Letting Go Of How It “Should” Be
It’s not the HOW, it’s the WHAT
Ever heard that expression: “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself”? A friend of mine used to say that all the time and I always figured I had a sense of what she was saying. However a while back I got the impact of her message at a completely new level and it’s really changed the way I live my life.
On the surface obviously this expression is a metaphor for the futility of trying to force something to happen. Another way I’ve heard this concept talked about is the idea of “Let go of the how and focus on the what.”
Hanging on to how we’re going to make things happen seems to be an innate part of the ‘human condition’. If you stop and look though, I bet you’ll see how that perspective – being attached to things happening YOUR WAY – really bogs down any chance of speedy success or actually getting what you want.
A few years ago, I had an experience that really helped me understand this concept and that’s what had me think there might be value in highlighting this concept.
An example of ‘pushing a river’ from my personal archives:
Like just about everyone else out there, my relationship with my family has not always been blissful. We used to have some pretty good ups and downs despite the fact I have always loved them and I know they’ve always loved me. This roller coaster relationship experience continued until I figured something out about how I was being in the relationships with them.
Let me paint you a picture: when we would get together there was usually easy conversation floating around so on the surface everything looked like it was good. However, I used to feel really disconnected from them. I used to feel like anytime I tried to talk about the things that were important to me or share about what I was up to, they would get uncomfortable and tolerate me just long enough to be able to change the conversation without seeming like they were cutting me off.
Of course this perspective helped me create a wicked story in my head about what they thought of my life, the choices I was making, and me. My story went something like: “They’re uncomfortable talking to me about what I’m up to in my life. They think I’m weird and woo-woo and crazy to try my hand at entrepreneurship.” I tell’ya, that story was the TRUTH – for a long time I didn’t see it as something I had made up, it seemed like a very reasonable, rational explanation for why we had the relationship we did.
I’m sure you can imagine, a story like that didn’t do a lot to contribute to the feeling of connection between us all… however I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back to the river pushing situation… the other part of me having this story was that every time I felt disconnected from them, I would slip into the drama of the story I had created. I would start judging the sh*t out of them for not loving me and accepting me the way I thought they SHOULD be. Again, not a great ingredient for creating connected and loving relationships!
So what’s the river and who’s pushing it?
Let’s tear this example of ‘river pushing’ apart and lay it out to see what we get:
- My family’s love was the river.
- My opinion of how they should be acting towards me was the metaphorical river-pusher in this case.
I figured this out in a coaching session where I was finally able to notice and let go of the story and just let my family love me however they wanted to without my judgment clouding things. When I finally ‘let the river flow by itself’ within 2 hours of that coach session (literally) my Mom called and we had one of the most connected conversations I feel we’d had in a long time.
Now… I’m sure over at my Mom’s end of things nothing specific had changed to cause this miraculous shift. I’m sure the difference in the conversation had way more to do with the way I was ‘showing up’ in the conversation – open, interested, and relaxed instead of secretly judging her every word.
How can I be sure? Well a couple of years later I asked her about it. She didn’t remember that specific conversation where I was different, but she did say that a while back she had really started to notice a difference in me and the way I was acting towards her and the family; she said it seemed like I had just sort of relaxed and settled into myself and I was just easier to be around.
Squeeze and Release
The point I’m trying to make is that we often get attached to how things should look.
Sometimes it’s obvious:
- “I want my wedding day to unfold like this”
- “Getting a new job should happen like this”
- “If only my partner/ boss/ friend were like this then things would be better”
That last one’s a classic and well used explanation for why our lives and relationships don’t look the way we want them to…
These are all just basic examples of that innate ‘human behaviour’ kicking in and creating an attachment to how something should happen rather than the what you want it to be like.
When a bride worries and obsesses about all the details of her wedding day (separate from creating and executing a plan) she loses sight of the overall intention of the day. Instead she becomes “bridezilla” and misses out on the purpose of having a wedding in the first place.
Compare that experience to one of those really unexpected brilliant days we’ve all had, where nothing was planned and it turned out to be exactly what you wanted. What’s the difference? You weren’t attached to how you were going to get exactly what you wanted, you just took action in the moment to support your intention of having a brilliant day.
The other and potentially more important place to apply this river pushing rule, is in regards to people: you can’t make people be different than they are. I am the way I am and I’m not the way I’m not. Same with you – you are they way you are and you’re not the way you’re not. And guess what… same with your parents, your spouse, your kids, your friends, and your co-workers.
This is kind of the same thing as saying “it is what it is” however the difference is when you really get this concept and accept it, you have power to do something different. In the example with my family, I kept wanting my Mom to be different than she is; I wanted her to engage differently in what I’m up to in my life and that’s just not how she is. When I spent more time focusing on how she wasn’t than looking for the truth about who she was, I missed all the great things she had to offer.
My mom is a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and experience. Me being caught up in my story kept me from being able to see that and engage with her in a way that worked for both of us instead of just me. As soon as I dropped my story about her and my resistance to who she was, we were able to start developing a great, connected, and loving relationship.
Now this isn’t to say that if you’re in a relationship with someone who is treating you poorly, disrespecting you, using you, or taking you for granted, that you should just accept how they are and deal with it. It is to say however that you get to accept the truth about who they are and how they are and make a choice to support you living your best life – potentially ending the relationship depending on how severe the behaviour is.
If we stay open to what comes our way and keep our focus on what our overall intention is, everything just kind of flows. I let go of how my family should be with me and all of a sudden I got the sense of connection I’d been trying to make happen. And years later I can proudly say I have a great relationship with my family and really look forward to and enjoy spending time with them!
A river is going to flow no matter what… You want proof? Have a look at the Colorado River and how it’s flowed through the Grand Canyon for the last 17-million years or so…
Until next time ,
How’re You Doing?
I love hearing from my readers! If this was interesting, helpful, or hit home, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me privately!
Not yet part of the blog notification list and you want more great articles like this? CLICK HERE get on the weekly mailing list!
Spread The Word:
Don’t hesitate to forward this to a friend or share on your favourite social media platform or forward to a friend by clicking the buttons below! Share the knowledge!