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How to let go of the past

9 tips for moving on from the past – for good

Why do we hold on to the past? Why is it so difficult to let go of experiences that have caused us pain and suffering?

Many of us get stuck in the past because of our need for certainty. Certainty is one of the Six Human Needs and is fundamentally about survival. We need to feel certain that we can avoid pain and, ideally, find some comfort in our lives. Letting go of the past also means stepping into the unknown. It means having the courage to let go of what is familiar – even if it’s negative – and being vulnerable enough to embrace and learn from what’s ahead.

The other reason it’s so difficult to learn how to let go of the past has to do with the way we link emotion to information. Consider, for example, a woman who has a feminine core. If her partner does something that causes her emotional pain, she may tend to bring it up over and over again throughout the relationship. Her partner feels like it’s impossible to win because no matter how much he does to amend the situation, she continues to punish him for his previous transgressions.

But there is a very real reason why she can’t figure out how to let go of the past.

Think back to the tragic day of 9/11. Chances are you can probably picture who you were with and what you were doing when you heard about the terrorist attack. Can you say the same for August 11, 2001? Your memory is likely blurry when it comes to those details. Few people can remember what was happening a month before the attacks. This is because we do not retain information that does not have feelings attached to it. 

Information with emotion makes an indelible impression. A person with a highly feminine core will attach emotion to anything that impacts them in a significant way, especially if it causes them pain or suffering – and it makes letting go of the past more difficult for them.

Compare that to someone with a masculine core. A highly masculine person does care and feel things deeply, but masculine energy is about breaking through and letting go while feminine energy is about filling up and gathering. When there is still emotion tied to a memory, moving on from the past becomes increasingly difficult for those who are biologically predisposed to gather.

What is this all costing us? How do we loosen our grip so we can move forward in a healthier, happier way? 

As Tony says, “We’re not experiencing life at all – we’re experiencing our mind.” Watch the video below and read on to learn how to forget the past and start living a life full of more joy and freedom.

1. Turn letting go of the past into a “must”

The first step is to acknowledge what is holding you back and think about why you must move on. What exactly are you holding on to – a failed relationship? A slight from a friend or family member that you just can’t get over? Do you need to forgive someone – either in person or in your own heart – so that you can let go of anger and step into a more peaceful state?

Once you have identified what’s holding you back, ask yourself: “What are the reasons that I absolutely must move beyond this?” How will your life change when you learn how to move on from the past? How will it change the trajectory of your relationships and help you stay connected with your partner? And how will you feel in this new chapter of your life?

This is one of the most important parts of the process because it will help you stay committed to letting go of the past. Gaining a clear sense of purpose is essential to establishing any goal. Your purpose will serve as your emotional drive when you feel like giving up. You will inevitably face setbacks and challenges, but if you have a strong enough reason and a purpose that drives you, you will stay focused and dedicated.

2. Identify your emotional habits

Identifying your emotional habits is one of the most challenging parts of letting go of the past because it requires deep introspection. How do you live your life? What are your limiting beliefs? Where do you live emotionally?

When you grow accustomed to certain emotions, even negative ones, you don’t notice how they affect you on a daily basis. You don’t realize that you’re stuck in a negative emotional loop – you believe you’re reacting as anyone would to any given situation. But our unique emotional habits can have a profound influence on the way we look at life, the way we act and how good we are at moving on from the past. So why settle for a life where we empower the negative emotions and disempower the positive?

Identifying your emotional habits starts the shift toward a more positive experience. Your emotions are like a muscle: 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. When you take charge of your emotions, 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, work to cut off the thought and switch gears immediately. The more you condition yourself, the more wired those emotions become and the more you adapt to any situation thrown your way.

3. Condition your mind

The ultimate breakthroughs in life happen by learning strategies, developing an empowering story and ensuring you’re in the right state to move forward. To do this, you must condition your mind every single day.

If you don’t take the time to examine and change your habits, life starts to happen to you instead of for you. No matter how smart you are, how savvy you are or how inspired you are, if you don’t stand guard at the door of your mind, then you give tacit approval to what is disempowering, disenchanting and disillusioning. Instead of focusing on how to let go of the past, you’ll find yourself distracted by thoughts that keep you rooted in negative patterns.

