Time heals everything. Or does it? If it does, then why are so many of us having a hard time letting go of the past? Why do we need to learn how to let go if it is so darn easy to heal and move on? Probably because it isn’t as easy as we think.
I know one woman who is so stuck in one past event, that it is almost like the event is happening against and again to her; as if she is stuck in an eternal loop that she can’t free herself from. That’s the danger of holding on too tight to the past. Your life hits pause for as long as you hold on to it.
Life is lived moment to moment. What you focus on in the moment matters. For instance, if you are grieving the loss of a loved one, then each moment determines how you will feel. If you focus on the grief, then you will feel sad. But, if something distracts like you, like an old friend coming to visit, you will be focused on the friend instead of your grief.
The point is you are not always focused on the past. There are times that your attention is in the moment and, in order to get go of the past, your goal is to put more of your attention in the moment and less of it in the past.
There is nothing wrong with moving more into the moment and leaving the past behind. It happened, you experienced it, you learned from it, and sometimes you intensely loved or hated it, but that doesn’t mean you need to live there now. Now, you should be focused on the moments that will soon become your past – the present moments. Following are 9 tips on how to let go of the past and start focusing more on the moment.
1. Figure Out What’s Keeping You Stuck
There is something that is keeping you attached to the past. Maybe you feel guilty about what happened and want to punish yourself for your guilt. Maybe you feel like if you forget about the past, you will be dishonoring the event or person that is involved in the past. There is some reason that you are holding on to the moment, and you need to figure out what it is.
Often the insight that comes from understanding why you are holding on to the past in enough to help you start to move on. For instance, when you realize that you feel like holding on to a death is your way of not letting them go, you can see things from a different perspective and realize how unhelpful that is. Then, you can find ways to start changing your perception.
2. Forgive The Past
This is essential. Forgiveness in its essence is letting go. When you forgive yourself or people from your past, you give yourself permission to let of the issue and move on.
Forgiveness is not about saying that everything that happened was alright. It’s not about saying that you deserved what happened or that you should pretend that it didn’t happen at all. It is simply about accepting what happened and having the mindset to ‘let it be’ and stop trying to make what happened different in some way.
For example, if someone cheated on you in the past, then you may still feel attacked from it. Holding on to the situation may be your way of trying to change it in some way. You may say things like “It shouldn’t have happened!” or “I should have been able to see it coming.” But saying those things won’t change what happened. Nothing you say or do will change what happened. You need to recognize that you have no control over it, and it doesn’t define you as a person, so that you can forgive it and move on from it.
3. Rewrite The Past
If you are having a hard time letting go of a moment, and you would rather not remember it, then this little technique can help. I can’t remember where I first heard of this technique, although I think it was from Tony Robbins, but it is a great way to rewrite something that is keeping you in a negative state.
You know how we can sometimes remember things differently than someone else? This is because we perceive it in a different way and create a different story in our head. Moreover, sometimes we can remember things completely different than they actually happened, which is because we create a more preferred version of the story (imagined story) in our mind, and it becomes what we remember. You can use that to your advantage!
Pick a memory that you want to let go as a negative memory. Now you are going to rewrite that memory in a way that makes it exaggerated, silly, and maybe even a little funny. For instance, if you had someone cut you off on the highway and then give you the finger, try imagining the situation differently. Imagine vibrant colors in the sky and all around you, as if you were in a cartoon. Imagine his car bouncing up and down instead of driving straight forward. If you saw his face, picture a donkey face instead of his actual face, and imagine him making the noise hee-haw over and over again. Imagine the car bouncing in and out of the lanes in a mad dash to go nowhere. Imagine his car falling apart, and leaving him sitting on a seat with his foot on the pedal and no car frame in sight. Then, imagine him moving in front of you and waving at you instead of giving you the finger. Imagine the car bouncing up and down to your favorite song as he moves further and further away from you.
Scrambling up the moment like that can give it a whole new meaning. When you replay the situation in your mind as it was, anger can boil up. But, when you replay it as something ridiculous, you will find that your emotions stay much calmer. Soon, the moment won’t hold as much power as it does and you will find yourself moving on from it.
4. Don’t Be The Only One Stuck!
It is human nature not to be the only one doing something. When it comes to how to let go, you can use this to your advantage.
