“One day, while an eagle was flying over the field, saw a fish emerging from the water of a pond. She quickly dived and with extraordinary dexterity, managed to capture the fish. Then it took off again, carrying the fish in its beak.
“However, a band of crows that witnessed the scene, rushed the eagle to try to snatch its prey. Normally the eagle is not afraid of crows, but they were many and their squawks were resounding. The first crows were joined by others.
“The eagle was trying to take flight to escape, but the crows prevented it. They attacked her relentlessly. At one point, the eagle realized that it was all due to the fact that she was still holding on to the fish. Then she opened her beak and dropped it.
“The crows rushed after the fish and the eagle was finally able to take flight. Now she could fly lightly and freely. High. With nothing to stop her. In peace”.
This ancient Indian fable refers to how on many occasions clinging stubbornly to things creates us problems that we could solve simply by learning to let go of what is hurting or hindering us.
In real life, however, it is not so easy to see which are the “fish” that prevent us from taking flight. In fact, many of those things were probably not a problem at first, until they became a heavy burden that we don’t want to get rid of.
The obsession for adding
In a society where success is measured in terms of addition, subtraction is underestimated. However, many times the problems come precisely because of that irrational obsession with adding. We can become obsessed with adding more things, money, achievements, possessions, experiences, people …
Thus we end up leading a chaotic life, where things increasingly occupy our vital space, experiences leave less and less space for introspection and social commitments take away the possibility of being alone with ourselves. In this scenario, it is not difficult for some of these sums to become a drag that prevents us from taking flight.
The problem, however, is that we cling to them.
Researchers at Duke University, for example, asked a group of young people how much they would be willing to pay for a ticket to a major basketball game. They answered that an average of 166 dollars. However, after giving them the tickets, they intended to resell them for 2,411 dollar, a price that is clearly exorbitant. Why? All succumbed to the “Owner Effect”, a phenomenon whereby when something belongs to us we believe its value is greater simply because we developed an attachment.
Another psychological effect that keeps us tied to our bad decisions is the sunk cost fallacy. Psychologists from the University of Middlesex found that, in different scenarios, once we have invested time, effort and/or money in something, we have a tendency to remain firm on that path, even if it means a greater investment or even hurts us because it is difficult for us to admit that we have made a mistake or to let go of that project.
Letting go: The key to learning to let go
In reality, it takes much more courage and strength to let go than to hold on. When we cling to something or someone, we are simply following a pattern that has been instilled in us since childhood. Letting go, on the contrary, demands a deeper and more mature analysis exercise in which we realize that it does not make sense to hold on to certain things or people, because in that way it is likely that we only hurt them or we do it to ourselves.
As Alan Watts wrote: “The hand that seizes the world is a sliding knot around your own neck, that seizes and kills the very life that you desire to achieve.” When we clench our fist too much, the water escapes. We can only drink if we keep our hand relaxed.
We need to recognize that almost all of our struggles, from frustrations to anxiety, from anger to sadness, from pain to worry, all stem from the same thing: being too attached to something.
When we become too attached, we become confused and cannot see clearly what is happening to us. As a result, we cannot notice the chains that hold us down or the habits that cause us to collide over and over with the same stone.
The solution lies in detachment. Detachment, contrary to what many think, does not imply “being made of stone” or becoming indifferent, but rather developing an attitude in which we do not block anything. We simply let the world run its course, without holding on to what must change.
“The art of living in a ‘difficult situation’ does not consists, on the one hand, in drifting carelessly, nor, on the other, in clinging fearfully to the past and the known. It consists in being completely sensitive to each moment, in considering it as new and unique, in having an open and receptive mind ”, advised Watts.
When we detach, we understand that the solution is not to add, but to subtract. Letting go of what hurts us. Altering the course. Releasing the ballast. Only then can we fly back, this time without unnecessary burdens.
Dijkstra, K. A. (2019) The feeling of throwing good money after bad: The role of affective reaction in the sunk-cost fallacy. PLoS One; 14(1): e0209900.
Carmon, Z. & Ariely, D. (2000) Focusing on the Forgone: How Value Can Appear so Different to Buyers and Sellers. The Journal of Consumer Research; 27(3): 360-370.