Actively letting go

Guest contribution by | 05.01.2023

Why should you practice letting go? In a confusing, uncertain time like this, we tend to hold on to the few things that are still stable and familiar to us….

Letting go is a special approach, especially for this time. What we hold on to, also holds on to us. This can be objects, habits, daily and work rituals, but also thoughts and feelings. So we don’t want to practise letting go as an end in itself, but for a life in which you can determine your future as you see fit.

This is the fourth attempt to start this article with a great example or a fitting metaphor. The first three attempts took me the last hour. But I rigorously deleted them and completely let go of the almost full A4 page.

I claim to be pretty good at letting go. I let go of things and issues, employers, houses and spouses, even countries and nationalities. At the same time, I know why letting go is a difficult task for many. So if you are a bit like me and letting go is your thing, feel free to write to me or send me an example from your life.

If, on the other hand, you would like to learn more about this topic, including examples and exercises, then here is a little potpourri from the work experience of an organisational psychologist.

Finally Friday?

The first thing I noticed when I started my working life in 1997 was the immense joy my colleagues had for Fridays. Monday, on the other hand – and everyone agreed – was a day to be avoided. Unfortunately, the calendar wouldn’t budge. Monday is still the start of the working week, Friday for most is the last working day of the week, and a lot of workers still look forward to it.

Now what if we could turn that around? What would it take for the world to live in a ” Finally Monday” mode? When the evening of Sunday is not ended with a deep sigh because something nice is over?

A small revolution in the world of work would be necessary, I hear that very often. We want to work less, live more. Fewer pointless meetings and more meaningful tasks that ideally have something to do with our personal strengths.

Who would then be responsible for these desired changes? Yes, the companies, the managers, the leadership…

It can be deduced very quickly why this has still not happened. Something or someone is missing, and already we close and lock the door to our work prison from the inside. Sigh.

There must be another way, don’t you think? What if our own contribution to this little labour revolution is also significant, perhaps even of much greater significance?

Letting go, you guessed it, is one such possibility. Let us look at what we – each of us – can let go of.

To begin with, there is our image of what work means: struggle, effort, performance, having to. Let us let go of this understanding of work!

If you are now raising your eyebrows in surprise, I can assure you in all sincerity: This is a normal human reaction, because letting go is painful and is avoided by the brain.

All of our beliefs about what work is and how it should be that we have acquired up to now form a kind of thinking highway in our prefrontal cortex¹. This highway allows us to be fast and safe on the wide lane – in other words, fast in thinking and decision-making. If we try to let go of well-trodden and familiar thought highways, then “construction sites” form on the motorway, resulting in “traffic jams” and a great loss of time. So the brain tries with all its might to keep the motorway on three lanes and not to change anything.

But what if the old way of thinking is no longer helpful? We are driving fast and without traffic jams, but in the wrong direction?

Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t care. Avoiding reconstruction is at the top of the list. Thinking and acting should be able to happen with as little effort as possible. Changing direction or even building new thinking highways is definitely not desired.

And so we prefer to keep something that is not at all good for us instead of letting it go. The saying “Better the known unhappiness than the unknown happiness” sums it up pretty well. Our brain would rather continue to drive several hundred kilometres in an unfavourable direction instead of surrendering to the effort of rebuilding. Letting go of inner images and beliefs is not an easy task.

A few things to let go of

Then how about a task that looks less dangerous? Smaller roadworks or just a hard shoulder closure staying in the same picture. Here are a few suggestions for you:

  1. Let go of the emails. Not all at once, of course. But let’s face it, at least 40 per cent of emails are unnecessary. Occupational therapy. Exhausting. With very little added value.
  2. Let go of meetings. Some meetings can be replaced with an email, others with a few short phone calls.
  3. Deliberately let go of something that has become unnecessary in the last few months. It can be an item of clothing, a habit, an extra spoonful of sugar, an unnecessary evil eye or a joke that no one laughs at. Look critically at a “because it’s always been done that way” issue and risk not providing documentation that would otherwise always be provided monthly. Wait to see if someone comes forward and asks for it. Experiment with any components of work life that feel out of round.

Letting go of a habitual behavior means consciously NOT doing it for a while. And then notice what feels unfamiliar or causes the discomfort. And that is the moment when the letting go work begins.

The paradox of letting go

Letting go sounds as if you have less of something afterwards. So “I minus what I let go of”. But this is not true. First of all, letting go means that you have more effort and more work. The motorway construction and the traffic jam, you remember.

Letting go of something has a lot to do with unlearning. So not doing old learned things plus learning something new. It’s almost twice as much effort as learning. But you can do it.

Find an area that seems as meaningful as possible. Or harmless because others are little affected. Or urgently necessary. Define what you want to practise. Then let go. Piece by piece. Step by step. Day by day.

Why letting go pays off

When you let go, you grow. You leave your comfort zone. You practise the so-called growth mindset and are a role model for other people. And you learn a lot:

  • You gain new experiences with which you can enrich your self-image.
  • Depending on the topic, you get more time or more space for something that is more important.
  • You gain a new competence (or new skill) and new knowledge about yourself and your environment.
  • You may also get a new reputation or a new relationship or a new job.

And, what do you think now about a life in which you can determine your future as you see fit?



Nadja Petranovskaja offers a 6-week course “Strong from within” in German. “Letting go” is a part of it. The course is available as a self-coaching book.

If you want to get in touch with Nadja Petranovskaja or send her an example from your life where you have let go of something, her website is a great place to start.

[1] Prefrontal cortex

If you like the post or want to discuss it, feel free to share it in your network.

Nadja Petranovskaja has published another post on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: A journey through the new world of work

A journey through the new world of work

Nadja Petranovskaja

Nadja Petranovskaja

Nadja Petranovskaja is an organisational psychologist on her way to a better world where work is fun. She moved to a foreign country to study psychology. In the meantime, she has gathered over 30 years of international experience as a consultant, project manager and executive.

Nadja has built planes, restructured banks, filmed TV shows, written books and (by now) trained thousands of managers. She has been an entrepreneur since 2011, working with bright organisations to connect the new with the old and develop future scenarios that matter.

  • Life without fun? No, thanks!
  • Finally Monday? Every week!

She writes about the future of work and the myriad possibilities we sometimes overlook because we are so terribly busy. In doing so, she is actively shaping the future.

She gives practical and inspiring talks and facilitates sessions that bring these possibilities to life. There is currently a waiting list for coaching sessions.