Why is it so hard to let go of the past? Why do we cling to things that are no longer relevant or purposeful in our lives? Why is it so difficult to let go of experiences that have caused us pain and suffering?
Two reasons stand out in my mind. The first is certainty. Life is about survival. We are creatures of habit and we like what feels familiar to us, or certain. We don’t want to feel pain so the way to avoid it is to stay where we are and stay stuck, even if it means being trapped in a cycle that may be detrimental to our physical and mental well being.
The second reason it’s hard to let go of the past is because we have a wide variety of emotions. All of these emotions are linked to certain events that have happened in our past. They are intertwined with memories that are so vivid we are able to recall them simply by closing our eyes. Certain smells, sounds or “deja-vu” moments can bring us back to a single moment in time that we have experienced before. We do not retain information that does not have feelings attached to it. But information with emotion makes a big, and long lasting impression.
Let’s put it this way. Think of a life changing event that happened to you…it could have been when you were two, twenty, forty or sixty… say the death of a loved one or a divorce or some piece of bad news that you received. I bet you remember the exact date and time it happened, the clothes you were wearing, what the weather was outside, and maybe even the song that was playing on the radio the moment you found out.
Now if I asked you what you were doing on any random day where things were normal – maybe even just one or two days prior to today, you might have a hard time recalling in depth details or how your day played out fully. You might not remember which outfit you chose to wear, or what you ate for lunch that day. See, when emotion is tied to a memory, learning to let go of the past becomes increasingly difficult. We become attached, and the fear of letting go is what convinces us to hold on so tightly.
Step number one in letting go of the past is to acknowledge what is holding you back, and then look at the reason you want to move on. How is your life going to change for the better when you think about the reasons you want or need to move on? Will you have less anxiety or more emotional freedom? Will you be able to connect with loved ones on a deeper level? Will your constant sadness slowly begin to subside?
Once you’ve reached a place of complete acceptance, you can move on to the second step.
This is about inviting the new. It’s about welcoming it with open arms and celebrating the unknown, rather than turning it away.
Letting go can easily trigger fear. When you leave something behind and don’t know what to replace it with, you leave space for uncertainty. Change is always scary, especially when you don’t know what’s coming next. It can be easy to second guess ourselves and our ability to handle whatever is thrown our way. That’s why you might find yourself clinging so desperately to what you don’t want – because it’s what’s familiar and comfortable for you.
It’s like wearing a brand-new pair of 100% cotton denim jeans. They’re scratchy and stiff, and don’t mold very well to the contours of your body. They feel tight and overbearing, and when you sit, they remain rigid and uncomfortable, digging into your sides and cutting off your breathing…that is, until you wear them a few times.
Then, before you know it, they become your favorite pair. Soft in all the right places. Easy to slip into when you’re on the go. Faded from wear, but still nice enough to go with any ensemble you pair it with.
Just like putting on the new jeans, you must choose to feel uncomfortable at first in order to experience amazing new moments in life.
When you grow accustomed to certain emotions, especially negative ones, you don’t really notice how they impact you on a daily basis. You don’t realize that you’re stuck in a negative emotional loop – you just believe you’re reacting as anyone would to any given situation. It’s easy to believe that frustration, stress, anxiety and other chaotic feelings are a part of life and that we have no control.
But our unique emotional habits can have profound influence on the way we look at life, the way we act and how good we are at learning to let go of the past. So why settle for a life where we empower the negative emotions and disempower the positive?
You can train yourself to feel frustrated, sad, stressed or even depressed after a challenging situation arises. Or you can train yourself to feel passionate, joyful and strong, even when something bad happens in your life. You can learn how to let go of the past in a way that makes you feel lighter and freer instead of fearful.
When you catch yourself falling into a negative emotional habit, try to cut off the thought and switch gears immediately. The more you condition yourself, the more wired those emotions become and the more easily you can adapt to any situation thrown your way.
This takes practice, but the more you do, the better your life will be and you will soon be living in the present and not in the past.