Letting go of the past, getting over the past, or letting the past be the past, is something that so many of us struggle with. We all have some things that we’ve held on to for much too long and sometimes those things get in the way of us moving forward.
But why do we hold onto the past?
For some people, that’s where all the good times were. It’s a place you can go to be comfortable. You never have to make any choices, or handle any challenges, because you’ve already lived through it. Good, bad, or indifferent, holding on to the past helps you to escape the challenges of the present.
For most of us, holding on to the past is nothing more than a coping mechanism.
How We Cope
Coping mechanisms are mental constructs that help to protect you from something. It could be fear, failure, or even danger. Usually, at the onset, this is a good thing.
The problem is, our coping mechanisms can get a little over-protective and keep us stuck in our past.
Have you ever told yourself that something will not work out because it didn’t work out before? Have you ever thought that you knew the outcome of a situation before you got into it because of what happened the last time? Do you know why you’re afraid of certain things, and why those fears have escalated over the years?
It’s because your coping mechanism is doing it’s best to protect you. To keep you from experiencing any pain, sorrow, or danger.
So how do we calm our mechanism?
The best way to calm that coping mechanism is to identify it. Then, next time you feel yourself shying away from a situation or getting anxious about your next steps, asking yourself…
“Am I using my coping mechanism right now?”
If you identify that you are, then it’s time to ask yourself…
“What am I trying to protect myself from?”
Again, this may be a fear of failing, a fear of succeeding, a fear of looking strange or being judged. It could be a dangerous situation or something that you’re unsure about. Whatever it is, try your best to figure out what is causing you to hesitate.
Then you can ask yourself…
“Do I really need protection from this, or am I just a little scared because of my past experiences?”
If you do need real protection, your coping mechanism is working properly. That’s a great thing! But if you recognize that you’re just a little scared, then you know it’s time to push through that fear and let go of the past.
Ultimately the Past… is the Past
The wonderful thing about the past is that it is already in the past. It’s not the present, it’s not your “right now” and it has no power over you.
If you decided right now… right this second, that you were letting go of the past and moving forward with your life and dreams, there is absolutely nothing your past can do to stop you.
It can’t reach out and grab you, it can’t speak to you, it can’t conspire against you to stop you. Your past has no power. Honestly, there’s only one thing that can stop you.
Moving forward is a mindset. It’s a choice. It’s a choice to do something differently today than you did yesterday. This may seem overly simplistic, but that’s really all it takes.
And your decision to move forward doesn’t have to be a BIG thing. It doesn’t have to be a major move or transition. It can be as small as doing your best to control your thoughts.
The next time a negative thought from the past creeps into your mind. Instead of dwelling on it, tell yourself (out loud if necessary):
“I choose not to think about [insert negative thought here] anymore. I have more important things to think about.”
Then, put it out of your mind by thinking of a happier moment in time. Better yet, think of the wonderful thing you’re about to accomplish now that you’re working toward your goal.
What if my past was amazing?
I totally understand this sentiment. For some of us, this is the “good old days” or the “glory days” concept. Those positive memories that we have of some of the best times of our lives. We all have them.
But even if your past was a positive experience that you don’t want to let go, you still don’t want to dwell on it. Why? Because while you’re holding on to the past, you are missing out on the new positive experiences you could be having.
Letting go of the past doesn’t mean you’re forgetting.
Those memories are yours forever. But, don’t miss out on making new memories by holding on to the past. There is a great big world out there, and it’s waiting for you! Aren’t you ready for something new?
OK, now that you’re ready to stop dwelling on the past, it’s time to revisit your goals.
Whatever it is you want to accomplish in your future, I’d venture to guess it’s a pretty big thing. Maybe it’s starting a business, going back to school, finding a new job, or seeking out new relationships. So where should you start?
I think really big goals are great, but we often get lost in trying to accomplish that big goal. Putting pressure on yourself to complete this big thing, in addition to all of the other responsibilities that you have will make your goal seem almost too lofty and less obtainable.
So instead of focusing on the big picture, try breaking it down into much smaller tasks that you can accomplish. I like to call these micro-goals.
You want to them to be small manageable tasks or steps that will lead you to accomplish the big goal.
That way, not only will you be working on the big goal, but you’ll be experiencing success with each small task you conquer along the way.
So whatever it is that you fear letting go, remember, you are in control, you hold the power, and moving forward is your choice.
Next Action Steps
In the comments, share one thing that you’re going to let go of that you know has been holding you back.
For example: I will let go of fond memories of being a leader on my golf and basketball teams in high school. Although this was a great time for me, I know that dwelling on the past and missing those days had kept me from focusing on making the best out of my current situations and life.