How long do you carry the past with you? Do you still squirm when you think about striking out in the bottom of the ninth inning with two men on base to lose the t-ball game — and you’re in your 40s or 50s now? Are you still fuming at your ex three years after he ran off with another woman? As they say, “Pain is guaranteed, but suffering is optional.”
These experiences are painful, but part of life. Suffering for years is your own doing. You have to do certain things to continue to feel bad about experiences that happened years ago — it doesn’t just happen. It’s definitely a skill, just not a productive one.
Letting go of the past allows for more possibilities in the future.
Avoid rehashing the past
The best way to allow a negative past experience to encroach on your present or future is to spend time thinking about it. You might try to convince yourself that playing the incident over and over in your mind is cathartic or educational. It’s not. Learn what you can immediately after the negative experience and then move on.
The more mental energy you give to the past, the more it impacts the remainder of your life. It starts growing roots in your mind and your confidence. Before you know it, it’s taken over your whole life. Learn and move on because no mistake, no experience that has already come and gone, deserves to take away your happiness forever.
Create new memories
An effective way to unseat old memories is to create new memories. If you want to get over your ex, find someone new (when you’re ready, of course). Be active with your life. Join a club, make new friends, spend time doing something new. Make your new experiences so positive that the new memories overpower the old, past memories.
This isn’t to say that you can’t spend some time grieving or learning from what happened. Of course you should do that. But once you know you’ve grieved long enough or learned what you could, it’s time to build an active life full of new memories to enjoy.
Make a conscious decision to let go of your past
Proclaim your intention to yourself. Whatever you’re doing isn’t working. Make a decision to do something about the challenge you’re facing.
Maybe you choose to go to therapy. Maybe you try meditation. You might even resort to snapping a rubber band against your wrist whenever you notice thoughts of the past encroaching. You might try several different things before you find the one that works. But the effort is worth it.
Make a few plans for your future. Have something exciting ahead of you that prevents you from looking behind. A compelling future can be the best medicine for a messy past. What would you like to do in the next year?
Don’t let the past put anxiety or doubt on those future plans, either. Imagine that exciting future in full detail, in vivid color. See it clearly and focus on it any time the past tries to creep in.
Spend more time in the present moment
Mindfulness has been touted as a panacea for nearly every psychological condition under the sun. It’s like the fish oil capsule of the mental health crowd. Dealing with the past is an ideal application for mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simple, but not easy. For this purpose, simply pay attention to your environment and your current activity. If you’re walking your dog, you’re paying attention to what you see. Your thoughts aren’t on your ex-husband, the broken hot-water heater, or the report that’s due tomorrow.
Mindfulness takes a lot of practice to do well, but the time is well-spent.
Avoid blaming others
Blaming is convenient. You let yourself off the hook for any responsibility in the matter. The animosity you feel toward others regarding your past keeps the past fresh in your mind.
Even if someone else is entirely to blame, holding on to blame isn’t helpful. Whoever is at fault, the best thing to do is accept that what happened, happened. Acceptance allows forgiveness and forgiveness will help you move on.
Forgive everyone involved and let go of your negative feelings. The past can then move further into the past.
Seek out peace
When you’re upset about the past, seek peace in your body. Breathe slowly and deeply. Allow the past to flow out of your body with each breath. Keep going until the negative feeling is gone. When you can think about the past and feel peaceful, you’re no longer under its spell.
This might be something you need to do more than once before you truly, fully let go of a past event. But the more you do it, the easier it will be to let go. And in the end, you will free yourself.
Are you suffering because of the past? Why? Why are you treating yourself that way? Some things in life don’t work out, but that doesn’t mean they have to influence the rest of your life. Forgive those that have wronged you in the past. Forgive yourself. Look forward to the future and see the exciting things that can lie ahead.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for her newsletter where she offers more insights, tips, tricks, advice, and information to help single moms find purpose, creativity, passion, and peace.
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