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How to let go of the past

Stop letting painful memories control your present – and future

Why do we hold on to the past? Why do we cling to things that are no longer relevant in our lives? 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 basic human needs and is fundamentally about survival. We all need to feel certain that we can avoid pain and, ideally, find some comfort in our lives. Learning to let go of the past also means stepping into the unknown future. 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 have a tendency 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, his partner continues to punish him for his transgressions in the past.

But there is a very real reason why she can’t figure out how to move on from 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. But if you had to think about August 11, 2001, your memory is likely very 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 – that is, an associated feeling. But 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 makes learning to let go of the past more difficult for them.

Compare that to someone with a masculine core. Why does someone with masculine energy not attach emotion to everything? It’s not that a highly masculine person doesn’t care or feel things deeply. It’s because 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, learning to let go of the past becomes increasingly difficult for those who are biologically predisposed to gather.

But what is this all costing us? How is not learning to let go of the past impacting our relationships, our lives and our happiness? And how do we learn to loosen our grip so we can move forward in a healthier, happier way? You can learn how to move on from the past and start living a life full of more joy and freedom.

Why is moving on a must for you?

The first step in how to let go of the past is to acknowledge what is holding you back and determine your reason for wanting to 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 just 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 learning how to let 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 are inevitably going to have setbacks and challenges, but if you have a strong enough reason and a purpose that drives you, you will stay focused and dedicated.

Identify your emotional habits

The next step in how to let go of the past is to identify your emotional habits. This is one of the most challenging parts of learning to let go because it takes deep introspection. How do you live your life? What are your beliefs that limit you? Where do you live emotionally?

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

By identifying your emotional habits, you can start to make the shift toward actively conditioning yourself 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. 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, try to cut off the thought and switch gears immediately. The more you condition yourself, the more wired those emotions become and the more easily you can adapt to any situation thrown your way.

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 about how to let go of the past. If you don’t make a conscious effort to decide what you allow into your mind, then you are allowing weeds to grow and spread.

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

To condition your mind, feed yourself empowering stories. 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. It’s the small rituals that you do every day that build momentum and, ultimately, lead to massive change.

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 offer others – even if it’s something as simple as a smile or a listening ear. When you finally make the realization 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 they will 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 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.

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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