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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 hold on 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?

For many of us, we 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. Continuous pain means continuous damage, and that eventually leads to our demise. It’s frightening to step into the unknown. It’s difficult to be vulnerable. And it can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable to have that sense of uncertainty about what lies ahead. So we hang on to the past – because even if it’s steeped in pain, it’s what we are familiar with and what we feel certain about.

The other reason it’s so difficult 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. And her partner feels like it’s impossible to win because no matter how much he does to amend the situation, the past will still be brought up in their relationship.

But there is a very real reason why she has trouble letting it go.

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 an emotion 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.

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. Feminine energy, on the other hand, is not about letting go – it’s about filling up and gathering up. And when there is still emotion tied to a memory, letting go of the past becomes increasingly difficult.

But what is this all costing us? How is the inability to let go 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 to let go and start living a life full of more joy and freedom.

WHY IS MOVING ON A MUST FOR YOU?

The first step in letting go of the past is to determine your reason for wanting to let go of the past. Ask yourself: “What are the reasons that I absolutely must move beyond this?” How will your life change? How will it change the trajectory of your relationships? 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 motivated. 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 toward letting go of the past is to identify your emotional habits. This is one of the most challenging parts of learning to let go. How do you live your life? What are your tendencies? Where do you live emotionally?

When we grow accustomed to certain emotions, even negative ones, we don’t really notice how they impact us 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 carry ourselves, the way we speak, the words we use and the way we act. 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. Because 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 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 BODY & MIND

The ultimate breakthrough happens by conditioning your mind every single day about how to let go of the past. If you don’t make the conscious effort to decide what you allow into your mind, then you are allowing weeds to grow and to spread.

If you don’t take the time to examine and change your habits, life just starts to happen to 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 the tacit approval of the disempowering, disenchanting and disillusioning.

Feed yourself empowering stories. Surround yourself with people who make you better. Put yourself in 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 look to understand how to let the past go, 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. And when you finally make that realization and start giving, you will see your life improve dramatically, because you now have achieved another level of purpose and meaning in your life.

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 motivating you to do more than you thought possible. You feel the benefits immediately. You become more productive. You find creative solutions to problems. You find strength when you’re exhausted. And you’ll be better able to learn to let go of the painful 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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