Held back by the past
Let me ask you something: How do you want to go through life? Do you want to live full of anger and resentment, or would you rather live life on your terms? Do you enjoy being dragged down by a toxic past, or even a challenging present? Do you know, in your gut, that your life, your career, and your everyday experiences would be so much more powerful and purposeful if you looked forward, instead of constantly reviewing the past?
I know what my answer is, and I’m confident your’s will be the same. Too many people live their lives confined in the straitjacket of negative experiences, instead of pushing forward and grabbing their success. You don’t have to be one of them.
It takes energy to make positive things happen. Mental and physical energy are finite resources, and you need all that you have to reach your goals. Achieving great things requires focus and boldness. It takes tremendous effort to overcome the many obstacles that will impede you and it takes determination to create the life you want. That energy is there to propel you to your success, and you can’t afford to waste it on pointless things. Energy is an investment.
Holding onto a toxic past or present — be it that relationship that’s turned negative, that career that just doesn’t suit you, or the employer that’s bad for your soul — takes up too much mental and emotional space and energy, leaving you unable to focus on your present and future. So, how do you get to that point where the past no longer holds you back, and you’re able to build a fresh, new life?
Why we can’t let go
Often, people who struggle to let go of their toxic past or present are unwilling to move forward. The adverse experiences they’ve been through, or are going through, have become part of who they are, their default state, and the path of least resistance. They know how to be this person, even if this person doesn’t serve them well. They understand themselves this way and know how to function daily with the weight of this anger, resentment, and pain.
The botched landing
Everyone knows that rush hour traffic can be frustrating and even crazy. But it became especially crazy for one man in Greensboro, North Carolina, when a small airplane missed the airport, dropped out of the sky and crashed into his car while he was stuck in the middle of bumper-to-bumper traffic. Not your typical drive home from work!
The crash destroyed the plane and the vehicle, while the driver of the car suffered a broken arm. A reporter commented to him that he was lucky; a plane fell out of the sky, and his only bodily injury was a broken arm. His response was to lash out at her, yelling that he didn’t think he was lucky at all. On a Friday afternoon, stuck in rush-hour traffic, when all he wanted was to get home and relax at the end of a workweek, an airplane fell out of the sky and out of all the thousands of cars on the road, it fell onto his car. Plus he had a broken arm.
This man reacted in the moment the way most of us would, and it’s entirely understandable to be that upset. It’s what you do after the reaction that counts. Does he hold onto that anger and resentment, constantly reliving the physical pain, the disruption to his life, and the financial impact of medical bills, replacing his car and time off work? Or does he assume a positive attitude of getting past it, realizing that the reporter was right, that he was lucky, it was just a broken arm, and life goes on?
It is when we cling to those past hurts, those toxic situations, that we fail to move forward and create success. You can’t change the outcome of past events. It’s almost impossible to be positive and proactive about your future when you’re spending most of your time worrying about the past, or a present situation that you can’t change.
Find your future
The past is over, and those events that happened can no longer hurt you. Understanding this is a crucial first step in letting go. No, of course, you can’t pretend the painful events in the past didn’t happen, but you can make a choice: Will you allow the past to control you, or are you taking back control of your life and your future?
Over and over again, people have told me stories of how their lives changed — always for the better — when they finally let go of toxic situations and past hurts and consciously chose to move forward. Letting go of the past clears out mental and emotional space, and allows you to be open to new opportunities and take risks to create a better life.
How to let go and move forward
Let’s face it; this is up to you. I can give you all the tips, tricks, hints and information you want, but until you latch onto something that works for you and until you choose to engage and do this, you won’t ever let go.
Start by telling yourself: “I can’t make my past go away, I can’t change what has happened, but I can choose to stop allowing it to dominate my life. No matter how bad things were, those things are done and gone, and I am still here. I have decided to no longer allow my past to damage me further.”
