Do you feel like you are never able to out-run your past? Those decisions you made, or chances you didn’t take, are they affecting who you are now and what you can do in the future?
How to let go of your past
While everyone’s story is different, it is possible to be free of whatever it is that is holding you back. Sometimes though, it might take a little bit of effort to get to the point where you are able to truly explore your future – but that is okay, because being able to spread your wings and take the chances you have always dreamed of is completely worth the struggles it may take to get there.
Step #1 Clearly identify what it is you are struggling with
When you are caught in the past and struggling to move forwards, it is easy to find yourself paralyzed with anxiety at two o’clock in the morning, replaying every mistake you’ve ever made. This kind of processing is way too overwhelming for anyone to deal with – instead, on a day that you are feeling strong and have some free time, sit yourself down with a mug of tea, your favorite music, and a journal or computer.
This is a really important part of letting the past go – even if you are very busy, it’s important to carve out some time for yourself! Write out (or if you are more comfortable talking, you can make a recording and talk out loud) everything that is bothering you – from the hangnail on your pinky finger to the biggest mistake you think you’ve ever made.
Once you’ve written, or spoken, out everything, put it away for a day or two. When you’re feeling rested, take out everything you’ve recorded and read/listen through it – identify what you feel are the core issues that you are currently struggling with and what issues are just surface-level concerns. Knowing what it is that you are fighting against makes the battle so much less terrifying. [Read: 5 life altering lessons you can learn from regret]
Step #2 If there is anything you can do to fix the situation, give it a shot!
Sometimes, once you’ve recognized what it is in your past that’s hanging over you, the solution becomes immediately obvious. Terrified that a hurtful message sent in the heat of the moment may have ended a friendship? Reach out to your friend and make the first move by apologizing.
Worried that you may have burned bridges at a past job and that it would affect your future employment? Send a quick e-mail to your old manager asking to have coffee, and see if you can fix the damage that’s been done. These actions can be scary, but they are less painful than having a past mistake keep influencing your future.
Step #3 If there’s nothing you can do to fix the situation, you need to release it.
This sentence sounds so easy, and yet it can be so hard to actually do. The fact of the matter is, sometimes the past seems like a better place, you may still be in love with the man or woman who broke your heart five years ago, but if they’ve moved on, you need to too. It is important to recognize that the past is gone – there is no bringing it back, and there’s no re-creating it.
It’s human nature to romanticize the past and remember it as being far more wonderful than it was. Memories of good times are important, but you can’t put your current life on hold while you relive the past!
As the famous quote by C.S. Lewis goes, “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind”. It’s wonderful that you have such fond memories of the past, but remember that you can be just as happy again – that you can find love again – that you can be successful again. Looking forward is going to be a lot better for you in the long run, but you can’t do that if you’re still clinging determinedly to the past!
Step #4 Forgive those who have hurt you
People say cruel things, and their actions can be even worse. One of the horrible things about being hurt by the people we love is how hard it is to forget. No matter how many times we hear the word ‘sorry’, it can seem impossible to “forgive and forget”.
Here’s something to consider though – you don’t need to forget. No one is asking you to erase the past – all you need to do is release yourself from its grip. This is a hard step, but it will make your life so much lighter going forwards – you have no obligation to carry around resentment and hatred and disappointment from your past experiences.
Forgive the person who hurt you, remember what they did (so you can protect yourself from experiencing the same thing again in the future), and then release all of the bitterness and anger you feel. If you truly want to leave these people in the past, you have to leave your emotions around them behind too. [Read: 6 telltale excuses that get you nowhere!]
Step #5 Forgive yourself
Forgiving others is hard, but forgiving yourself can be harder. The fact is, the mistakes that you are holding on to, they have already happened, and the person who made those mistakes doesn’t exist anymore. Since those experiences, you have grown and changed and become an entirely new person – you need to recognize this, and become confident in who you are now.
In order to truly believe in the person you have become, you need to forgive the person you were. After all, it is thanks to the person you were that you ended up here – and who you are now is strong enough to face whatever comes in the future. So thank your younger self, and let them off the hook for the mistakes they made – you’ve learned from those experiences and become stronger because of them. There is no peace to be found in disliking yourself.
Step #6 Dream about the future
Now that you’ve taken some steps to release your past, it is time to embrace what’s going to happen next. Without the past taking up space in your everyday thoughts, you may find yourself at a loss. It can be tempting, even, to go back to dreaming about the past. It is very important that you have something else to focus on so that it does not happen!
What have you always wanted to try? Are there new relationships in your life that you have more energy to pour into now? Is there a dream that you’ve always wanted to chase, but been unsure of? Pretend that you’re five again, and that you don’t have any limitations on your life – what would you want to do? Have fun with this step – start a vision board, or a bucket list, anything that inspires you and makes you excited about the future. [Read: 25 memorable life lessons to perfect your life]
Step #7 Stretch your wings!
Everything is forwards from here – the possibilities for where your life will take you are endless, and you are in control. Your past does not control your future, and you have risen above it. Chase your dreams and make your life exactly what you want it to be, unencumbered by the people and events from your past. Life is an adventure, and you’re just getting started.
[Read: 12 insightful lessons to help you plan a better future and a better life]
It’s easy to cling on to past mistakes and errors and let that control your future. But that’s always a choice, and not a commitment. Learn to let go of your past, and you’ll see a future that can be better than even your imagination!
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