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Learning to Let Go of Your Past and Look to the Future

July 28th, 2020

Many of us have pasts we either choose not to remember or really want to move on from. No matter the details of your past or where you might be headed, we are not defined by our old lives. If you can choose to assess your past and accept it for what it is, you can begin to look towards the future instead.  

Moving on from your past is a process that takes time for many. For those who suffer from particularly traumatizing or complicated pasts, this might prove to be especially true. The act of letting go is highly contextual and likely needs specialized treatment in the more unique cases, but there’s general advice to always keep in mind. If you’re looking to become a more forward-thinking person, try out some of these points.

Analyze your past experiences. In the vast majority of instances of difficult pasts, a level of confrontation is needed. Some people choose either to forget or not acknowledge their pasts which can result in sustained trauma. Trying to forget may result in short-term relief at the moment, but in the event it resurfaces, non-confrontation may do more harm than good.

If your past was not traumatic but still uncomfortable or challenging to think about, there may be something to learn from it. Were these past events within your control, were they self-inflicted? Maybe there is something to be learned about yourself that you may want to look into. Or perhaps your past was defined by another person or place that was challenging for you to get through. The same logic applies: is there something that can be further understood?

If your past is traumatic and you are unable to think about it without being overwhelmed, we highly recommend seeking help from a professional. You very likely need specialized treatment for your specific case. It’s possible you are suffering from PTSD or another trauma-related disorder. 

Appropriately react. We want to keep this step a little intentionally vague because there’s a lot of ways you can react. It can be as involved as deciding to distance yourself from a person or a place, or as little as just being mindful of what you’ve been through and what triggers you. Even if your way of responding to the past is very small, the act of actively working against your baggage is a therapeutic process.

As an example, perhaps you had a difficult past with a friend who wasn’t actually your friend. You know now that you were used for your money and time and your friendship was taken for granted. After cutting your ties with this individual, you remember their toxic traits and identify how to know when somebody else is trying to do the same to you again. This example is a simple problem with a simple solution, but that approach is great for long-term health if a similar approach is taken consistently.

Be honest and permissible. Always prioritize yourself above all else- even when it’s hard to do. Realistically understand your past for what it was. In difficult pasts where we deliberately chose to do something wrong, it’s easy to remember it how we want to. You were a victim of your environment, a victim of your friends, a victim of something else out of your control. Most likely, you are correct that you were a victim. However, accountability for your actions is critical. Acknowledge any mistakes that you made, learn from them, and move on.

Once you’ve honestly assessed your situation, allow yourself permission to let it go. This is a fairly long process summarized into a single sentence, but as oversimplified as it sounds, it’s necessary to learn how to look ahead. As you learn to let your past go, you can begin to shift your mindset towards being optimistic about the future.

In the scenario, if your past was controlled by a person (often true of much more traumatic cases) you had no power over, you are in a uniquely different situation. In your case, we once again recommend seeking out help. You need specialized treatment from a professional who knows how to best diagnose your particular situation.

Practice looking towards the future. Just like learning to let go of your past, you have to practice changing your mindset to be forward-facing. You are planting a seed to build on and grow with hard work. It’s proven that the ability to look forward to the future is associated with both short and long term happiness. When you take the time to create a positive view of the future, you are working on both your present and future self.

Learning to change your mindset might involve some new practices, physically, emotionally, and mentally. While you are being mindful of your new approach to the future, try out new ways to spend your time that reinforces your positive changes. Try incorporating developing new skills, meditation, exercise, or other similar activities into your routine. Anything that helps you work on long term health helps tremendously in your search for a brighter future. As you practice your new routine, you can consciously develop your outlook on tomorrow instead of yesterday.

Alongside your working routine, plan and make goals for the future: both realistic and near unachievable. Small goals will cement your progress as you achieve them, providing a mental and emotional reward for hard work. Long term goals, even if you never achieve them, provide a reason to get up every morning, a reason to keep trying to push for your short term goals. Each type of goal works together to stay motivated for your future.

In conclusion: from start to finish, recovery from your past is a process. It takes a surprising amount of effort and time to let go in a healthy manner. When you accept the challenge, you’re choosing to prioritize your long term health, which is always worth it. Try it out and you may be surprised by your efforts.