Letting Go: How to Let Go of the Past and Live in the Present Moment
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We have all experienced pain at some point in our lives. It affects our overall well-being and can hurt us, mentally, spiritually and physically.
I know as well as anyone that pain is a really tough part of life. But how are you supposed to do to get rid of that dreadful feeling?
If you are like I once was, you are probably looking for a quick way to get rid of your feelings of hurt and anxiety and improve your happiness.
The easiest way to get rid of this psychic pain is to learn how to let go of the past, especially the pain that specific people or circumstances have caused.
Now, I know what you are thinking: This is easier said than done, right? You are probably telling yourself that this isn’t as simple as it sounds.
In this article, we’ll go over a blueprint for how to let go of the past and live in the present moment.
Letting go of the past will allow you to live a happier life that is free from negative thoughts. It will allow you to be content with living in the here and now.
What You Will Learn
- Why Holding Onto the Past Is Bad
- But doesn't the past teach us lessons?
- Seven Steps to Let Go of the Past (and Negative Emotions)
- 1. Create an environment to tell the story of your negative emotion in order to satisfy your need to be listened to and understood.
- 2. Identify your negative emotions and the things you tell yourself that keep you stuck to those emotions.
- 3. Evaluate these emotions and their impact.
- 4. Discover your positive motivation for letting go of negative or painful emotions.
- 5. Take responsibility for your own happiness.
- 6. Evaluate your ability and willingness to let go.
- 7. Create a new positive experience that will replace the negative one.
- 19 Habits to Live More in the Present Moment
- 1. Face your Negative Emotions.
- 2. Feel your sadness or anger. (Don't hide how you feel.)
- 3. Don’t take anything personally.
- 4. Replace negative thoughts with positive action.
- 5. Love yourself unconditionally.
- 6. Learn to forgive.
- 7. Write a letter and burn it.
- 8. Use Crayola Window Crayons to write your worries on tiles or windows and wash them off.
- 9. Use a Buddha Board to release bad feelings.
- 10. Practice being more present.
- 11. Engage with the world.
- 12. Recite happiness and confidence affirmations.
- 13. Write down your emotions in a journal.
- 14. Practice visualization.
- 15. Reflect on your achievements.
- 16. Make it a habit to notice and focus on what's good in your life.
- 17. Take good care of yourself.
- 18. Learn how to change your mood.
- 19. Seek support.
- Begin to let go…
- Do you still let past events hold you back?
Why Holding Onto the Past Is Bad
Holding onto the past is always damaging in some way. Even holding onto positive events from the past creates limitations in people's lives and sets boundaries for the future.
Could you imagine someone who is living a successful life today spending all of their time reliving a goal they failed to meet 10 years ago? No, they likely learned from their failure but then moved on and achieved many other successes.
Let's look at an common example of someone who has a problem letting go.
Have you ever met a retiree who is always talking about their former career? Pretty common, huh? But also sad.
It is fine to be proud of a previous career and want to talk about it. But when it is ALWAYS the topic of conversation, it shows that they have not let go of that part of the past.
Unfortunately, this constant talk of a previous career means that they are not living life in the present. It is hard to enjoy retirement and get on with the next phase of life when they really want to still be working.
You need to let the previous part of your life go to fully enjoy the next stage.
Even innocent statements can sometimes show you are being held back by the past. Let's look at an example of what I mean:
“That dessert I made at Christmas a few years ago was the best I have ever tasted”
Innocent, right? Yes, but this can also be an example of a limiting mindset.
This statement creates a judgment about the dessert that staves off any improvements that could be made in the future. You are stuck on an old recipe being “perfect”. This means no experiments to improve the recipe, and closing your mind to the idea that something better is possible.
While this is an innocent example, if you’re making comments like that about a career or a former relationship, you can be limiting yourself or even setting yourself up for failure in the future.
Holding onto the past prevents you from moving on in life. While it is great to appreciate your past positive experiences and learn from your mistakes, it is best to use that information in the present moment to create your best self.
But doesn't the past teach us lessons?
Our mistakes do teach us important lessons.
Our experiences, good and bad, change us. They make us into slightly new versions of ourselves. They teach us things to do, and things to avoid.
But once the lessons are learned, these teachable moments can begin to hold us back.
You will never be able to fully apply past experiences to present situations. No current situation will ever be identical to something that happened years ago.
