10 Tips for Letting Go of the Past

Here are ten tips for letting go of the past. We all have baggage that can hinder our ability to be happy, free and living a meaningful life.

These ten tips will help you resolve negative past memories and move forward.

1. Realise that the past is not real:

Okay, here’s the inside scoop: the past is not real! You do not own a time machine and you are not capable of going through the exact same experience more than once. I know it may sound like I’m stating the obvious here but it needs to be said.

When we are hooked into re-living the past, what we are actually doing is re-playing internal memories of the past stored in our autobiographical memory.

Re-playing these memories can generate feelings similar to how we felt when we had the experience but they are still only memories; movies we play inside our mind. They’re not the real thing.

 It’s a bit like going to a theme park and taking part in a rollercoaster simulator. We know it’s not the real thing but we act “as if” it is. It’s perhaps not quite as intense but we still get some of the emotion and thrill we get when we are on an actual rollercoaster. 

Getting lost in the past is a bit like going on a scary simulator and then forgetting it’s not the real thing. It’s like watching a really bad movie, hating it, and then going back to see it voluntarily several times a day. 

2. Realise that you are not your past but a product of how you’ve interpreted you past memories:

If you find yourself saying things like “I am this way because…{fill in the blank}” then notice that you’re doing it and critique it. Past experiences do not dictate who you are or who you turn out to be, it’s how you have interpreted – and continue to interpret – those past experiences that count.

While some people clearly have advantages in terms of upbringing and support, nothing is set in stone.

For example, you could take three different people who were bullied as children. One could grow up to become a bully themselves, another could turn into a complete wallflower, and the third could draw strength from it and start an anti bullying campaign.

Three similar experiences all with drastically different outcomes because of how the individual interpreted the situation. It’s not always easy but we do have a say in how we interpret the things that happen to us. Choose to interpret them differently.

As soon as you change the meaning that you attach to your past experiences, it changes the way you feel about them in the present. 

3. Find the real learning:

One way to help re-interpret past memories and let go of any negative emotions attached to them, is to find the real learning; what you were meant to learn initially.

One of the reasons that we are still emotionally involved in negative past memories is that we haven’t yet learned what we were meant to learn. Or we jump to a quick conclusion at the time and create a misinformed opinion about what happened.

We find ourselves in a situation where we haven’t yet developed the resources and/or skills to deal with it effectively, and it affects us emotionally.

These feelings are then attached to the memories to highlight a need for learning. If we miss the learning, the feeling can linger on and create the urge to re-play the memory over and over in your mind. It’s almost like the memory stays locked in time while we grow up. 

On of the primary reasons we feel negative emotions, is to highlight that something needs attention. That we need to make some kind of new learning. Recognise, and take on board, this learning and the memory with the bad feeling has served its purpose.

There are lots of practical ways to go back and find the learning. One quick way is to simply look back at the memory through older, wiser eyes and ask:

“What was I really meant to learn from this experience?”

When you get an answer make a pact with yourself to act on the new learning. You’ll be amazed at how just doing this can help release your association with the past memory (you might even start to feel good about it because it is now serving a purpose).

Another technique is to go back and imagine you are a neutral observer. What advice would you give that younger you? What new information is now available to you now from this neutral place that transforms the memory of that experience?

4. Plan for the future:

Ask yourself what you would like to do differently in the future as a result of the experience.

Remember, we are working from the premise that the function of bad memories is to highlight that something has to be learned or addressed.

Once you get a sense of what the new learning is, allow your mind to drift off into the future and imagine taking on board this new learning.

Notice how it positively impacts your life then look back from this place and realise how the bad experience has made this new learning possible. Appreciating what positive future change a past experience can lead to can be create a powerful release.

5. Use Humour:

Humour is one of the most universal and useful emotions we have available to us. It can diffuse arguments, sometimes in an instant, and it can also be used to dissolve negative emotions.

Here’s a quick trick – using humour – that can help neutralise negative feelings you have attached to a memory.

  • Allow the memory to come to mind until you start to feel bad…
  • Now start playing silly music inside your mind as you play through the memory – Notice how this changes the feeling.
  • Now imagine that everyone in the memory is wearing ballerina costumes and moving in time with the music.
  • Keep playing about with the visual and auditory aspects of the memory until you find yourself laughing because of how bizarre and silly it is.
  • Spend between 5-10 minutes laughing at how bizarre & silly the memory is.
  • Remember, you’re not ridiculing the past experience, only the memory of it. 

6. Talk it over with someone:

A lot of the time it can be cathartic to let loose and just talk. Sometimes this alone can make the past seem a more pleasant place. As long as you’re not using it as a way of wallowing in self pity and becoming self indulgent. You want to see it more as an occasional offload rather than a crutch.

7. Exercise, nutrition & sleep:

It’s not just about the mind. Our overall physical health significantly affects our internal processes, so the more you look after yourself, the greater your capacity for mental health will be. This in turn help naturally brighten up your perception of the past.

The mind and body are intimately linked so anything positive you do with your body will be reflected in your mind. Unless you’re one of these individuals who are fine with just 6 hours sleep then do your best to get 8 hours a night. Above all, listen to your body and become attuned with how it feels. 

8. Use the Past as a Resource:

It is okay to get lost in the past every now and again. In fact it can be wonderful, providing you get lost in good memories.

Keep a journal and make notes about all your successes, moments of passion, excitement, meaning, and pleasure. Your memories can act as pathways to good feelings and resources. It can be enjoyable to reminisce so why not put them to good use.

Take some time every now and again to vividly remember all the wonderful things you’ve experienced up to this point. Just remember life happens in the present so don’t get too lost. 

9. Go to the toilet:

Okay I put this one in as a bit of a joke. However, regular bowel movements will help with your internal processing and overall sense of well being.

10. Seek Professionally help:

If you’re still struggling, and it’s significantly affecting your life, then seek professional help. Find someone who is skilled at their craft. NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and hypnosis are my tools of choice but there are many different forms of talking therapy that can be of great help.

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