Are you constantly thinking about something that happened in your past? A past conversation, a situation that hurt you, or a relationship that broke your heart?
Is it keeping you awake at night or making you anxious?
You want to bring yourself into the present and have the past no longer following you around.
My expertise from over two decades as an executive coach, life coach, and self-help author, I’ve found there are three key practices you’ll want to adopt.
You must be wondering… How do I stop living in the past?
How to stop living in the past
Living in the past is one of the challenges that many of us face… and understandably, because humans beings are conditioned by the past.
The good news is, you can change that conditioning, so you’re not stuck in the past!
To stop living in the past: Commit to being present, practice being in the moment, and feel what is real for you.
Here’s some help to stop living in the past…
1. Commit to the present moment
All change begins with awareness and a decision. In this case, you’ll make a decision to live in the present moment.
Living in the past is a habit. We ruminate over and over about how we’d rewrite history.
So, to really change the negative thoughts and stop living in the past, we must make a decision.
Make a decision
Decide that, moving forward, you won’t miss out on your own life.
Make a commitment to yourself!
No matter your age, whether you’re turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or 90!
You deserve to have a life where you attended!!!!
And honestly, it’s a decision you’ll have to make thousands of times, day after day… until it becomes something you naturally do.
If you think about the gazillion moments that are lost because you spent them thinking about something else, then woosh… the moment is gone and you weren’t even there.
A lot of people do this. I do this! The only people who probably don’t do this are Buddhist monks with years of meditation practice.
So, if we all are spending our moments in the past or future and therefore missing the present moment, how in heck are we going to change this?
2. Practice living in the moment
Living in this very moment takes the ability to let go of the past.
I’m not gonna lie.
This is a spiritual practice.
It’s spiritual in that it’s making a decision to connect with the largeness of life. Being in the now, as Eckhart Tolle tells us, involves choosing the stingy, boring or exciting present moment… over and over.
It’s mindfulness of when you leave the moment.
How do people let go of the past?
Living in the past makes life less enjoyable.
We all know that.
But, past experiences, a traumatic event, negative thoughts, and being hurt all stay with us until we heal them.
It takes courage and time.
However, I believe with all of my heart that every person on earth has the ability within them to heal the pain of the past.
Or at least, let go of the past enough to be in the present and live in the moment.
One way to get control of your life and not live in the past is to be mindful of when you LEAVE THE PRESENT MOMENT.
When you’re not in the moment, gently say to yourself one of these things:
Be here now.
I choose now.
I will not waste this moment being elsewhere.
Choose thoughts that hit home with your heart!!!
3. Feel, I mean heal, your life
We stay in the past because we still have unresolved issues, residual pain, and old energy that’s bogging us down!
We feel to heal it and you’re not alone in this.
This kind of emotional work takes time, patience, and motivation.
Think of emotions as energy that’s dying to escape your body! You can facilitate that by allowing what you feel with the intention of letting go over time.
These four steps are the foundation of the work I’ve done with myself and clients and it can help you as well if you’re interested in my online course.
What are negative emotions?
Here’s what Eckhart Tolle writes about negative emotions.
“What is a negative emotion?”
“An emotion that is toxic to the body and interferes with its balance and harmonious functioning. Fear, anxiety, anger, bearing a grudge, sadness, hatred or intense dislike, jealousy, envy—all disrupt the energy flow through the body, affect the heart, the immune system, digestion, production of hormones, and so on.”
I don’t love calling any emotion negative because some people avoid allowing negative feelings, but I understand it.
Negative emotions are part of being human, positive people and negative people have painful emotions.
It’s helpful for your mental health that you allow yourself the full range of your emotions.
Letting go prayer
Here’s a zen prayer for letting go from Ajahn Chah,
“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace.”
I’ve said this prayer many times over the years!
Affirmations for not living in the past
To help you affirm letting go, try these I am affirmations for letting go.
After you ALLOW the emotion, every day you can say:
In this moment, I am letting go of being hurt. Breathe.
In this moment, I am letting go of my resentment. Breathe
In this moment, I am letting go of my fear of rejection. Breathe
I understand that letting go is a process. I trust the process.
Dwelling on the past does not serve me.
I live in the space of letting go.
I will not let me past mistakes run my life.
I live in the present moment.
I believe I can let it go.
I am no longer living in the past.
Why are you living in the past?
If you find that you’re dwelling on the past to the point that you’re not enjoying your life and not fully experiencing what’s happening NOW, there are several reasons why you’re doing that!
You’re not stupid!
No, you’re just like the rest of us who are walking, talking bags of painful memories and experiences that are unresolved.
