How to ‘let go’ of a situation you obsess about in your mind

Most people I talk to have at least one situation in their life that they ‘hold onto’, and can’t seem to let it go. Sometimes it’s a recent event, like how a meeting or a conversation went; sometimes it’s an event in the past like the breakup of a business partnership (or a personal relationship), or being let go from a job.

When you start to notice how you talk to yourself about it, you will likely notice unconstructive thoughts, such as “you should have done it differently!” or “they should have done it differently”.

If your reaction is one in which you blame the other person when you replay the situation in your mind, it may very well be the case that the other person was doing the best they could but didn’t live up to your expectation or your preference for how you would have liked the situation to go. Maybe, objectively speaking, what the other person did was inappropriate. However, even though it seems like you are angry at the other person, that is often not what is REALLY causing you to stay hooked on thinking about it.

Here is the REAL reason why you are obsessing about it: The situation unfolded the way it did. That’s now a fact. But when you explain to yourself why it happened that way, you have made the situation to be a confirmation of a long held belief you have about yourself (e.g. I am not good enough; I’ll always be a “B+” kind of player; I’m a loser”, etc.)

To start moving forward, what you want to do is start to trace “what it means about YOU” that the situation happened the way it did. Write down on a piece of paper the explanation(s) you tell yourself for why the situation happened this way. With each answer you give, dig a little deeper to answer the question “and what does that mean about me?” This analysis will lead you to the root of what is making you ‘hold onto’ the situation. You want to see if you can come up with a personalized meaning that confirms your deepest fear or doubt about yourself.

For example if you are still upset about a business partnership breaking up, see if you can identify the deepest concern you have about why it didn’t work out. If your answer is “I think ultimately the business partnership broke up because I wasn’t smart enough”, notice how you have condemned yourself. It’s kind of hard to move forward when you think you have confirmed that you don’t have what it takes to succeed. That’s why you obsess about it – you keep thinking about it to make it different in your mind, or to debate the merits of whether that belief about yourself is true or not.

The key, of course, is to look at the situation more objectively and come up with a thorough analysis of all the factors that went into the situation not working out – factors that had to do with you, the other person, the systems between you that broke down, the aspects of your business skills you can make a plan to improve, etc. This detailed analysis will give you lots of information that you can use to stop blaming the other person, to stop condemning yourself by confirming your worst doubt and fear about yourself – and most importantly, to learn lessons you can start using in your business life today!


1) What is a situation that you are having a hard time letting go of?

2) How have you been dealing with it? (i.e., Do you try to just ‘tuck it away’, i.e., “I’m not going to think about it anymore”. Notice that strategy probably works ok until… the very next time the memory comes up again in your mind. Or do you try to distract yourself from thinking about it (although that can sometimes lead to unconstructive diversions such as surfing the internet, eating, or working yourself to the bone.)

3) What are the explanations are you giving for why the situation happened?

4) When you dig deeper, what belief about yourself have you been confirming that has been making you ‘hold onto’ and obsess about this situation, rather than understanding it and moving on?


Sharon Melnick, Ph.D. ‘helps talented and successful people get out of their own way’. She is a psychologist and executive coach for numerous fortune 500 companies and solo business owners. Through research at Harvard Medical School she developed techniques busy professionals use to break through obstacles so they quickly reach goals and dramatically reduce self imposed stress. To make your thoughts work for you instead of against you so you can stop wasting time, download her free audi...

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