How To Let Go Of The Past

How To Let Go Of The Past

Whenever we are faced with a situation, our brains look for a programmed pathway to get us to the quickest solution. It will latch onto whatever we did last time and run that program, just like a computer in a boot-up sequence. 

As well as repeating the behaviours from that previous event, we will also trigger the same emotions from the past. The longer we have been running the program, the stronger that pathway will be and the bigger those emotions will feel. 

Let’s say you burned dinner. There is no reason that it can’t be a funny event. You could laugh and sit down to cereal by candlelight and have a fun evening. But that’s probably not what happens. More likely you revert to an old pathway where you were 5-years-old and you got yelled at by a parent for getting in the way when you were trying to help, bringing on feelings of helplessness, insecurity and panic.

Then there was the time when you were 15 in home economics and you messed up your meal and felt humiliated in front of your class. Then the time you tried to cook dinner for a date when you were 22 and they were disgusted. The result? You panic, you get frustrated, ashamed and embarrassed and you quit on dinner and go straight to bed thinking and feeling negative things. 

The pathway is so automatic that you didn’t have time to think about what was going on, it was just an explosion of emotion and the behaviour from the program running, seemingly without thought or connection, but your mind actively reached into your past, found the connection, jumped onto the pathway and pulled it all out for you.

This is really not an empowering solution to be reverting to, so how do you break it? You might decide to stay away from the kitchen forever, or you might never attempt to cook that failed meal again. At the very least you will work hard to never burn dinner again to avoid all the negative junk. But I bet the next time there is a kitchen mishap, you return to that same pattern once more.

And that’s just a small example. What about starting a new relationship and thinking everyone you meet is going to hurt you, the way your last partner hurt you? It becomes impossible to enjoy a date or enjoy being with someone because your mind is already jumping ahead on that pathway of what happened before. When he leaves you it’s going to be horrible. Don’t do it.

These patterns exist for everything we do. Our relationships, how we learn, how we eat, how we spend money, what jobs we have, what we buy in the supermarket, everything we do is run on what we have experienced in the past. So how do we break free of those past patterns and pathways that aren’t serving us and make new pathways that work?

It’s simple, you choose to let go.

Here’s the thing. You are choosing to hold on to those past hurts and feelings. For many people it becomes who they are, it’s their identity to feel that hurt. It’s a badge of honour, but until you let it go, it will always rule you.

Absolutely anyone can break away from these negative patterns and old hurts and shape the life they want. It doesn’t matter how bad those past experiences were, you can form a new path built on positive behaviours and positive emotions. The one thing you need to get started is a willingness for things to change.

In order for something to change in your life, you actually have to change something in your life!

Are you ready to let go? If you are ready and willing to let go of those old, negative emotions, here are eight ways you can let go and free yourself from the patterns and emotions of past events.

  1. Feel pain

Most of our negative programs are all about avoiding pain, avoiding discomfort and staying in the known. In order to move past your experiences you have to face up to the fact that, yes it’s painful, but you can handle it. 

Be okay about being uncomfortable. Even though it is painful, it’s not a deep and lasting pain if you face it, feel it, it will go. 

You can find that events you have been holding onto and relieving and remembering and telling stories about for years just vanish…they disappear and they stop being part of your identity. 

So many times I will do work to release old patterns with people and afterwards they feel so elated and so free that they can’t even remember what that old event was. It’s gone.

These harmful patterns have been put into our pathways to protect us from pain, but by holding onto them the opposite happens, we feel more pain, we become afraid of it and it amplifies the experience every time we loop back into that past again. 

Rather than attempting to avoid it, stop, face it. 

Avoiding the pain is preventing you from healing. At my Live It Now weekend we have a day of just letting go and it’s such an incredible moment when we give ourselves permission to put down the burden. That’s all that it takes: You tell yourself it’s okay now. You release. 

And the great thing is you are there with other people all going through that process of release together so it’s a real time of understanding, empathy and connection that we all are running these painful patterns and gripping onto our pain, and we can all just stop doing that. 

Anyone can put their pain down and walk away. No matter how big or strong that pain may seem.

2) Live It Now

The reason my Live It Now weekend is called Live It Now is because we find relief in the present moment. 

Relieving our pain by running from those old events from the past feels awful and if we do it often enough and keep going back to everything we did wrong in the past, it causes depression. Or we can go the other way and leap to the future and try to think of ways we can avoid repeating that past mistake going forwards which causes anxiety. 

Both these activities are pointless. We can’t change the past, it’s already happened, we have no control over it. We can’t anticipate the future, we have no idea what will come next. There are too many scenarios, we can’t control that either. Trying to control things that can’t be controlled wastes our energy. Why spend all that time on things that you can never influence?

