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Forget the Past and Embrace What Lies Ahead - Let Go the Past: Step-By-Step Guide

It's human nature to often think about the past. Our past experiences and choices, both positive and not-so-great, shape who we are today and can greatly influence our lives. However, it's crucial to remember that our past doesn't have to dictate our present or future.

Learning how to break free from past traumas or regrets is truly liberating. By doing so, you not only let go of suffocating guilt or paralyzing fears, but you also pave the way for an exhilarating and satisfying future.

We researched mental health expert's opinions to understand why we often dwell on the past, the significance of releasing those thoughts, and practical ways to progress and nurture personal development.

The Importance of Letting Go

Releasing the past and embracing the future may sound simple, but it can truly improve your life and connections in countless ways.

“It’s so important to let go of previous regrets and burdens because [not doing so] keeps us stuck in the past and robs us from living in the present,” says Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S, a therapist at LifeStance Health.

“When we choose to release, we lighten the load of our burdens and create space for hope and freedom to grow in our lives.” - Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

It's not simple to just let go, as our brains tend to cling to negative thoughts and experiences more than the positive ones. This could be a leftover trait from our ancestors, who needed to remember what went wrong to survive.

Although it's important to recognize the past's value in our present lives, dwelling on negative experiences and allowing them to affect our daily actions and overall happiness can have negative consequences.

Let Go the Past: Step-By-Step Guide 

This guide breaks down the process of letting go into easy-to-follow steps.

Step 1: Acceptance

Embracing acceptance is truly empowering. It's all about letting go of denial and resisting the urge to constantly alter the way things are. Acceptance means embracing the world as it is, accepting people for who they are, and embracing yourself just as you are.

Leanza explains that the first step in moving on is crucial, and along with acceptance comes the decision to release. Releasing our emotional baggage is a journey that requires a conscious choice to move forward.

Step 2: Forgiveness

Once we embrace acceptance, forgiveness naturally follows. When we acknowledge the things we cannot alter, it becomes simpler to move ahead and find solace in the past.

Leanza emphasizes that this stage is all about breaking free from the chains of hurt, pain, anger, and shame. Forgiveness is often seen as an act towards others, but in reality, it's about liberating ourselves from our emotional confinement.

“When I genuinely forgive someone who has hurt me, I release myself from the negative emotions of anger and resentment towards that person.” -  Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Forgiving yourself and showing self-compassion can be even harder than forgiving others, especially if you battle with feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy.

Research indicates that taking the steps to forgive ourselves can improve our overall well-being, leading to a more positive outlook and decreased feelings of depression.

Step 3: Focus On the Here and Now

Focusing on the present moment can make you feel happier and give you more control over your thoughts and emotions, according to Busardo. She suggests learning about the "Three States of Mind" from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as a helpful approach.

Busardo explains how a person's thoughts and behaviors are influenced by emotional, reasonable, and wise minds. Emotion and logic work together to create a Wise Mind. The concept of 'wise mind' involves acknowledging emotions while also taking into account logical and rational aspects. Wise mind is seen as the ideal mental state for making decisions.

The more we practice mindfulness, the easier it is to tap into our 'wise mind.' Engaging in regular meditation and refocusing our thoughts on the present moment can assist us in staying grounded. Research has shown that mindfulness can also aid in reducing rumination on negative thoughts.

Step 4: Welcome Change

The world doesn't always go in a straight line. It's full of surprises and challenges, but being able to adjust to these changes can benefit us in the end. Many find it difficult because our minds prefer sticking to what we know, even if it's not the best for us.

Busardo mentions that by embracing change, we can break free from old thoughts, behaviors, and patterns that no longer benefit us, or hold us back in the past.

She suggests being open and accepting of mistakes or trauma, and starting to consider changing perspective and behaviors.

Step 5: Look for Help

It's always beneficial to have someone to rely on when you need support. Whether it's confiding in a close friend, seeking help from a therapist, or joining a support group, reaching out can make a big difference.

Leanza emphasizes the importance of this step as we are naturally social beings who thrive with the support of our community. Seeking assistance from others while we navigate the process of letting go plays a vital role in our ability to successfully move forward.

Added Advice for Emotional Healing

Take this guide on learning how to release the past as your roadmap. You might stumble and jump back and forth between the stages, but the main objective is to cultivate acceptance, and forgiveness, living in the present, embracing change, and seeking support from others throughout the journey.

Here are a few extra pointers to assist you in reflecting on the past and getting enthusiastic about the present and future.

Practice Radical Acceptance

Embracing reality as it is, without attempting to alter it, is a valuable skill. "Letting go of the need to control things beyond our reach can lessen our emotional pain. Radical Acceptance encourages us to release our grip on past hurts, offering a nonjudgmental approach to our experiences and enabling us to progress forward," according to Busardo.

Keep in Mind: Every One of Us is Complex and Imperfect

When we're hurt by someone, our initial reaction might be to assume they meant to harm us. But if we shift our mindset to understand that people are intricate and flawed, it can help alleviate some of that pain.

Leanza suggests that perceiving this individual as a "person in distress" or a multifaceted character (rather than just a complete antagonist) can enable you to see them with more compassion and understanding, ultimately aiding in the process of forgiveness.

Establish Boundaries When Necessary

Understanding and accepting the flaws of others can allow us to view them with more compassion, but there are times when we need to set clear boundaries to safeguard our own mental health.

When someone refuses to change and keeps reopening old wounds, causing us harm or emotional exhaustion, it's a clear signal that we need to be more careful and protective of ourselves when dealing with them.


Make it a Habit to Use Daily Affirmations

Using a repeated mantra can reprogram your brain to release the past and focus on what lies ahead. Leanza, for instance, shares a few mantras she uses with her patients: "I won't let my anger control me anymore; it's time for peace to shine through," "I have the power to let go and choose serenity," and "I'm embracing the present, leaving the past behind."

It's important to learn and practice the skill of letting go of past wounds, regrets, and experiences. Just starting the process can bring about amazing benefits, like reducing suffering and improving relationships. As time goes on, we'll get better at accepting the past and the world around us, finding forgiveness and peace, and living a fulfilling life that focuses on the present and future.

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