How to Let Go of Frustrations from the Past

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

To be really successful and fulfilled as entrepreneurs, living in the present moment needs to be our default state. Entering a flow state, where we get our best work done, emerges from presence. Our best ideas occur when we’re totally present and engaged. Ironically, even our most powerful plans for the future come to us when we’re solidly anchored in the present.

Ruminating on past experiences has typically been the biggest obstacle to presence for me. Sometimes I’ll flip into future imagining mode, which also pulls me out of the moment. But getting sucked into the spiral of frustration around past events is a much bigger drain on my energy.

So we need a way to neutralize this tendency to ruminate. To take away the sting of past frustrations so we can focus on creating amazing things in the present.

You may have heard the Daoist story of “who knows what’s good or bad?”

An old farmer’s horse, his most valuable possession, runs away one day.

The farmer’s neighbor comes by to express his condolences, “what terrible fortune, I’m so sorry.” The farmer simply replies “who knows what’s good or bad,” to his puzzled neighbor.

Not long after, the horse returns, bringing with it a pack of wild horses. The neighbor comes for another visit to celebrate this lucky occurrence “what luck you have.” And again the farmer replies “who knows what’s good or bad?”

As the farmer’s son is taming one of the wild horses, he’s thrown to the ground and breaks his leg. The faithful neighbor comes by right on cue “oh what a terrible tragedy.” And the farmer replies “who knows what’s good or bad?”

The next day the army rides through, enlisting all able bodied young men for an upcoming battle, and the farmer’s son is rejected for his broken leg. The battle is a huge loss, many of the young men never return home. The neighbor considers this a great fortune for the farmer and his son, but the farmer simply says “who knows what’s good or bad?”

This story contains a powerful lesson, but how do we apply it? How do we use this little parable to cultivate happiness and ease in our own lives?

Here’s how: I’m going to challenge you to a little game, we’ll call it “who knows what’s good or bad?”

I want you to think of the best thing you’ve got going on in your life right now. It might be a great job, a fulfilling relationship, a cozy apartment, a fun friendship, a success in your business. Take a moment to figure out what that is.

Okay, got it in mind? Good.

Now I want you to fill in the blank “I never would have landed this dream job/relationship/friendship/apartment if not for___________________.”

Got your answer? Okay good, let’s do that again. “I never would have been in that situation (that landed me the job/etc) if not for___________________.”

I want you to keep repeating this until you get to an experience you’re holding onto as “bad.” It may only take one repetition, or you might need to walk yourself waaaaay back. Just keep going until you get to something gnarly. An experience or moment in your life that you’re holding a lot of judgement, anger, resentment, or sadness about. Something that gets you frustrated just to think about it.

Okay, got your “bad” experience now?

Finally, we cut out the middleman and tie the awesome thing that’s happening now directly to the frustrating thing that happened in the past.

I’ll give you an example to illustrate, with many ups and downs along the way.

One of the best things in my life right now is a year long men’s tribe I belong to. I never would have joined the men’s tribe if I hadn’t gone to see Dr. Noah Goldstein for acupuncture treatment for a neck injury. I never would have hurt my neck if I hadn’t gone hiking in icy conditions. I never would have gone on that hike if I hadn’t moved to Boulder. I never would have moved to Boulder if I hadn’t quit my engineering job and started my own business. And I wouldn’t have quit my engineering job if I hadn’t gotten a bad performance review.

So I’m in the men’s tribe because I got a bad performance review. When I think about it like this, the performance review becomes almost laughable.

I’d worked my butt off for that performance review. Stretching and growing and taking on additional responsibility and working on myself deeply. I’d become a completely different person, and made the company a lot of money along the way. But that change wasn’t seen and acknowledged by my boss.

Sometimes people are unwilling or unable to see and understand you clearly. And it’s not up to you to change that. It’s only up to you to change how you show up, and sometimes to change your environment when the current one isn’t working any more.

So as much grief as it caused me to bend over backwards all year and receive a “Meets Most Expectations” rating, I have that rating to thank for the men’s tribe as well as many of the other meaningful elements of my life right now.

I love the story of “who knows what’s good or bad,” but I like the game even better. And the more I practice it, the more quickly I’m able to let go of frustrations as they arise. The compound interest of years of ruminations avoided is huge.

So give it a try now to let go of frustrations that are getting in the way of your success. Bonus points for writing it down!

I help busy engineers create careers and businesses they love. Find me at coachmaximum.com