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 game? Are you still fuming at your ex three years after she ran off with another man? 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’s definitely a skill, just not a productive one.
Letting go of the past allows for more possibilities in the future:
1. 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.
2. 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. 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.
3. 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.
4. Make plans. 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?
5. 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.
6. 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. Forgive everyone involved and let go of your negative feelings. The past can then move further into the past.
7. 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.
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.
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