We all have turning points in our lives. We have moments that define us, shape us and deeply influence who we become. This is true in both a positive sense and a negative one. Past hurts linger and affect us just as much as happy memories do. Yet, reminiscing and reflecting back on those times is one thing. Living in the past is another issue altogether.
Have you been allowing yourself to think back on your younger years for a majority of the day? Do you often daydream about the way things were, to a point that you can hardly recognize the way things are right now? If you’re growing frustrated with the constant cycle of second-guessing and you’re tired of rehashing and reliving the same highlights reel over and over again, you might be ready for a change.
Here are five signs you’re emotionally mature enough to step away from your past, however dark or delightful it might have been, and enter into the beautiful and limitless light that is your future.
1. You want to change.
This is the first sign because it is the most important. You can digest all the self-help books, blog posts and podcasts in the world discussing the importance of moving on and letting go of your past, but unless you’re ready to take that first step, no amount of pushing will get you there. Are you really ready to make that move?
You’ll know the answer is “yes” when you find yourself packing away old memory boxes, deleting that hurtful ex from social media, and perhaps even physically moving to start over again. Of course, it doesn’t always take a cross-country sojourn to enlighten you to the fact you’re ready to move on. Sometimes, you just wake up one morning and find that you’re not thinking about yesterday anymore. You’re also not thinking about anything else that happened five, 10 or even 25 years ago. You’re just thinking about today, and you’re ready to take it on.
2. You’ve made amends.
One of the most common things that tightens our grip on the past is a relationship that needs mending. If you and your mother haven’t spoken in ages because of a spat that occurred when you were a teenager, this might be a reason for lingering too long in thoughts of your old life. You may replay that fight over and over again like a movie clip. It even might pop into your head at random times or in unexpected places, such as standing in line at the grocery store.
Only once you’ve reached out, extended the veritable olive branch and patched up those past hurts can you really start to move on. If you’ve done so and you’re in the process of making things right with the other party, you’re on the right track. Of course, keep in mind that this process won’t happen overnight. You didn’t get to this place of hurt and anger immediately, and it won’t be reversed any more quickly. Yet, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort it takes to get back that friendship or family bond that was broken, moving on is a natural next step.
3. You’ve made peace with unfixable circumstances.
Of course, there might be some people with which you never want to make amends. Or, there might be certain traumatic events that occured when you were younger that you know, deep down, you will never be able to change. While we can’t hop into a time machine and adjust the past, we can choose to make peace with what happened and proactively decide to look ahead, not backward.
Depending on the severity of the trauma, you may need to speak with a therapist or psychologist to work past certain hurts. This, too, could take much longer than you first anticipated so be sure to give yourself plenty of time as you work through the emotional, mental and physical connections you have to those circumstances. Once you arrive on the other side, however, you’ll be more ready than ever before to acknowledge what happened, understand that it’s a part of your story but recognize that it does not define you or who you can become.
4. You’ve decided to for your health.
Sometimes, the chains that bind us to our past aren’t based on relationship issues or isolated events, but rather bad habits. Maybe you started smoking when you were a young teenager to fit in with your friends and now that innocent ploy to look cool has turned into a pack-a-day habit that, as a 35 year old, you still can’t shake.
From alcoholism to gambling and a slew of addictive behaviors in between, it can be impossible to move on from your past if you’re still engaging in the damaging behaviors that originated in your youth. Yet, if you’ve made the life-changing decision to move away from that lifestyle and take steps toward making a long-term change, you’re ready to leave those destructive patterns in the past. From staying sober to kicking cigarettes to the curb, you might not be able to go back and change what catalyzed the addiction in the first place, but there are many ways you can close that chapter for good.
5. You have something new on the horizon.
It can be difficult to let go of the past when there’s nothing particularly exciting or newsworthy about our present, much less our future. This is especially the case for former high school superstar athletes who look around and wonder where all that good fortune went. In short, it’s the “glory days” syndrome that keeps us reminiscing, usually casting our former years in a more grandiose light than they actually occurred in.
If this feels like you, it can be helpful to give yourself something to look forward to. Maybe it’s a trip at the end of the year to someplace tropical. Maybe you’re ready to go back to school and take on a new career. Or, maybe you’re just going to grab dinner later this week with some really great friends. Regardless, take the time to look around and recognize all of the exciting things you have on the horizon. Is your horizon looking pretty dim or dull? Remember, you can change that! Reach out to an old friend, take on a challenging project at work, research island air fares. Sometimes, even just a walk around the park can be enough to look forward to. Find pursuits that make you feel alive and lean deeply into them as you loosen your clutch on what used to be.
Moving On and Finding Peace
Letting go of your past doesn’t mean that those things never happened. Too often, we think that if we put that shoebox of movie stubs up on the closet shelf or we leave that sleepy hometown for the bright lights of the big city, we’re negating everything that ever happened there — both good and bad. Yet, the reality is that the things you did, the people you met and the situations you encountered in the past are all a part of your fabric. They are as much a part of you as your eye color or height.
Yet, while we can’t change those physical characteristics about ourselves, we can choose to allow the past to stay where it belongs and embrace the changes that lie up ahead. If any of these above five statements feel like you, it’s likely you’re already halfway through the process of letting go. Be gentle with yourself throughout the journey and find little ways to appreciate and enjoy every step of it.