Do you know what we can influence? Now. Who we are Now. What we do Now. This is where we have genuine choice. It has no link to the past. It has no connection to the future. We just get this one moment now where we can choose how we respond.

3) Change your thoughts

In the Now you can change your thoughts. If you notice a negative idea or thought or criticism come up, flip it around. Ask yourself where you want to be and what you can do in this moment to get there.

Let’s go back to burning dinner. Where do you want to be? Do you want to be stressed out and angry? No. You want to be calm and find something to eat. 

The moment you make that choice you cut off the access path to that old way of dealing with things, because that path is not going to get you the results you’ve just requested and it’s not going to get you dinner, so your mental pathway is broken, and you will go searching for a new way to reach your goal. 

If you have never had a previous experience with this, you will need to build a new mental pathway. If that’s the case you will experience a feeling of overwhelm. I have no idea how to do that. This can be really off-putting to people and they can panic and just jump back onto the old pathways of before to try to avoid the unknown.

It’s okay, the overwhelm won’t last long. Go back to step one; Feel the pain. Be okay with being uncomfortable. Be okay with feeling that you have no idea what to do. 

What you do next will become your new pathways so go slowly. Keep breathing. So what do we have to eat? Cereal. Great. How can I make cereal fun? Candles. When you stop and rethink you become a creator. A problem solver. Someone who stays above the emotion.

By being aware of what your thoughts are, you have the power to change them, but only in the now. You can’t change how you reacted last time, but you can stop yourself this time and do things differently.

The only thing you need to do is be aware of your thoughts instead of letting the autopilot hit the switches for you. It gets easier the more you do this so treat it as a work in progress and pat yourself on the back every time you notice you stop the old pathways and look for a new route. 

4) There are no reasons

We love to justify our emotions and hurts. There is a reason why we feel this way and reason to hold onto this stuff, it’s important. 

Wrong. 

There is never a good reason to be holding onto anything. You are just causing yourself (and everyone around you) pain. 

The reasons are usually directed internally with a lot of self-judgement, self-criticism and blame. Let’s take someone who’s been hit with a surprise break-up. They never saw it coming. It hurts so much more because they thought everything was great.

How many times will you tell that story to yourself and anyone who will listen? I had no idea, everything was great, we were happy. It hurts so much more because I didn’t see it coming.

All these reasons why you were a victim, why it’s okay for you to feel hurt and betrayed.

Then there are the internal reasons. I must not have been good enough. He must have found someone better than me. I must be unlovable.

Then all the external reasons: He is a dirtbag. He is not loyal. He is a liar. He is a bad person. He is heartless.

All these reasons and justifications for you to hold onto your hurt, pain, anger, anxiety, guilt and fear. I need all these things because this has been done to me.

None of these are real. The reality is this: You feel hurt. You are not where you expected to be. Let it go. 

The longer you hold onto these reasons the stronger the pathway becomes. So when you go out on a date with someone new, someone who has nothing at all to do with your old relationship, you are thinking; He won’t really want to be with me. I’m not going to be good enough for him. He’s probably a cheater. He’s probably a bad person.

We can also project our anger and internal criticisms out to those around us with a constant stream of judgments. That person is too fat to wear that, they are not good enough to be with that person, that relationship is doomed. That guy is a cheat.

Somewhere inside we justify that it’s okay to think these things, even to say these things out loud. It’s never right. It’s never okay and it’s not healthy.

There is never a good reason to be holding onto your past. Leave it where it happened and focus on now, on this bit you are living right now.

If you notice those reasons and self-criticisms creeping into your mind, just reverse them. Think of a positive and remind yourself there are no reasons for your thoughts and behaviours. Everyone is doing the very best they can with the knowledge they have in the given moment, including you. Let it go.

5) The biggest fear is of fear itself

Fear is afraid of fear. That’s a tough one to get your head around but most of our pain, and holding onto our pain, comes from the fear of being afraid. Think about a little kid who is afraid of the dark. The dark is not half as terrifying as the fear of being afraid. “Don’t turn off the lights, I don’t want to be afraid”. So basically, we are just doubling it. Instead of just being afraid, we put an extra layer of fear on top of that fear. We might spend all day thinking about how afraid we might be when it gets to be nighttime.

We don’t need that extra layer. Being afraid is a natural emotion and it warns us that something new is coming. New is not bad. New is necessary for our growth and development. If we become afraid of being afraid we won’t attempt anything new. We won’t fall in love again, we won’t cook an amazing new recipe, we won’t challenge ourselves to be better than yesterday. We give into the fear of being afraid.

One layer of fear is not really all that big or difficult. If we leave it at one layer, I’m scared but I’m going to do it anyway because I want to see what happens, we are empowered to keep going and push through. I’m scared but also excited at what I might find out. One layer of fear is a tantalizing risk of the unknown. 

