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The Trouble with Holding on Too Tightly

floatingI have a tendency to hold on too tightly.

My particular problem isn’t with things, per se, but rather with situations or outcomes.

From an early (oh so early) age, I was raised to set goals.

Along with goal-setting came the instruction to create a plan to achieve those goals.

So basically, I was supposed to set my goals – preferably as far in advance as possible – and then create a step-by-step plan to achieve those goals.

If I had been sports-minded, this might have been called “keeping my eye on the ball.”

The only trouble was, I was so busy keeping my eye on that. particular. ball. I failed to see any and all warning signs, obstacles, even helpful hints or shortcuts in my path.

And if a better-looking, more suitable ball were to come along, well forget it.

It was that. particular. ball. or no ball at all.

(By now you are probably beginning to perceive the issue.)

Lately a series of circumstances has invited (forced) me to take another look at whether the time-honored personal practice of setting-planning-and-achieving-specific-goals-in-advance is really a way of life I wish to continue.

Questions I’ve been asking myself include these:

  • Does it feel good?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Does it fit with my personality?
  • Does it work?
  • Are there other ways that might work better?
  • Would I like to try any of those other ways?
  • What would my mentor do differently? (always a key question!)

My answers (thus far) are no, no, no, no, yes, yes, and “see the definition of insanity.” 

Ergo, it appears it is high time to start easing up on my grip.

To this end, one thing I really like to do is reflect on the various paths that have led me towards more or less optimal outcomes.

So if, for example, I notice that maintaining a policy of attempting to tightly control a situation and its outcome tends to lead to outcomes I don’t want, then I can learn from that and discover new ways to approach desired outcomes.

Lately I’ve been noticing that what I call “winging it” (a term my avian sidekick, Pearl, is all too happy to take credit for) feels better, makes more sense, fits more closely with my personality, works better, and definitely flows with everything my mentor has taught me to date.

Interestingly, “winging it” also requires a certain degree of letting go – at least if it is going to work properly.

I’ve also discovered that holding on tightly and winging it/letting go cannot peacefully coexist in the same space.

The two appear to have zero ability to work together towards a desired outcome – and in fact, they can’t seem to even agree on what a “desired outcome” might look like!

Very recently I have noticed that my own willingness to choose winging it/letting go over being bullied by my learned tendency to hold on tightly has produced some lovely – albeit unexpected and unplanned-for – outcomes.

Oddly, these very outcomes were considered “undesirable” by the part of me that was still holding on tightly.

But in the letting go process, I have discovered those very undesirable outcomes also felt better, worked better, flowed better with my personality, and just ended up being more advantageous in every way.

So here, what I am learning is that along with my willingness to let a situation flow comes access to wisdom, insight, awareness, sensitivity, and other helpful tools I can activate in no other way.

All of a sudden, instead of just my own limited, pre-planned route, I have all these other helpers too.

I have instinct and intuition. I have advice and guidance from others. I have flexibility and humility. I feel more excitement, more eagerness each day to “just see what will happen.”

I am happier and more at ease. I laugh more. I have more friends – including many of my own mistakes, who happily turn into mentors, teachers, and trusted guides when I allow, accept, and welcome their presence in my life.

What is most important, I am living as I have watched my beloved mentor live for these so many past years.

She has so often talked to me about how important it is to “flow like the river” and allow that movement to take me all the way towards the vast, limitless ocean that awaits, but until now I had nothing in my experiential toolkit to help me comprehend the true meaning of her words.

I had to get there on my own – I had to get curious, become willing to try a new approach, let go (gathering up ALL my courage to do so), and then just see what happened next.

What happened was….I am finally learning how to float. And it feels just WONDERFUL. 🙂

Today’s Takeaway: What is your goal setting and planning process like? What seems to work best for you – for your needs and preferences, your personality type and way of living? If you have contemplated making adjustments to your typical method of planning and achieving your goals, what changes might you like to make?

Woman floating image available from Shutterstock.

The Trouble with Holding on Too Tightly

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). The Trouble with Holding on Too Tightly. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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