Tell yourself empowering stories instead of limiting ones. Feed your mind with new knowledge and positivity. Surround yourself with people who make you better and put yourself in a peak state. Work on cultivating a thriving garden instead of a dry patch of weeds.

4. Create empowering rituals

Letting go of the past isn’t easy. Empowering rituals can help you cultivate that thriving garden. There’s a reason that the world’s most successful people all establish daily routines that include things like a healthy breakfast, meditation, exercise and learning new things. It’s the small rituals that you do every day that build momentum and lead to massive change.

Practicing gratitude is another habit that can help you live in the moment, instead of in the past. Start a gratitude journal or practice it during your morning meditation. Think about all that you have to be grateful for in your current life. Realize that everything that happened to you in the past is what made you the person you are now: a strong, powerful person who can bounce back from anything. When you love yourself and your life, it’s easier to let go of the past for good.

let go of past by cooking

5. Shift your focus

So much pain in life is caused by thinking you can control the way other people feel and act. We think that our circumstances are the result of some mysterious force, when they are really the result of our own decisions. We have the ability to turn negatives into positives, setbacks into opportunities, failures into lessons. All we need to do is accept that the only thing we control in life is our own actions and decisions – and shift our focus away from other people and events outside our control.

You can’t take back an unhealthy relationship, but you can learn from it. You can’t go back in time and fix a bad childhood, but you can realize that, as Tony says, “Your past does not equal your future.” Every day is a chance to start over. From the minute you wake up, you make choices. Learning how to let go of the past means breaking the pattern and focusing on creating the life you deserve, not dwelling on the one you used to have.

6. Teach yourself to be present

You must also shift your focus to be mindful of the present. Remember, the present is the only time that matters. The future only exists in your imagination – it isn’t real. The past only exists in your memory – and memories can be tainted with falsehoods. The only thing that is real is what is happening right now. And that’s why there’s nothing more powerful than the human soul rooted in the present moment, free from the past or the future.

You can teach yourself to be present. If you want more joy, more happiness, more fulfillment: Engage with your real life, not your phone screen. Stop giving in to the temptations of technology to transport you out of reality. Bring your attention to this moment right now and take stock of what is beautiful. The biggest key to how to forget the past is to stop living there.

7. Work on personal growth

There’s no better time to work on a personal growth plan than when you want to learn how to move on from the past.  Focusing on learning and improving is not only a distraction from negative thoughts – it’s also empowering. Take this time to figure out what it means to you. Do you want to develop your career? Create the healthy relationship you deserve?

Once you’ve identified the areas you want to work on, pinpoint the obstacles you may face and assemble the tools you need to succeed. As you gather these tools, consider working with a coach during your personal growth journey. 

how to forget the past

8. Surround yourself with positive people

What separates those who achieve their goals from those who don’t? It isn’t time or skills – it’s knowing how to use the law of attraction to get what they want. They know that what you focus on, you feel. The energy you put out into the world is what you get back. And who you surround yourself with is who you become.

Letting go of the past is much more difficult if you are around people who constantly remind you about it. When you put the theory of peer elevation to work in your life and surround yourself with positive people who are committed to growth and progress, you’ll find it much easier to move on. As Tony says, “The quality of a person’s life is most often a direct reflection of the expectations of their peer group.”

9. Give back

Lastly, as you strive to understand how to let go of the past, find something you want to serve that is greater than yourself. Live for your family, for your community, for humanity. Motive does matter, so find motives that go beyond yourself.

No matter how broke you may be or how broken you feel, you have something to share with others – even if it’s something as common as a smile or a listening ear. When you finally realize that the secret to living is giving, your life will improve dramatically and you will be able to see how to move on from the past.

Your life matters – and if you align yourself with the truth that you’re here not just to “get” but to give, then other people will feel your authenticity and open up to you. Giving back reminds you what you’re made for. Focusing on the needs of others has a way of empowering you to do more than you thought possible.

You’ll feel the benefits immediately and you will become grounded in the moment. You become more productive and you find creative solutions to problems. You find strength when you’re exhausted and you’ll learn how to let go of the past and step forward into the future in a more loving, conscious and compassionate way.

For more life-changing coaching and material, go to the Tony Robbins YouTube channel, podcast and Firewalk page.

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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