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Stop Living in the Past

It can be easy for us to get caught up on living in the past, especially if things have happened that leave us suffering emotional pain. We live with our regrets, we ruminate, and we turn conversations over and over in our minds, asking what we could have done differently.

Of course, wanting to learn from past mistakes is only natural. Life is our teacher, and it shapes us into who we are. But there is a difference between trying to learn from a situation, and allowing it to consume you. Once you have gone through something to try to find the lesson, take that lesson, apply it, and move on.

Easier said than done, I know. But it is something all of us need to do. Otherwise, you are going to end up with an unfulfilling life. When you are stuck in the past, you are letting the present pass you by. You aren't enjoying the moment, or building something new. You aren't learning, changing or growing.

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
―Deepak Chopra

When we trap ourselves in the past, we are just going in a circle in our minds. We are going nowhere in our lives. We are just spinning our wheels. That is why it is important to learn what we can from the past, then move forward.

Letting go and moving on

Everyone makes mistakes, it is a part of being human. When you make a mistake, you can make amends to others from what has happened. Apologize for what you did, make a plan to change, and let the other person know that you truly plan to be different in the future. Then, forgive yourself and let it go.

In order to move on from past hurts, Psych Central offers the following advice:

  1. Consider questioning if the pain is comfortable

  2. Consider letting it out

  3. Consider taking accountability

  4. Try to make space for the new

  5. Prioritizing yourself may help

  6. Try to focus on the lessons

  7. Accepting what you can’t change may work

  8. Consider getting professional support

The most important thing to remember is that no matter what happened in the past - if you hurt someone or they hurt you - it cannot be changed. Regret doesn't move you forward. If you stay stuck too long, you may get used to the pain, and it becomes harder to let go of.

When you feel this way, it can help to do a long journal session to write down everything that happened, your feelings, and what you have learned. This way, you have a record of the events, but they aren't a part of you anymore. If someone has hurt you, you can write them a letter with your feelings, then either shred it or burn it to release the feelings.

If you were the one who did something wrong, take accountability for your actions. Make amends if possible for what happened. Let other people involved know that you will behave differently in the future.

You can also take time to focus on what you want to do differently in the future. Take time to work on yourself, your mental health, and on changing your focus. You can also do this through practices like meditation, journaling or practicing gratitude. This allows you to shift to a more positive focus.

Taking time for self-care can also be very healing. Make some time each day to work on yourself. Do something you enjoy. Spend some time in nature, enjoy the company of a pet, journal, or spend time in stillness. This allows you to refocus your mind in a more positive way as well.

You can't change the past, no matter how much you wish you could. Endlessly focusing on it isn't going to help you feel better. However, if you are having flashbacks such as those from experiencing trauma, you may literally not be able to just "let it go." In these cases, working with a professional can really help.

When you keep thinking about the past despite your best efforts, working with a therapist, psychiatrist or life coach can do wonders for your mindset. This is especially true if you have experienced something traumatic in the past.

Trauma memories are stored differently in the brain than normal memories, which allows them to resurface in ways that are beyond your control. If this is the case for you, then trying a therapy such as EMDR that is specifically tailored for trauma can help. It allows you to reprocess the memories so that they become less triggering.

Healing is possible

No matter what has happened to you in the past, it is possible to heal and move forward. It may not happen right away or all at once. However, if you have the proper support system, and learn coping skills, you will learn how to move forward into a better life in the future.

By focusing on the present moment through practices such as mindfulness, you can gradually shift your mindset from thinking about the past. In addition to practicing mindfulness, you can practice the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise in moments you feel especially anxious and caught in the past.

According to Calm,

The 54321 (or 5, 4, 3, 2, 1) method is a grounding exercise designed to manage acute stress and reduce anxiety. It involves identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. By doing so, it helps shift your focus from anxiety-provoking thoughts to the present moment.

Focusing on what is immediately around you can help to serve as a mental reset. This brings you back into your body, reduces your anxious thoughts, and helps to ground you in the present moment. The more present you are in the moment, the less you will be ruminating about the past.

As you learn to focus more on the present moment and less on the past, you will start living your life again, instead of just surviving. Eventually, you will get to a point where you think about the past less and less, and the events that are now beyond your control will loosen their hold on you.


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