from criticizing. This is the cost of living an interesting life — if we never had messes or demands on our time, we’d probably be doing life wrong.

The question is how we deal with this reality. We want our desires, but we also need to deal with messy, demanding, non-understanding reality.

I say, try the same letting go you’ve been practicing with simplifying your stuff.

These are more advanced skills, so if you haven’t honed your sword on clutter yet, don’t try these practices. But if you’re ready, let’s give it a go.

First, let’s see how we can apply the above letting go practice to our desires:

  1. You ask yourself whether something is worthy of being in your life (ex: the desire for an always-neat home).
  2. You realize that it’s causing more headaches than joy — because it stresses you out and gets you mad at your kids.
  3. You think perhaps you don’t need to change, but decide to try letting go of this burden. You embrace the reality of your messy kids.
  4. You find that this results in a newfound sense of freedom and release. You are less stressed and happier with your kids.

This will be more difficult than getting rid of the clothes you haven’t worn for a month, because you are likely to think that you should be able to desire a neat home, that other people should behave better than they do. But try it.

Some of the things I challenge you to let go of:

  1. The desire to do anything to near perfection (which causes stress and/or procrastination).
  2. The desire for everyone to think well of you (which causes stress when you fear they don’t). Honestly, I’m not perfect, and if some people like me and others think I’m less-than-perfect, that’s pretty fair.
  3. The desire to get everything done (which causes stress, like when you are doing errands or have a million things to do). Honestly, we’ll never get everything done. All we can do is one thing at a time, and then the next, so focus on what’s right in front of you.
  4. The desire to say yes to everyone (which causes you to be stretched thin and stressed out). If you say yes to everyone, you will be saying no to yourself.
  5. The desire for others to behave as they should (which causes you to be frustrated with them). People will not behave well all the time, and that’s OK, because you don’t either.
  6. The desire to have lots of time to simplify (or do anything), which causes you frustration that you don’t have the time. Instead, just do a little, when you can, and clear up more time when you’re able to later.
  7. The desire for there to be fewer requests and emails, which causes you stress, or the desire to handle all of it. Instead, accept that there will be lots of incoming information and requests, and don’t try to deal with all of it. Do what you can, one thing at a time.

That’s a good start. I also challenge you to start noticing when you’re stressed or frustrated, and to examine what desire is at the heart of this feeling. And then see if you can practice letting it go.

Think of this as the Zen practice in the middle of your chaotic life. If you get good at this, with practice, you’ll be able to find peace when before there was only frustration.


Read about Leo Babauta’s new book Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change and be a part of it on Kickstarter. You can find more articles from Leo on Zen Habits.