How to Let Go: 5 Steps to Move On and Feel Less Pain

How to Let Go: 5 Steps to Move On and Feel Less Pain

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”
Herman Hesse

I often write about finding lightness in life.

It can come from an unhurried but effective day at work or from uncluttering your home.

Or from learning how to let go and move on in life.

Learning to let go of a relationship, of something else in your past, of something that is just an unimportant distraction or of trying to control what you cannot control can free up huge amounts of the energy and the time you have to use for something better and more fulfilling.

It is not always easy. But it can be life-changing.

In this article you can find five steps that have made it easier for me to let go over the years.

I hope they will help you too.

Step 1: Know the benefits of not letting go.

Why is it sometimes hard to let go of something?

Well, to be honest, there are advantages and benefits to not letting go. At least for instant gratification and in the short run.

  • You get to keep feeling like you are right. And like the other person is wrong. And that can be a pleasant feeling and way to look at the situation at hand.
  • You can assume the victim role. And get attention, support and comfort from other people.
  • You don’t have to go out into the scary unknown. You can cling to what you know instead, to what is familiar and safe even if it's now just a dream of what you once had.

I have not let go of things in the past because of these reasons. I still sometimes delay letting go of things because of those benefits above.

But I am also conscious of the fact that they are something I get out of not letting go. And I know that in the end they are not worth it.


  • What will the long-term consequences be in my life if I do not let go?
  • How will it affect the next 5 years in my life and the relationships I have both with other people and with myself?

The mix of knowing how those benefits will hurt me in the long run and of knowing that there are even bigger benefits that I can get from letting go become a powerful motivator that pushes me on to let go for my own sake and happiness.

Step 2: Accept what is, then let go.

When you accept what is, that this has happened then it becomes easier to let go.


Because when you're still struggling in your mind against what has happened then you feed that memory or situation with more energy.

You make what someone said or did even bigger and more powerful in your mind than it might have been in reality.

By accepting that it simply has happened – that you were rejected after a date for example – and letting it in instead of trying to push it away something odd happens after a while.

The issue or your memory of the situation becomes less powerful in your mind. You don’t feel as upset or sad about it as you did before. You become less emotionally attached to it.

And so it becomes easier to let go and for you to move on with your life.

Step 3: Forgive.

If someone wrongs you then it will probably cause you pain for a while.

But after that you have a choice.

You can refuse to let go of what happened. And instead let it interfere with your relationship and replay what happened over and over in your mind.

Or you can choose to forgive.

First accepting what happened can be helpful to make it easier to forgive.

Another thing you can do is not to focus on forgiving because it is “something you're supposed to do”.

Instead, if you like, find the motivation to forgive for you own sake. Do it for your own well-being, happiness and for the time you have left in your life.

Because, as Catherine Ponder says:

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

And that you forgive does not mean that you have to stay passive towards your future.

You may for example choose to forgive but also to spend less time or no time in the future with someone who has hurt you.

Step 4: Focus on what you CAN influence in your life.

By reliving what happened over and over in your mind you aren't really changing anything.

Unless you have a time-machine you don’t have any control over the past.

And being distracted or worried by things that you cannot control in your life in any way right now doesn't help.

So ask yourself:

  • What CAN I focus my time and energy on instead to actually make positive progress or a change in my life?
  • And what is one small step I can take today to get started with that?

My experience has been that by switching my focus from what I cannot influence to what I actually have influence over and by doing that over and over again – by using questions like the ones above – it becomes easier and easier to stop worrying and to let go of what has happened or what I cannot control.

Step 5: Let go again (if necessary).

If you let go of something that happened or some distraction in your life then that might not be the end of it.

Life is not always that neat. The issue or distraction might pop up again.

Then let it go once more.

I have found that each time I let something go it pops up less and less frequently and it has less power over me.

Plus, this extra practice will make it easier to let go in the future. Letting go is something you’ll get better at over time just like for example keeping an optimistic mindset during tough times.


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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehack, The Huffington Post and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Elyssa Dziwak

    Hi Henrik,
    “Let it go” can be such a provoking phrase for many people because in many cases it’s extremely difficult to just let difficult situations go. Although I agree with most of your suggestions to “letting go,” I don’t believe that number three, forgive, is right for everyone. In many cases, people offering forgiveness either feels forced to and/or it doesn’t actually comfort the victim but rather the perpetrator. Regardless, I do believe that the action and idea of forgiveness will ultimately be beneficial. Thank you for touching upon such a sensitive topic without inserting too much personal opinion.

