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Letting Go by David R. Hawkins.
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Are you often bogged down by negative emotions? Does this keep you from getting what you want from life? In Letting Go, David R. Hawkins explains how to move from feeling stuck to being happy and at peace. He argues that if you release unhelpful emotions and welcome positive emotions, you can improve your mental and physical health, strengthen your relationships, and invite greater success in all areas of life.

Hawkins (1927-2012) was a psychiatrist who specialized in treating schizophrenia and addiction. He founded or cofounded numerous organizations for psychiatric care, and he received many awards and citations for...

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Letting Go Summary How We Avoid Dealing With Emotions

According to Hawkins, most of us carry unhelpful emotions because we fear them. Instead of confronting them, we avoid dealing with the emotions, so they stay with us. This harms our mental and physical well-being.

(Shortform note: In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson argues that you also lose out on valuable feedback when you repress or ignore your emotions. Emotions aren’t something to fear—their purpose is to let you know when something is good or bad for you. When you ignore those feelings, you block feedback that could help you solve the problems in your life. Thus, you continue to struggle with the same issues, and you find it difficult to be happy. Other experts elaborate on the potential mental and physical consequences of avoiding difficult emotions. For instance, these can manifest as digestive issues, depression, and greater susceptibility to infections. In relationships, you might...

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Letting Go Summary How to Release Unhelpful Emotions

If the above strategies represent problematic ways to deal with difficult emotions, what is Hawkins’s solution? He argues that the best way to handle unhelpful emotions is to completely release them, a process that we’ll explore in this section. Once you learn how to do this, you’ll feel less attached to external experiences and objects. You’ll be free to enjoy things without depending on them for joy and fulfillment—if something goes how you want it to, that’s great; but if it doesn’t, you know you’ll be all right. This means you’ll no longer rely on anyone or anything other than yourself to feel happy and at peace.

(Shortform note: Hawkins’s process of release and acceptance is similar to the Buddhist process of attaining non-attachment. Non-attachment involves letting go of your desires for and feelings about all things, including your thoughts and emotions, relationships with others, and material belongings. This is based on the idea that everything is impermanent, so maintaining attachments inevitably leads to suffering—when the things you’re attached to eventually...

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Letting Go Summary The Benefits of Releasing Unhelpful Emotions

Now that we’ve discussed some of the broad benefits of releasing unhelpful emotions—such as less attachment to external experiences and a greater sense of control—let’s explore some of the more specific, tangible benefits that Hawkins cites. In this section, we’ll dive into three of them:

  1. How releasing negative emotions rids you of self-imposed limitations
  2. How it improves your relationships
  3. How it reduces your vulnerability to health problems

Benefit #1: Ridding You of Self-Imposed Limitations

According to Hawkins, releasing negative emotions rids you of the limiting thoughts and beliefs that accompany them. Our thoughts are rationalizations of our feelings—therefore, if your feelings are always stuck in a negative state, your thoughts will reflect a pessimistic outlook. When you’re no longer mired in negative thoughts and feelings, you learn that nothing can stop you from doing anything you want. You can be brave and bold instead of fearful and inhibited.

For example, say you’ve always wanted to run a marathon, but you convinced yourself you’d never be in good enough shape. You don’t want to completely give up, though, so you practice releasing the fear...

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Letting Go Summary The Energy of Emotions

Now that we’ve discussed the mechanisms and merits of releasing negative emotions, let’s take a closer look at the energies of specific emotions. In this section, we’ll examine three unhelpful emotions with low energy frequencies and three beneficial emotions with high frequencies. We’ll also explore how to apply Hawkins’s advice on releasing emotions to these specific feelings.

(Shortform note: Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling self-help book The Secret goes into more detail about the energetic frequencies of thoughts (as opposed to emotions, as Hawkins describes). However, while Hawkins describes energetic frequencies in terms of how high or low they are, Byrne describes them in terms of how positive or negative they are.)

Low-Frequency Emotions

As we discussed earlier, Hawkins states that low-frequency negative emotions attract negative experiences and hinder personal growth and success. Let’s take a closer look at three of the most common negative emotions: grief, fear, and anger.


Hawkins argues that **grief arises when you believe that you...

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Shortform Exercise: Practice Releasing an Unhelpful Emotion

In Letting Go, Hawkins describes many benefits and strategies for releasing unhelpful and negative emotions. Practice these techniques using an emotion you’ve experienced recently.

Think of a negative emotion you’ve experienced recently. How did it affect your life? (For example, maybe you’ve been angry about your circumstances lately, and it’s harming your relationships with the people around you. Or, maybe you’ve been grieving the loss of a dream job, and you can’t seem to move on and find a new position.)

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