First, realize the moment is no longer holding on to what happened. Nothing from that moment is still focused on the situation, except for you. Energy is in a constant state of motion, so any energy around you in that moment has already moved on.
Moreover, if there were other people involved, they have likely moved on. For example, if someone cheated on you in the past and is now out of your life, do you think they are holding on to that moment? No! They may remember it and think about it once in a while, but they are definitely not stuck there agonizing over it, so why should you be? Why should you be the only one who has to relive the past over and over again?
While I usually don’t recommend being like everyone else, this is the one time I highly recommend it. Accept that other people have moved on and then be exactly like them.
5. Focus On The Good Things
One practice that has helped countless people become more present and more forgiving is gratitude. Gratitude can help you experience more positive emotions, put more focus on good experiences, and deal with negative experiences better, which are all important aspects of how to let go and leave the past behind. I have yet to hear about the negative effects of gratitude, and I have a feeling that I never will.
There has been study after study that shows the positive effects of gratitude. In one 10-week study done by psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough, people who focused on things they were grateful for each week found that they felt better about their lives and more optimistic. Sounds like a great way to focus more on the present moment!
In my experience, focusing on gratitude really does help you to live more in the moment. When you focus on things to be grateful for, you also keep your eyes open for things to be grateful for, which means more living in the moment and less focusing on the past.
6. Get Excited About Your Potential
Aristotle believed that we are in a constant state of motion, where we are changing and evolving into someone else. He believed that everyone has potential in life, which he called ‘entelechy’.
If you view your past as a part of your constant changing and evolving towards your potential, then you will have an easier time letting it go and focusing on what is happening now. But, you have to get excited about your potential. If you could care less about who you are going to become, then you won’t view your negative experiences in life as a part of becoming who you are meant to be; instead, you will give them a lot of weight and let them define who you are, which will keep you stuck in the past.
How can you get excited about your potential in life? Visualize it. Visualize yourself in a happy and fulfilling relationship. Visualize yourself having success, doing great things, being happy, having fun, and enjoying life. Visualize it until you start to really want it. And when you do, you will start to get excited about what you can create in life and focus on ways to start changing and evolving into that person rather than staying stuck on what has happened in your past.
7. Figure Out What Is Important To You
If you are stuck in the past, then you are giving whatever you are focused on a lot of importance. If you find yourself getting upset over it, and unable to let it go, then you are giving it a lot of weight in your life, so decide whether or not that is worth it to you.
For instance, if you are focused on the death of a loved one, then you are giving their death a lot of weight. Would you rather give their death or their life weight? What is more important to you? If you choose their life, then celebrating their life and finding ways to make them proud would be more beneficial to you than focusing on their death.
I have found myself focused on negative people from my past and it wasn’t until I realized how unimportant they were to me that I was able to let that focus go. The people I love, the people that inspire me, and the people that I have fun with are much more important to me than people who have hurt me in the past, and I would much rather focus on them.
8. Take Responsibility For Your Life
A lot of times we hang on to the past because we are blaming things for not working out the way they should have. We may blame someone or something, but that blame keeps us stuck under the spell of what happened.
When you take responsibility for your life, including the bad things that have happened to you, the blame starts to disappear. This does mean that you will have to face what you could have done better from the past, but it will also give you back control over your life and help you feel more empowered and less helpless. When you feel empowered, you are more likely to take control of your life and focus on what you are doing for it right now.
9. Laugh More
Laughter is the best medicine for everything, including getting over the past. A good laugh has the power to increase your mood, help you forget about the past, bring you to the present moment, and look forward to the future. It literally helps you let go of the judgments you have about your past, as well as the criticisms and the doubts. It also helps you acknowledge your true feelings and passions in life, which will help you focus more on who you are now and who you want to be.
Therefore, do everything you can to laugh. Make laughter a priority in your day. Look for the humor in every situation. Stop watching things that make you feel bad and start watching things that make you laugh. Surround yourself with funny people, go to comedy shows, and value yourself as someone who enjoys a good laugh. Don’t take life so seriously and laugh at things that go wrong rather than get upset about them. Laughter has a magical way of keeping things in perspective, so if you do nothing else to let go of your past, do everything you can to laugh more.