Why Letting Go of Your Tight Grip Actually Gives You More Control

“Anything you can’t control in life is teaching you how to let go.” ~Unknown

I was growing impatient. I wanted an answer about something and it just wasn’t coming, no matter how hard I tried to prod it into happening. I was growing frustrated. And I was growing frustrated with my frustrations about it.

So I decided to take a walk. The act of breathing in fresh air and hearing birdsong is centering for me. Just putting one foot in front of the other in rapid succession for an hour or two always helps to clear my head. I receive answers and guidance to my greatest questions when I’m walking. Call it a moving meditation.

As I set out that morning, my eyes were drawn upward to three hawks flying overhead. While their aerial dance looked choreographed and elegant, I realized that the hawks weren’t instigating the choreography. They were simply letting go and floating with the currents. They circled and circled above me, wings outstretched, sailing and drifting.

It dawned on me as I watched the hawks in flight that I’m rarely successful when I try to push or pull something in order to make it happen. Making an effort is noble and often necessary, but forcing something or worrying about it seldom yields the results you want.

Sometimes, you just have to let go of your tight grip of how you think things should be or how quickly they should come together and simply let things run their own course. By releasing control and letting the currents carry you along, paradoxically, you gain more control—of your attitude and your response to what’s happening to you at the moment.

Never was this truer in my life than when my mother was dying of cancer. My husband and I had decided that having Mom live with us would be the best solution. So, we rearranged our home, making one room her little oasis where she would be surrounded by her lovely things. Mom still wanted her independence, but it was no longer prudent.

I worked well into the night getting everything ready for her arrival from the skilled care facility where she was rehabilitating after a hospitalization. No sooner was she discharged from the nursing home and settled in at our home than circumstances changed and she ended up right back in the hospital again and then back at the nursing home for more rehab.

Later that same week, the unimaginable happened. I spontaneously and frighteningly became paralyzed from the chest down. My husband and I had been working hard to clean out Mom’s apartment. We’d been dealing as best as we could with her boomeranging back and forth to the hospital and nursing home. Then, all of a sudden, I needed medical care myself.

At first, there were those medical professionals who thought I was simply exhausted and that my illness might even be psychosomatic. However, an MRI revealed a large benign tumor called a meningioma pressing so severely on my spinal cord that I suddenly became paralyzed.

I was whisked by ambulance to the nearest large hospital an hour away, where a neurosurgeon who inherited my case soberly delivered the news that he was only cautiously optimistic I would ever walk again. I underwent the first of two surgeries to remove the tumor and release its pressure from my spinal cord.

While in the hospital, unable to move, I realized that I had no other choice but to breathe, relax, and let go. I found it easier, then, to accept what was, even if I didn’t like it.

All of my plans to care for my mother in our home were dashed. My mother’s care would have to be handed over to others at the skilled nursing facility. Mom would accept the situation. My work would have to just pile up. My employer would cope. My life was pretty much on hold as we waited to see how my spinal cord would recover from the surgery.

I never once gave up faith or hope that I would get better. I visualized my return to my sacred evening walks. I saw myself strong and nimble and able to do what I could to support my mother on her final journey.

But, I couldn’t plan at that point. I had to give in and let go. Like those hawks I saw overhead recently, I couldn’t allow myself to become impatient or to force the outcome. I had to ride on the wind and let the currents carry my wings.

We all have those times in our lives when we want things to be the way we believe they should be—the way we planned them to be. Alas, sometimes life has another path for us.

I believe that those things that are meant for us have a tendency to come our way and those doors that are never supposed to be open to us simply will not open.

Some of our desires will take longer to manifest than we would want. There will be those things that will turn out differently than we anticipated—sometimes better than we could have imagined; at other times, not so much.

Our difficulties and disappointments, however, have the ability to serve as blessings. Those blessings aren’t always clear at the moment, but with time, they often become visible.

After months of physical therapy, I did indeed learn how to walk again. And now I walk every day because I can. I am blessed.

For those of us who like to have a semblance of control over our lives, we will at some point learn that there are those times when we don’t have much say in what happens or how it ends. All we can do is be patient, filled with faith and buttressed by hope.

Our letting go of the process or the outcome gives us more space to consider what’s happening at that very moment and to control our attitudes and reactions. By being mindful of our thoughts and attitudes, we can avoid getting stuck in draining emotions.

It’s quite freeing to not have any preconceived notions, to be patient and to just let things flow. When I get out of the way and allow life to happen, the end result is often much better than I could have planned on my own.

Surely, I want and need to have goals, plans and dreams. That’s what helped me recover from my paralysis and regain the ability to walk. But, I’ve learned that I can’t be shackled by my desires and plans. Instead, I’ve learned to stop the tendency to prod or push. I’ve found that I can ride the currents, allow them to sweep me along, and all will be well.

When you let go and allow the currents to carry you, you’ll still move forward in life. Things might not turn out exactly as you planned, but the journey may give you more interesting scenery along the way. And in the end, you’ll have mastered control of what really mattered all along: What you thought and how you reacted to your circumstances.

About Keri Olson

Keri Olson is the survivor of three cancer diagnoses and two benign tumors—one in her brain and another in her spine that caused temporary paralysis. Through illness, Olson has learned the beauty and blessing of each day. She blogs about joy at The author of two books, Olson is currently writing her third. She lives in Baraboo, Wisconsin with her husband Larry McCoy.