For example, if you are trying to apply a negative experience from a past relationship to a current relationship, it will never be exactly the same. Different people are involved, and different circumstances exist.
You may be tempted to use your past experience as an excuse or justification to act in a certain way in your current relationship, but the situations are different and the outcomes will be different as well. You may want to avoid responsibility and blame your past for your current actions (or inactions), but that will not empower you to get out of the victim mindset.
You can accept and embrace the person that you have become due to your past relationships, but those relationships will not be duplicated with new people. You have to move on from old situations and accept your current life as it is. Rather than wasting your energy reliving your past, it is best to focus on improving your future. That means letting go of the past.
Relying fully on past experiences prevents you from experiencing anything new.
Anytime you rely on your past to mold your current life, you limit what you see to things that you have seen before. This makes your past your only source of future creation. You must think of the past as being largely irrelevant in order to experience the present.
You won't be able to properly plan for your future and truly live in the moment if you don't let go of some of your life's history.
Seven Steps to Let Go of the Past (and Negative Emotions)
1. Create an environment to tell the story of your negative emotion in order to satisfy your need to be listened to and understood.
Not feeling like other people really know you can cause you to feel hopeless and even estranged from the rest of humanity. Without being able to have the experience that other people understand you or can relate in some way, you are left feeling empty and discouraged.
Enduring these feelings of isolation can even make your existence feel artificial. Loneliness and depression go hand in hand, which is why feeling alienated can be harmful.
Instead, if you are able to create an environment that will allow other people to relate to your negative emotions or past experiences, you will be able to feel validated and move on.
This may involve finding a support group or a counselor who is willing to listen to you and provide empathy for your experiences. This will help you feel less alone and more supported.
2. Identify your negative emotions and the things you tell yourself that keep you stuck to those emotions.
It takes practice to learn how to notice and identify your negative emotions. When you start to feel a negative emotion such as anxiety, try to pinpoint exactly what you're feeling.
For example, if you feel jealous when you see an ex with a new person, recognize that the emotion is jealousy, and acknowledge the things you are telling yourself to keep you feeling that way.
Don't hide your feelings from yourself. While you might not need to tell everyone around you what you are feeling, you don't need to suppress your feelings completely.
Being able to identify the feeling by putting a name to it is better than pretending it is not there.
Recognize why you feel the way that you do. Think about what happened that got you to this place, and don't blame your emotions on someone else.
For example, your ex likely isn't seeing a new person to get back at you. Your feelings when you see them together come from inside you, and it is best to accept your emotions as being natural.
Acknowledging your emotions can help you move on. This can be an essential step in letting go.
3. Evaluate these emotions and their impact.
What are these emotions doing to you? Are they bringing you happiness or misery? Are they helping you or hurting you?
Using the same example of seeing your ex with someone new, are your feelings of jealousy benefitting you in any way? Is feeling jealous going to change the situation?
Recognize that these negative emotions are likely causing you unnecessary stress that isn't going to affect anyone but you.
Your jealousy will not have an impact on your ex or their new relationship. It will also not impact your future in a positive way.
Take notice of the misery that your negative emotion is making you feel, and reevaluate its position in your life. Let it go!
4. Discover your positive motivation for letting go of negative or painful emotions.
Finding some motivation to let go of your negative feelings will give you a boost to help you move on. Get into good habits and think about your purpose in life to help motivate you to move on.
Offer forgiveness to your ex and to you for any negative circumstances or events that you endured, and consider the positive possibilities for your future to keep you motivated to move on.
5. Take responsibility for your own happiness.
You cannot blame your feelings on someone else. Doing so is allowing someone else to have complete control over you.
People who have sought out and found happiness know quite well that a crucial milestone on the path to happiness is taking personal responsibility. This means not blaming other people for your unhappiness, and figuring out ways to be happy in spite of the past and the previous behaviors of other people.
Once you take personal responsibility, you will be able to recognize a truth about happiness, which is that it depends more on your attitude than it does on external conditions.
Your emotional state depends on how you interpret events, not what actually happened.
Your memory is not a videotape. Even though we act like it is. This is why you have so many different witness stories to the same crime.
Your emotions color your memories. This means that your happiness (or any emotional state) relies on your personal understanding of past circumstances.