You haven’t felt the emotions fully
In my over two decades as a life coach, I’ve found that the main reason we carry the past is that we haven’t fully processed what’s happened to us.
Since hurt, fear, anger, and heartache feel horrible, we want to move on quickly, we bury the emotions, we distract from them, and as a result, we don’t process them.
We don’t heal them every day.
Process is a term analytical people might prefer, while heal is a term feeling types are more comfortable with.
Either way, the emotions remain in the body… or in the viscera says Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, the incredible book that speaks to how we hold onto traumas and unresolved emotions.
Here is a list of emotional release techniques to help you bring emotions to the surface where you can process them.
If you’re feeling vulnerable and unsafe feeling emotions at this time, then talk with a qualified counselor or therapist.
You’re unwilling to leave your comfort zone
Or maybe, for some reason, you don’t want to leave your comfort zone.
You’re not necessarily a couch potato, but you stick with what’s familiar. Unfamiliar is too nerve wracking, while familiar is just that!
Sadly, staying in y our comfort zone, when a situation is unhealthy or even dangerous can be a serious problem.
Have you heard of abused people choosing to stay with their abusers? It’s because it’s what they know. There are a number of psychological reasons why people stay in abusive relationships.
You’re still grieving a loss
Or, maybe you’re living in the past because you are grieving or going through some life stage where you feel lost. You just don’t know where you’re going next!
I certainly felt that way after my husband away. Here’s my post on how to find yourself again.
Why past mistakes keep us stuck
We all make mistakes. We’re human!
But, why do mistakes stay with us? What factors keep us from letting the mistake go?
Maybe you feel guilty
There’s a certain amount of regret and guilt when we make mistakes… we wonder how we can be so stupid?
That’s not self-loving. Again, we tend to hold onto guilt and shame when we have unresolved issues.
We may punish ourselves over and over because we don’t believe we deserve love or forgiveness.
These are deep issues that need our attention.
Growing self love is a critical part of fulfilling your destiny.
Self love exercises can help you get some movement in this area.
You’re afraid you’ll make the same mistakes
If you haven’t done the personal work to process or heal past emotions, then you’ll live in fear of repeating the same mistakes.
It’s a fair thing to be concerned about because tend to make the same mistakes until we learn from them.
Your inner critic talks too much
Is your self talk critical? If so, you have a strong inner critic.
This is the voice that tells you things like: You’re so stupid. I can’t believe you did that again!
Why can’t you be faster, smarter, better?
The problem is that the inner critic doesn’t motivate you to do better.
In my experience, the inner critic and negative self talk have the opposite effect. They make you feel so badly about yourself that you stay stuck in old emotions of guilt, shame, and regret.
These emotions are VERY low vibration and will keep you stuck in the past.
So, please be aware of how your energy feels to you so that you’ll attract positive energy as you move forward in your life.
You’re overthinking a situation
If overthinking is a habit of yours… welcome to humanity!
Most people I meet think a lot.
The definition of overthinking is when you think about something too much, possibly to the point of anxiety, and it’s disrupting your life.
You haven’t forgiven yourself
Sometimes we can’t forgive ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made.
We think: I shouldn’t have done that! I know better!
Of course, you do! Don’t we all!
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that to myself.
Forgiveness, of others and ourselves is a very personal process.
An important part of growing your relationship with YOU is self-forgiveness.
Most of us carry the emotional weight of what we regret, what we wish we hadn’t said, how we could have done things differently, how we let fear stand in our way, how we didn’t do enough!
This can feel like more than usual emotion.
Here’s How to forgive yourself for past mistakes to help you move the needle.
Best-selling author and medical intuitive, Carolyn Myss, says that forgiveness helps us heal the body and mind.
As you focus on your relationship with yourself and this intelligent universe, you are growing self love, acceptance, patience, and forgiveness, all of which help the soul evolve, learn and grow.
By letting go of the self-rejection, criticism, and judgment, you will experience more satisfaction, fulfillment, and connection.
You fear judgment from others
If you’re anything like me, you unconsciously seek approval. Or, you used to. Or you’re totally aware of it and it’s annoying.
Because consciously you’re saying: I don’t care what they think! I don’t need their approval!
But, your actions say otherwise.
Your negative thinking tells you otherwise.
Every human being has the ability within them to let go of the past and enjoy the present.
I’d have a hard time doing this work if I didn’t believe that.
I’ve struggled, people I love have struggled and part of that means that we struggle with putting the past behind us.
But, we can.
And we do.
The strategies I suggest in this article for stopping living in the past work, it just takes going the things I suggest over and over.
Your mental health will benefit. You will benefit and be able to move forward in your “one wild and precious life.” ~ A Summer Day, Mary Oliver