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  • Shanker

    Meaningful statements in this nice Article. Thank you Keri!

    It is difficult to accept when life simply overturns our plans. As you say, it is all we can do at that. I understand your pain Keri. However, did you find that your mother got a better care than what would have been possible under you?

    Yes sometimes, when something goes well without any contribution from me, all I need to do is to get out of the way, and co-operate whenever called for. It is hurting to recognize my ‘No Contribution’. Yet, I know, it is probably the best option. Many times, I have found myself in such situations.

  • Keri Olson

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions and comments. I found that as my mom’s health situation worsened and became increasingly complicated, it was a blessing for her to be at the skilled nursing facility where she could receive 24-hr. professional care. I could be there to be her advocate and support, but I could also focus more deeply on our quality time together. My mother had been part of the administration of that facility at one time and, after her retirement, a volunteer, so it was a comfortable place for her and for me. These decisions, however, do not come easily and lightly. At one point, I had to release my tight grip on control.

  • Wow! That is a incredible experience Keri. I have leaned not to plan too far into the future and use the present to enjoy life.
    It is difficult not to be in control but sometimes you are forced to become the passenger. You have been through a lot and it seems from this article your spirit just gets stronger. I wish you continued blessings.

  • Teri Tischer

    You are truly an inspiration Keri! Thank-you for your wise words. They are a helpful guide at a stressful time in my life.

  • Teri Tischer

    So true Keri!

  • Anupinder Kaur

    wow.You definitely went through a lot of tough time and endured it. Kudos to you.
    Will keep your analogy soar like eagle in mind in uncontrollable circumstances. Wishing you well.

  • Gena Yuvette Davis

    Loved this. I posted your quote on my FB fan page: “Sometimes, you just have to let go of your tight grip of how you think things should be or how quickly they should come together and simply let things run their own course. By releasing control and letting the currents carry you along, paradoxically, you gain more control—of your attitude and your response to what’s happening to you at the moment.” Blessings to you!

  • Keri Olson

    Thank you so much, Gena. I am one who likes to have control of my surroundings and situations. I have found it freeing to let go and allow the flow of life to move me forward. Blessings!

  • Keri Olson

    Thank you so much for your kind words. We each experience difficulties in our lives that have growth opportunities to them. Surely, letting go and allowing things to flow naturally is a constant lesson for me. When I do, things often turn out even better than I could have imagined. Blessings!

  • Keri Olson

    Thank you so much for your comment, Teri, and for your kindness about my post. Stressful times surely can tax us to the limit. Letting go of trying to control the uncontrollable can be freeing so I can use my energies more wisely. Blessings to you.

  • Keri Olson

    Thank you so much for your kind and affirming words, Tony. Life has a way of teaching us lessons, even when we don’t want to have to learn them. I find that I’m happier when I let go of control. That’s where the magic often begins. Blessings to you!

  • Keri Olson

    Thank you, Teri!

  • Lisa S

    Hello Keri. Thank you for this. Could not be more fitting or timely. I’ve been working on letting go for many years now. Recently experienced caring for my Mother through her cancer journey and laying her to rest. Also am facing many other personal/family changes at the same time. Have realized/been forced to let go in this state of grief and change. Thanks for the reminder that even in the most difficult periods of life there is always room to be grateful.

  • Keri Olson

    Lisa, thank you so much for your message. My sincere sympathies to you for the loss of your mother. I am also sorry to read that you have other challenges in your life that are occupying your time and energies. Your willingness to let go of some of the burden will hopefully make room for more positive energy to come into your life. I have found that the more I focus on those small joys in my life, the larger in significance they become to me. Blessings to you.

  • Erica

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and providing such wonderful advice. I have been trying to get pregnant for a while now and have had many bumps along the road with no success – while watching everyone around me have children. Letting go and allowing this process to go it’s own way has been VERY difficult for me. I appreciate this guidance 🙂

  • Scoooo

    It’s like flying a kite.

  • Santa-san

    Thank you so much for your story Keri! I have such a tough time grasping this concept though, because letting go for me, means giving up. 🙁 Currents might just as well suck you to the bottom of the ocean, as carrying you along the surface. You know?
    Please please don’t think of me as being rude for this question, but you were lying there in the hospital bed and decided to let go of of your struggle, while at the same time STILL having faith and hope that you would get better. How do those two go together? I don’t get it. To me, letting go and having faith are on opposite sides of the scale.

    For example; I have had severe sleeping problems for years, and my KBT psychiatrist keeps telling me to “let go” of my struggles and worries with this and accept them instead. “Acceptance” as he calls the concept. How does this help me? To me, this means going to bed not caring if I fall asleep or not, which leads to the next question; What is then the point of going to bed at all? STILL keeping hope and faith in situations like that, isn’t that the same as continued suffering?

    Again, this is not me trying to be rude, I am just deperately trying to understand this way/your way of thinking. This “acceptance” concept :-/

    Best of wishes /Peter

  • Thank you for sharing your story and sharing awesome tips! I also believe that having a job that you enjoy is by far the most important thing you should mind. When I was just starting to look for jobs, I sought the services of recruitment firm found in Makati and the headhunter that I encountered asked me regarding handling stress, motivation, and breathers. I believe that these are very important nowadays to refrain from being burned out from work. It also promotes a healthy work and personal lifestyle.

  • LJ

    Great story. Thanks.

  • raine b

    Thank you so much for writing this.