To get rid of that second layer of fear and make the challenge ahead possible and exciting, embrace fear as a normal and natural emotion. An emotion that won’t hurt us, an emotion that is letting us know that something new is coming, get ready! Fear is not an enemy. When we see that, we can erase the second layer and face our challenges with courage and enthusiasm.

Again, it will take some practice but every time you do this you will be strengthening a new pathway. You will be teaching yourself how to overcome fear. Every time you use it, this new pathway becomes the normal path and soon it will be the automatic path you take without realising, to feel a sense of fear and wonder, what comes next?

6) There is no closure

You want neatness. You want loose ends tied off, for the person who wronged you to sit down and explain everything in a way that makes you feel better. You want apologies. You want them to forgive you if you apologise. You want a chance to sit down and explain everything so they see what happened. You justify that when you have closure, the emotions and hurt will go away. 

The real world is not neat and tidy and closed. Asking it to be is unrealistic. 

You can play an apology out in your mind like a fantasy in a million ways. You can confront the person who wronged you over and over with no change, they are not budging. You are stuck with these emotions forever.

The thing is that nobody else can make you feel something. No one can control your emotions or reactions but you, so it stands to reason that no one can make you feel better either. It’s on you.

It’s your choice when you are done with the emotions, when you don’t need the reasons anymore.

Here’s something you can do and you can do very quickly: Forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself for getting it wrong, for not paying attention, for not understanding why.

  • You burned dinner. Forgive yourself
  • You didn’t see a breakup coming: Forgive yourself
  • You cheated on your partner: Forgive yourself 
  • You messed up a big report at work: Forgive yourself

You can’t sit around holding onto these emotions until someone forgives you or asks for an apology. The work needs to be done inside, for you. 

Your feelings are not dependent on any other person. You were hurt by your break-up because you had expectations of how things would go. Those expectations are yours and yours alone. No one ever guaranteed things would work out the way you wanted. Nobody can promise you that, especially not you, because expectations are in the future and the future is unknown. 

You had expectations that are not going to be: Forgive yourself.

7) Stay on track

When we are hurt we can not only justify feeling hurt but we can justify behaving badly.

There is no real reason to eat horrible food. To stay in bed for days. To take time off work. None of this is rewarding or satisfying. These things actually make us feel worse, not better which is often why we do them. We want to feel as terrible and bad and hurt as possible. We want to hold onto those feelings and justify feeling hurt simply because it hurts so much. The more it hurts, the more you can justify being hurt. 

It’s a pointless cycle that will rear its head every time you jump back onto the hurt pathway.  Feel hurt. I cry for weeks, I eat greasy food, drink excessively and pig out on ice cream while telling myself how hurt I am. Some people even justify getting angry, lashing out, getting violent, saying spiteful things to others. None of this is who you really are or what you really want to be doing.

Instead of getting off track, make a plan to do the things you love doing.

Part of this goes back to forgiving yourself and releasing the need for self-criticism and owning hurt, part of it is your willingness to love yourself no matter what and accept that pain and hurt is part of life.

  • If you exercise, keep exercising.
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Do new things
  • Get out and go walking or hiking
  • Stroll along the beach barefoot
  • Make a point of looking at sunsets or sunrises or stars in the sky and realising your hurt is actually a small part of the world
  • Meditate. Sit with yourself. Feel your emotions working within you.
  • Agree to let go

We can turn ourselves into martyrs who sacrifice all our happiness and all the beauty in the world because of our pain. There is no reason to do this. You can have hurt and beauty at the same time. You can feel upset and be surrounded by things or people that you love. 

There is far more to life than feeling hurt. There are plenty of reasons to get up and try again.

8) Create a network of people who support you

You are not the only person on the planet to have had a hurtful experience, yet often our first response to hurt is to isolate, withdraw and be alone. We know this doesn’t work, it just gives us permission to run our destructive patterns without interruption.

So what’s something that will work?

Find yourself a community that cares about you and supports you, and let me clarify here: they care about YOU and supporting who you are, they don’t care about your hurt and supporting your hurt. 

So often we can go to our friends with our hurt and get sympathy and reassurance that hurt is the right way to be feeling and responding. They might even help us drink excessively or eat a four-litre tub of ice cream. That’s not the support you need.

What you need is a genuine community that sees who you are under that and works with you to get back to yourself, a place where you are powerful, resourceful, loving and happy.

If you have no idea where to go for that kind of group, then come to Live It Now. By joining us for one weekend you will build incredible friendships, lifelong friendships built on genuine trust and connection that will work to bring out the very best of who you are and what you can achieve.

To let go of the hurt you have felt in the past, you need to make a decision to let go, to release the illusion of controlling the past and future and live your life right now.

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