Next, you need to ask yourself the right questions to come to your own conclusions. Try these for a start:
- Am I making things worse than they need to be for me?
- How can I break the hold my emotions have on me?
- What steps can I take to start moving forward again?
- Does my past really have a hold on me, or is that just my belief?
Ask all the questions you’ve been avoiding, and answer yourself honestly. The answers might be uncomfortable but speak them out and be honest with yourself. Is it wise to allow one challenging time period, one job, one relationship, or one event to dominate the rest of your life? By holding on and constantly looking backward, you are playing a losing game, and it’s time for you to make some adjustments so you can start playing like a winner.
Taking steps forward
To start moving forward, you need to be clear on why letting go is so important to you personally. Understand how your life will improve. Consider your health, relationships, and career.
Give yourself a specific reason to let go. Find something that is meaningful to you, something to focus on and give your life a new purpose beyond letting go. Letting go is simply the foundation on which to build a great new life. Develop your most marketable talents, learn a new skill, and find an endeavor that excites and drives you.
There is a world of skills, meaningful work, and connectivity available to you. People everywhere are learning new things, going on adventures, making new friends, getting involved in causes they believe in, having personal breakthroughs and enjoying life by pursuing meaningful activities. These people are fulfilled and possess a positive energy that overflows into other areas of their lives.
People who are engaged in reaching their full potential and contributing to the world are pumped up. Regardless of what life problems may arise, they have the energy to deal with the challenge because they know they are already living their best life, and no obstacle can change that.
Don’t discount the power of role models, either. I’m not saying try to live someone else’s life, but I am saying learn from those who have done it, those who have turned toxic pasts into winning futures. The world is full of people who succeeded in spite of enduring serious trials. Look at people grew up in incredibly difficult home situations and yet have gone on to accomplish amazing things. They are easy to find on social media channels such as YouTube, on television and in magazines. These are the stories that are highlighted because they are so inspiring. For example, some servicemen and women lost limbs serving their country, yet they keep pushing forward and living their best lives, becoming true role models for others.
Want to find a role model? Read biographies, listen to audiobooks and podcasts, and watch videos by successful people. There are so many resources available to you for finding a role model. Be inspired by how they overcame their obstacles. And here’s a little secret: Those people you’re looking at as role models? They also found role models for themselves before they achieved success. Imagine where studying their habits could take you!
Letting go is an active process, like untying a mental knot. You accomplish it by looking for positives. It’s something you have to do every day, starting with loosening that knot a little, stretching some, and creating some movement. Remember, every knot can be untied and every painful memory can be overcome.
When past hurts and resentments flood your mind, they drain you of energy and stop you in your tracks. When that happens, you need to make a point of reminding yourself that was the past, and your future is happening now. Find the positives and condition yourself how to live in this new reality.
You also have to realize that sometimes you will need to backtrack, as counterintuitive as that may sound. If you’re heading down the wrong road, you may need to back up and start over at the beginning. Every time you do that, focus on finding a positive in the old situation. Remember the driver who had a plane land on him? He came to accept that he was lucky to walk away with his life and that the good outweighed the bad in that situation.
Focus on those things that add real value to your life, such as relationships and career, and actively expand your horizons. Experiment with new activities until you find those things that bring you excitement and purpose. And most importantly, practice forgiveness. Forgive those who have hurt you, and forgive yourself for your own mistakes. If forgiving someone seems impossible to you at this time, at least consider the possibility, and watch your resentment diminish. This begins the process of letting go.
Learning to let go will help you develop a better sense of toxic situations and how to avoid them in the future. It’s also going to help you permanently move on and build a better life and a stronger future.
Letting go isn’t simply a one-off decision. It is the process of allowing yourself the time and effort to truly let go, over and over, until you heal. The more you commit to this practice, the better equipped you will be to deal with adverse situations and people and move on from them.
How have you struggled to let go of things in your past, and how this affected you? What insights have you gained in learning to let go? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.