If you view your ex's new partner as a threat, for example, you will feel jealousy and frustration. However, if you view this new person as a sign that it is time to move on, you will experience a sense of peace, and possibly even gratitude.
While it may be difficult to believe that you can be happy regardless of any external circumstances, it is best to remember that happiness is ultimately in your mind.
Do not attribute your unhappiness to anything outside of you. If you do, you will be blaming others or events rather than spending your energy improving yourself.
6. Evaluate your ability and willingness to let go.
Some wounds tend to stand the test of time more than anyone could ever expect. They feel so deep that it seems like there is no way they can be let go. Check your resistance to letting things go.
Look closely. There may be an endless shadow cast by the pain of your past that is clouding your future. It is easy to get stuck in this darkness, but are you willing to let it go and move on?
If not, think about what is stopping you. The power of moving on does not only lie with the nature of events themselves. The power relies on the steps forward that a person is willing to take, and how much effort he or she is willing to put forth to push the emotional rock out of the way.
Letting go involves remembering the circumstance, but reconsidering it from a different and more realistic perspective.
7. Create a new positive experience that will replace the negative one.
Create a change for you by focusing on new positive experiences. While positive thinking is great, positive actions will take you farther. Make a deliberate decision to initiate positive change in your life, and make positive actions that will connect you with your desired outcome.
If you are trying to get over the jealousy of seeing your ex with a new person, get out there and meet new people yourself. Take action to move on with your life. Create new memories to replace the old, and start enjoying your current life.
Once you start to let go of your negative emotions, you can live more in the present moment. The best way to do this is to build specific habits into your daily routine. Here are 19 habits to help you get started.
19 Habits to Live More in the Present Moment
1. Face your Negative Emotions.
There are many moments in life that are painful and hard to endure. During these times, you will feel anger, grief, embarrassment, anxiety, remorse, or a variety of other negative emotions.
While you likely will want to escape the pain or somehow push it away, doing so will only perpetuate the pain in the long run. Avoiding these feelings creates suffering and keeps you from fully living your life.
If you are able to mindfully acknowledge your negative emotions, they can end up being your greatest sources of strength. Rather than turning away to avoid feeling hurt, learn to turn towards your feelings. Bring a caring sense of open attention to the wounded part of you, and make wise choices about how to respond.
It may sound like a contradiction, but it is important to understand. By turning towards negative emotions, you will be able to face them and find the relief you are looking for.
2. Feel your sadness or anger. (Don't hide how you feel.)
Hiding from your feelings and suppressing your emotions will only make you feel worse in the long run.
Bottling up your emotions will cause them to build up and eventually explode in an unhealthy way. Do not feel ashamed if you are experiencing certain emotions, as they are part of who you are in the moment.
Accept your feelings without judgment. Recognize that they are normal, and that you have to go through them in order to get past them.
When the time is right you will let go of these feelings. But not until you have let them have their own time.
3. Don’t take anything personally.
Mindfulness includes a recognition that nothing that other people do is because of you.
The things other people say and do is a reflection of their own reality, not yours. They may hurt you, but it is rarely “on purpose”.
When you are able to become immune to other people's actions, you won’t take things personally and be a victim of needless suffering.
4. Replace negative thoughts with positive action.
Negative thoughts simply turn your brain to mush. The longer you allow negativity to fester, the softer you will get.
Everyone makes terrible decisions at some point, and those thoughts consume us. Look for something in your negative thought patterns that you may be able to turn into a positive outcome, and take action.
The key to moving past negative thoughts lies in the action you take in those moments of negativity.
Having negative thoughts during stressful times is part of life's experience, and these thoughts are needed to provide you with an opportunity to take action and reach a new high.
5. Love yourself unconditionally.
The most courageous thing you can ever do is to love yourself unconditionally.
You have the chance to accept each moment of your life and its imperfections. If you are able to let go of limitations, you can free yourself to experience life to its highest potential.
When you are able to love yourself unconditionally, you will literally become a light of the truth that radiates your inner strength.
Loving yourself allows you to be free from judgment.
You are the source of your own joy, meaning that you have to cultivate your qualities of love, and experience them. Each quality of unconditional love (such as peace and wisdom) comes from your inner awareness, and is expressed through your conscious activities. These attributes then help you become who you are.
Loving yourself unconditionally is a continuous process that is challenged by opportunities that are disguised as momentary obstacles that you encounter that will ultimately help you reach deeper and move forward with the grace of love. Either traumatic or joyful, each moment of your life is for your own personal growth, and is an opportunity to love yourself deeper.
