Letting go is not always easy. Something you did (or did not do), ideas, expectations, desires, people, bad habits… the list goes on. Sometimes our struggles weigh heavily on our shoulders long after they happen, holding us back and preventing us from moving forward. There are many theories why people are unwilling or unable to let go and move on, but experts all agree that the most successful and happy people all have found healthy ways to make peace with their past, and focus their energy on being their best self in the present.
Here are 5 ways to help yourself let go of the past, focus on the present, and maximize your future.
1. Let go of the negative feelings you are carrying around
We spend too much of our precious time dwelling on the past. As much as you might want you cannot change the past, and allowing yourself to feel shame, guilt, anger, and other negative feelings does nothing but hurt the present. If your brain is focused on the past it can’t be focused on the here and now. Stop revisiting things you can’t change and stop allowing your mind to focus on the past because that time and energy is wasted on what will not help you right now. Yes, things in the past were difficult and decisions made were perhaps not ideal- take responsibility for your happiness now. Detach from the emotional component of past experiences and resolve to learn from them but not allow them to damage or prohibit your growth moving forward. Learn from mistakes, but do not be defined by them.
2. Re-evaluate your environment
It’s time to take stock of where you go and those you spend time with. Are the places you frequent contributing positively to the person you want to be, or are they holding you back? Are those around you elevating you? Letting go of your past struggles, old habits, people who aren’t serving your best interest, and anything else that is not helping you be your best, isn’t an easy task, because it requires leaving your comfort zone. This is why many people simply choose to maintain the status quo. They keep coming up with excuses as to why they shouldn’t let go of their past YET, rather than embrace change. Think about your goals, what is important to you and then ask yourself what kinds of things and people would help me towards that goal?
At the Run To Remember over Memorial Day weekend I overheard a runner talking. He was saying that in hopes of getting into shape for this event, he had joined a Facebook group about running on a whim. Turns out the support and motivation he received from people he didn’t even know shocked him. He found himself encouraging others and using the positive feedback he received to fuel his enthusiasm every week as he improved. He was so happy and so excited to participate in the Run To Remember not only because it would be the longest event he participated in but also so he could share his success with those in his group. Support is all around you, you just need to look.
3. Create space for new things & positive thoughts
As you let go of your past struggles, you create space for new things. As you stop focusing on what has been you allow yourself to consider what makes you happy. Look for people and places that help you be the best you, that provide support and encouragement. What calms your nerves… the ocean, mountains, good music, dancing, walking your dog? Who likes the healthy things you like? Ask around- hey anyone want to go for a walk at lunchtime? Use social media like the runner at the Run To Remember, join a walking group, a book group, a public speaking group. Create daily, weekly and monthly goals… attainable goals. Try new things, you won’t like them all but you will like some and those new things are opportunities learn about yourself and lead to other opportunities. Use those small positives to build momentum and share those accomplishments with those your care about and who care about you. The world is full of opportunities waiting to be discovered, divert time and energy away from negative and funnel them towards positive personal growth.
4. Know who you are not, at least as much as who you are
I would very much love to be musically inclined, to play one or two instruments with skill and precision, but I will not ever be able to accomplish that goal. And that’s ok, because I am able to enjoy the talent of other musicians and let music enrich my life through their artistry and dedication to their craft. This is a small example of using that knowledge of who you are not to open opportunities to who you are… I am not a musician, but a music lover. Sometimes knowing who we are not is extremely informative and guides us to who we are. It’s ok not to be everything, but it is important to use that information to help guide you to who you are. Again, reassess the places you go, the people you spend time with and make sure you are allowing yourself the freedom to not be something you are truly not. There is a great short speech by Matthew McConaughey where he speaks about the importance of this topic; about allowing yourself to focus on who you want to be by eliminating things that work against you attaining that best self. It’s 5 minutes that give great perspective and something to think about, and I strongly suggest you check it out.
5. Accept you will make mistakes, but have the discipline to learn from them and move on
Time and again I hear the Thomas Edison quote of ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ None of us are perfect, and no matter how hard you try life will go awry and you will make mistakes down the line. But don’t allow those mistakes to become set backs and derail your path forward. Edison used his 10,000 ways that wouldn’t work to produce one that would, and changed the world. Only you control your happiness. Use the tools you have gathered and those around you for support to figure out what went wrong, why it went wrong, what you can learn from it, and then aspire to not make that mistake again. Accept you are not perfect, and provide a path forward not backward.
Every moment of every day presents an opportunity to be who you want to be, to make choices to work toward your goals, and to create that best self. You need have the courage to shrug off the emotional baggage of the past, and make choices in the present to fuel becoming that best self in the future. We all have a past and we are all shaped by it, but we are not bound to it. Only you have the power to define who you are and who you will be. No one can do that work for you; it’s up to you to accept you are not perfect and to seize opportunities that promote happiness in your life.