  • Nice sharing…

  • I think that letting go is all about shifting focus.

    The reason why we can’t let go of certain situations, feelings about someone or a relationship is simply because we’re too caught up thinking about them.

    We can afford the time and energy to think about them.

    But for me, letting go has been so much easier once I realised that I needed to fill up my time with productive activities that better myself instead of harping on the past and the what-ifs in my head.

    It’s all about getting out of my head and getting stuff done.

  • Sway

    I let go, not by any of this, but by blocking it and it works the same. They say you need to process emotions but I no longer believe that. It keeps you stuck in experiencing it over and over. And the perfect indicator that my way is as effective for me, actual more effective, is the authors last point #5 stating I’d often comes back but in less intensity and frequency. It’s the same for me. Just goes to show you all this self help
    “ processing “ advice could likely be worse for some . If you’re not self aware then maybe you need her steps. If you’ve been at self actualizing for 30 plus years – this is not the most efficient or beneficial way.

    • Positive

      This is for Sway,
      Hi Sway unfortunately if you continue to block your emotions it will bite you or the ones closest to you very hard.
      Emotional Intelligence is the key to truely letting go in the proper steps above.
      My Mother was one of the youngest survivors of the holocaust. As my Mom always said if you have the ability to block like My Mother did it will come to haunt you.
      Take it from the expert in all this.
      My Mother.
      She explains on USC Shoah foundation if by chance you are interested in resolving your..blocking not letting go issues.
      Good luck and Godspeed.


  • This is an exceptional view of letting go.
    A difficult but necessary step to healing and feeling free of the emotional heaviness.
    I’m having a non-communicative time now with my adult son for reasons unclear to me. It has been very painful, to say the least. I’m trying to do all the recommended suggestions which always don’t come easy. A one step at a time approach is what I’m striving for. Thank you so much Henrik for always shedding a bright light :)

  • I find that accepting a situation or a person as it is, is an important part of letting go. Right now I’m practicing letting go of the world situation that I can’t control. I acknowledge my fear, remind myself I can’t control the world, then let go

  • Donna

    Excellent article……for me….something to read each day!

  • Anonymous

    Words are very effective…from somedays I’m in trouble for not letting go a past matter that was related with a person. And it is because he comes in my life again to keep in touch. I forgive him, but still can not let him go from my mind. I have really worried about this.

  • Liliana


    All passes by different steps in the life ones good ones bad.

    When we start a Project always we think thai will be successfully and satisfactory but if is not possible we will have all the experience by ourselves.

    As Human we feel so bad , destroyed maybe.We have only two choices : keep going or stop doing !!! I think that I am a diferent person in the World , I love difficult things , if it doesnt cost doesn’t has a real learning or value.

    I suggest you to live all stages , don’t want ti jump the period , despite you want to run fast or slow will be there.There is not scape.

    After you will feel fine until grateful and smile …say was a bad moment in a time but not for all life . I ‘m alive !!!

    Written by : Liliana Núñez Díaz .

  • Mimids

    I find it difficult to let go because I feel if I do, then I have nothing. Holding onto the pain, the sadness, the heartache — at least that fills the emptiness inside. If I didn’t have that pain and sadness, what would I have? A hole.

  • Jennifer

    Nine months ago my husband of 16 years left me for one of my best friends. Two people I loved very much broke my heart. The grieving process has been unlike anything I have experienced. I do think that it’s really important for me to see how I benefit from not letting go. I have needed a lot of support.. in therapy and with friends but it makes sense that staying in this place of feeling like a victim won’t serve me in the long run. Thanks for this great reminder.

  • Michèle

    This is very helpful, Henrik. Thank you. Stay safe.

  • Mark S.

    Three words that seem to work in nearly any situation are:
    Accept,Release and Forgive.

  • Ashley

    This is everything I’ve been working on lately and its all so true! Where I put my attention is where all my energy goes. If my attention is on the past then its energy down the drain. Thank you for always writing amazing stuff!

  • Srinivas S

    Very much true, Thanks for sharing nice article!