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How To Start Letting Go Of The Past

The overwhelming and mind-numbing anxiety that stems from regrets and events in the past can be detrimental to our present and future success. At one point or another, most people find themselves clinging to a past event, phase, or person because of present discontent. When the future is unknown and foggy and there is a hole in the web that creates your current happiness, it is completely normal to grasp onto something that we once knew as real, known, and better: the past. Without presenting you with the most fluffy ways to forget the past like “you can’t change the past, let it go” or “what happened in the past stays in the past,” there are some ways to reframe your mindset and feel like maybe the past isn’t the key to what you’re looking for and maybe there ARE ways to relieve that weight and move forward.

But first, we must take ourselves back. Take yourself back to a moment that you desperately wish to change. A person you wished stayed in your life? An event you wish didn’t happen? Something you wish you didn’t say and could take back? A phase of your life that was just happier and lighter that you wish you could go back to?

Sit with yourself for a moment. Sit with your past.

Now truly ask yourself, Would you do anything differently in that moment if you had the chance?

The answer is probably yes.

Now ask yourself, Knowing what you know now, would you have known how to act differently?

The answer is probably no.

I am here to tell you that one of these is the wrong question to ask. Spoiler alert: it’s the first one. Because it doesn’t come down to if YOU would have done something differently, but it comes down to if the situation would have gone any differently. And I am telling you right now that the answer is no because the situation is much bigger and much more complicated than just you, so it is both impossible and inefficient to simplify the outcome of whatever event you have in mind to just you.

In the context of the past, we tend to put the blame on ourselves because we become discontent with the outcome (even though we don’t know what the outcome is until it happens). But the truth is, we can’t just blame ourselves in any situation because there are other forces impacting the situation involved, like other people, timing, and life. On top of everything, life unfolds the way it does, and we can’t blame ourselves for not applying the knowledge we gained from a mistake when making that mistake in the first place (if your regret is in fact a mistake). Take a 5-year-old and an 80-year-old. You can’t expect the 5-year-old to understand and view life in the same way as the 80-year-old does, and the younger one can’t become the older one without the experience gained from those bumps in the road. If you had known how to change a situation or act differently at the moment, then the situation would have gone differently in the first place.

Part of letting go is truly understanding that as we change, most experiences don’t change with us, and we use those for growth and learning, both of which can be used to not only change what happened but make and do better.

Not ready to let go yet? That’s okay. It’s a process. But realize this: Certain phases of your life stay in those phases. If something was meant to last, it truly would have as many other things do. Not everything is meant to change with you, but most things are meant to change you. 

Looking towards the past and regret is often a feeling of present discontentment, and our mistake is thinking that whatever you lost in the past is the key to your current happiness, but that it’s not. Maybe if you had what you lost, a certain hole in your life would be filled, but your other emotions and problems are still there. Usually, these issues don’t stem from just one thing, otherwise it would be easy to solve them.

Don’t blame yourself.

You can’t blame yourself for what you didn’t know then, and you can’t blame yourself for clinging to the past now. Your choices in any given moment may shape your future, but they are not based on it as you never know what the outcome of any situation is going to be. Life unfolds in phases that are meant to stay in those phases, and if they are meant to be different, then they would. So leave it there and let it be. The past won’t solve all your problems now, and letting go will make you so much happier in the present and let you work towards an even better and happier future.

And when in doubt, try to change up your thinking. Instead of thinking, “I wish I…” try saying, “I’m glad I now know…” because you’ll find that it not only shifts you back to the present, but it also honors your growth.

So relax. You’re only human.

About the author
Self-discovery, personal growth, and just sharing my thoughts Follow Jessica on Instagram or read more articles from Jessica on Thought Catalog.

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