Loving yourself begins with accepting yourself for who you are right now. You have to view your apparent limitations as simply a creation of past thoughts and feelings that can be released. When you are ready to do the work to release your baggage and move on with your life, you will be able to love yourself unconditionally.
6. Learn to forgive.
If you are holding onto resentment, you are not hurting the person who hurt you, you are only hurting yourself.
Part of being self-aware and being mindful is having the ability to let go of the past and focus on what you are doing right now, and living without carrying burdens of past experiences.
Acknowledge the pain that you may feel from past experience, and accept the feeling without judgment. Then, gently remind yourself that you have the courage to forgive, and offer yourself the freedom to live without resentment.
7. Write a letter and burn it.
If you are holding onto negative feelings towards a person, now is the time to take a moment to sit down and write them a letter detailing exactly how you feel, and why. However, you will not be sending this letter.
Give yourself the freedom to write anything you want. No one will ever see this letter, so let yourself curse and use bad language if you feel the need to, and write down all of your feelings about this person and your experiences with them.
This can be a very powerful cathartic healing tool.
Don't feel shame or guilt about the things you write, and don't suppress or deny your feelings. Get it all out on paper, knowing that no one can judge you for it.
Make sure that you write this letter to the person as if you are talking directly to them.
Once your letter feels finished, read it out loud with the intended emotion, as if the person were in the room. Do this as many times as you need to until you feel like you have gotten it all out.
Now that you have honestly expressed your feelings in a harmless way, release the negativity and tell yourself it is time to move on. Let go of this negativity by setting this letter on fire.
As you watch the letter burn, think to yourself how you are releasing the negativity written in it. This will help you acknowledge the pain and let go of your hostility toward someone else.
It will improve your relationship with them, even if you have no contact with them.
Repeat this exercise whenever it is needed. The letter does not have to be about a person—it could be about a past event or anything in your life that is causing you to have negative thoughts.
8. Use Crayola Window Crayons to write your worries on tiles or windows and wash them off.
The process of thinking about your worries and listing them will help get them out of your head. Declutter your mind by removing everything from it that causes you to worry or have any type of negative feelings.
After you are finished with your list, wash it away. Watch the ink as it drains down and the window or tile becomes clean. Try to mimic this with your mind to make it become clean and clear as well.
9. Use a Buddha Board to release bad feelings.
A Buddha Board is a great way to release negative feelings. It is easy to use—you just fill the stand with water and dip in a brush and start drawing or writing. As the water evaporates, your art will slowly fade away, allowing you to practice the art of letting go.
This can help provide you with instant stress relief as your negative feelings melt away. You will have the ability to feel relaxed and have a clearer and calmer mind. The blank slate that results from the evaporation of the water is a perfect symbol for starting over fresh.
10. Practice being more present.
Try to anchor yourself in the present moment. Stop ruminating over the past or feeling anxious about the future, and just think about the moment at hand. If you are able to be completely present, any external forces such as job stress or overwhelming distractions will no longer be a limiting factor in your life. You can train your mind to properly address any external forces in this moment and find peace.
Why does living in the present make people happier?
Because the majority of negative thoughts concern either the past or the future. Worrying about the future requires thinking about the future, and if you bring yourself into complete awareness of the present moment, your worrying will melt away.
11. Engage with the world.
You've likely had the experience of sitting in a meeting only to realize all of a sudden that you have no idea what has been discussed for the last 15 minutes. You zoned out, your mind was somewhere else, and you have just come back to a state of awareness.
These autopilot moments occur when you are so lost in your thoughts that you aren't aware of the world around you. This results in life passing you by.
The best way to avoid these blackouts is to engage with the world around you. Your engagement with the present moment will start a cascade of other benefits.
Once you get used to something, you probably start doing it mindlessly. For example, your morning commute is probably done each day in a haze because you have taken the same route hundreds of times before. However, if you engage with the world around you, you will realize that almost everything is different every time you take the drive. You will see new people and new patterns of light, and even feel new sensations along the way.
Noticing these things allows you to live in the moment and recognize that the world around you is constantly changing.
12. Recite happiness and confidence affirmations.
Positive words are a powerful tool. They can change how you feel about your day as soon as you wake up, and improve your vision of you. This is why many people rely on happiness and confidence affirmations to improve their outlooks on life.
