How do we know when to “Hold on” and when to “Let go”?

We all struggle with this choice when faced with a difficult situation. On one hand our heart says “It is bad to give up. Keep trying. Hold on!”. On the other hand, it whispers “Accept. See when you cannot change anything. Learn to let go”. How do we decide? If we examine the question slowly and closely the answer reveals itself.

Have you noticed the choice or rather the dilemma comes into existence only during ‘difficult’ situations? Have you wondered why?

What is a ‘difficult’ situation really?
Isn’t it simply a situation that we want to be different? We are resisting it, hating it as it is. We are unable to accept it as it is. Something is happening, and we want something different to happen.
Maybe somebody is leaving us, and we want them not to. Maybe we are losing a job, and we don’t want to. Maybe we have a job, but wish we had some other one. Maybe somebody rejected our love, and we want them not to. Perhaps we have to choose between family and job, and wish we could have had both. Perhaps you want to choose between your current career(financial stability, security) and your passion(financial uncertainty…insecurity) and you wish there was a way to have both.

At what point does the ‘suffering’ arise?
Choosing between 2 good jobs is also a choice, or between 2 vacation destinations. But that does not seem to lead to misery. So the misery is not in the choosing. 
It is in our inability to let go of the expected result

We wish to go to both vacation destinations, but are OK to choose any one for now anyway. We are OK with the results. We accept them. We don’t control them. 

We wish for family and job both – but find it hard to ‘let go’ of either. We are not OK with one of the results. Though we know we cannot control the result. Still we hold on. As if holding on will lead to some different result. 

Letting go
Trying to control the result just by ‘wishing’ for it is futile by definition. Being so afraid of the result that you don’t even make a choice. It is futile. It makes more sense to ‘let go’. But we do not. That’s when we should learn to let go. Let go of the expectation of the results. Choose!

Never give up
Once you have made a choice chosen to 
do something – now the effort is completely in your control. Then you keep doing it. With complete sincerity. Without expecting that the outcome will be exactly as you dreamed.

Why will you do something sincerely if you are not sure about the result?
2 reasons: a) It creates performance anxiety and brings down your efficiency, reducing your chances of success b) If you are performing at your peak efficiency, then though the result depends on a lot of other factors as well which are not within YOUR control, the probability of success is maximized. 
The realization of our expectations are always a desirable side-effect, not a direct result of our efforts.

So in short…
So ‘Never giving up’ is about the effort, ‘letting go’ is about the expectation. We have the option to ‘never give up’ only because the effort is within our control. We do not have the option to control the result. So the only option is to ‘let go’.

What we usually end up doing is mixing up both. Putting all our energy wishing for a different result, and draining out the energy available to put in our best effort.

Distinguishing in difficult situations:
So the first step is to differentiate what is within and not within your control. 
The dilemma arises because of our inability to discriminate between the two and futile attempts to change what we cannot.

For this, you can ask:
1) What do I expect to change?
2) Does it depend on someone else’s doing?. If yes, let go
3) If not, then what can I do? Do it without giving up.

For example, you are trying to dissuade your child from taking a ‘foolish’ career decision.
What do you expect to change?
Answer: Her decision from Job A to Job B. Convince that choosing job A is foolish.
Does it depend on your doing?
Answer: No. The decision change depends on her. So holding on to that expectation is futile – a recipe for stress. ‘Let go’.
What can you do?
Answer: Tell her pros and cons of both jobs. So do a great job at it. Do your best. Don’t worry whether she will change her decision or not. Don’t give up no matter how the ‘future looks’.

Another example. You are trying to improve your marriage. Trying to convince your husband that his alcoholism is not something you can live with.

What do you expect to change?
Answer: His addiction to alcohol. You want him to quit it. 
Does it depend on your doing?
Answer: No. Choosing to give up drinking, and sticking to it depends on him. So holding on to that expectation is futile – a recipe for stress. ‘Let go’.
What can you do?
Answer: Tell him how it is affecting you. Suggest solutions. Provide contacts for counselling. Do a great job at it. Do your best. Don’t worry whether he will make the choice you want or not. Don’t give up no matter how the ‘future looks’. If he does not choose to act, f
inally, you have the choice to decide to stay or leave. You can exercise that choice. Others might call it too soon or too late. But again, that is not in your control either. If others call you ‘selfish’ – that is also a result of your choice. If you feel guilty – that is a result too. Beyond your control. So choose! And then put your best in that action.

Differentiating between effort and result, choices and consequences is the crucial step. 


  1. What about fear of consequences? Many a times stress and confusion is also because we are unaware of consequences or may be we know it in some situations but fear the change or impact it might have on individual life.

  2. That belongs to the second category.. We cannot control. They haven't happened yet.

    When we fear consequences, we are simply resisting our own imagination.

    Instead, we can try to foresee the consequences… And make a choice. Then put in our best effort for that choice. See what happens… Then choose again

    The outcome might not be what we expected. But we keep moving

    This might also help

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