Affirmations are short phrases that you can repeat to yourself throughout the day. If you repeat them on a regular basis, an affirmation can alter the negative feelings that you have stored in your subconscious mind.
Affirmations can replace harmful sentiments, such as anxiety and doubt, with feelings of strength and confidence.
13. Write down your emotions in a journal.
Writing down your emotions in a journal is one step toward self-discovery. It will allow you to make sense out of your complex life and organize your feelings. By writing down your emotions, you will be able to face some significant turning points in your life and resolve traumas that are prohibiting you from moving on. This activity allows you to look at the past and find the inspiration that you need to move forward.
Emotional journal writing is an effective tool to reduce stress. It will give you the opportunity to freely express yourself and gain a sense of relief. Once you make journal writing into a habit, you will be able to grow mentally and emotionally.
Check out the following posts to help you start journaling:
- Tips for Mindful Writing and Meditative Journaling
- Best Gratitude Journals Review
- 33 Ideas of What to Write in a Daily Journal
14. Practice visualization.
Visualization is the practice of changing the outcome of a situation by altering one’s thoughts and expectations. This involves recognizing the outcome that you want and then visualizing it happening over and over with all of your senses.
What do you see, smell, and hear? What do you feel? Imagine yourself at the final stages of your goal and do what you have to do to get to that place.
15. Reflect on your achievements.
Every now and then, pause and take a moment to reflect on your achievements and the valuable lessons that you may have learned from things that didn’t go entirely as expected. This will help you see what you have done in the past that has led to success, and build upon it for the future.
16. Make it a habit to notice and focus on what's good in your life.
The benefits of taking the time to notice and focus on the positive things in your life are nearly endless. People who are able to practice gratitude on a regular basis have been shown to feel more alive, have more kindness towards other people, sleep better, and even have stronger immune systems.
Gratitude can be expressed for something as innocuous as a delicious piece of cake or a really nice walk.
If you can write brief reflections on moments for which you are thankful, you can significantly increase your well-being and satisfaction with life.
17. Take good care of yourself.
No matter how indulgent “self-care activities” may sound, it is crucial to your overall well-being. You should consciously take good care of yourself to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem and produce positive feelings to boost your confidence.
Self-care can also help with stress management.
While a little bit of stress can be a healthy motivation to meet deadlines or finish a task, chronic stress can adversely affect your mental and physical health.
Positive habits such as healthy eating, exercising, or connecting with loved ones can decrease the toxic effects of stress by boosting your mood and increasing your energy and level of confidence.
18. Learn how to change your mood.
The methods of doing this may be different for everybody. While going for a great run might boost your mood, it may not be the right ticket for someone else.
The key is to figure out what it is that boosts your mood, and keep that activity in mind whenever you need a pick-me-up.
Some popular things that people do aside from exercising include listening to music, listening to inspirational speakers or podcasts, appreciating the things around you, and acting out how you want to feel.
19. Seek support.
Having the support of other people will always help you achieve your goal of letting something go. Talk to others who may be able to relate to your situation or show empathy for your feelings. Seek out support from trusted friends or professionals to help you get through the darker points in life.
There are important things to be learned from the art of being able to let things go. Letting things go is the first step to relinquishing unhealthy attachments to people, events, and irritations. The present moment is the best time to make a conscious decision to release negative influences and enjoy life as it unfolds in front of you.
Begin to let go…
Begin with the seven steps to let go of the past and start living in the moment.
This will help you learn and practice mindfulness to help reduce stress and anxiety in your life. Replace your negative thoughts with positive actions of self-care to help you grow and walk away from negative situations.
The hardest part of this process is moving out of your comfort zone and proceeding with something that is new and unfamiliar. True and valuable wisdom comes along with accepting the present, letting go of the past, and having faith in the future.
With this journal, you will build a powerful daily gratitude habit and re-discover all the great things that are already in your life.
Do you still let past events hold you back?
Have you let go of your past? Do you still have past events holding you back? Do you know feel you know how to let go. Have you tried to let go of the past and failed? Have you learned something about letting go? Do you have something to teach about how to let things go?
Please share your thoughts, knowledge, experience and comments about letting go of the past in the comments blocks below. The things you say may help others learn how to let things go.
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Let it go!