If you have stumbled upon this article, you are probably looking for a way to leave the past behind. This is a great start. You already realize that in order to be happier, you need to let go of the past. Now the question is how?
We all have a past – a period that can contain pain, regret, disappointment, and mistakes. As we are unable to go back and change the past, we tend to ruminate instead. This eventually affects our well-being, both mentally and physically.
This article is about understanding the significance of leaving the past behind and learning how to do so effectively. We’ll also go through scientific evidence that reinforces why letting go of the past is so important for our mental health.
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
Importance of leaving the past behind
Many of us tend to hold on to our past, which limits our freedom of fully living in the present. It also confines the possibility of having a better future. As humans, it is quite normal to have expectations and aspirations.
Sometimes we are able to achieve what we expect from ourselves and others. At other times, we are unable to do so. Nevertheless, we have to remember that both are parts of the same life. What pulls us back is when we forget to learn from both the experiences. This stops us from moving on to the next phase of life.
Thinking negatively about your past will not help you. It won’t bring that time back or let you hit the undo button. Reliving negative parts of your history is often a waste of your energy and can destroy your mental peace.
The faster you move on from your past and appreciate your current life, the happier your life will become.
Study on happiness and perception of the past
A 2011 study conducted by Ryan Howell and Jia Wei Zhang covers how people are happier when they look back at the happy moments in their past, instead of the negative ones. The study demonstrated how people with particular personality traits tend to be happier due to the way they perceive their past, present, and future. The research analyzed how the ratings of more than 700 participants on 5 personality traits relate to their view of time and satisfaction in life.
It was found that highly neurotic people were unhappier as they held a negative view of their past. On the other hand, highly extraverted people were happier as they held a positive perception of their past with fewer negative emotions.
In the words of Howell, one of the authors:
This is good news because although it may be difficult to change your personality, you may be able to alter your view of time and boost your happiness.Ryan Howell
This shows that the ability to remember the past in a positive manner increases the chances of being happier. In contrast, not being able to leave the grudges and sorrows of yesterday behind often leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
So cherish the good memories and reframe the bad ones in a positive light to improve your mental health. Your perception of your past has a great impact on how your life will turn out to be.
Tips on leaving the past behind
There are several ways that can help you in letting go of the past.
I have tried at least a dozen methods myself and will be describing the tips that helped me the most. You can choose to try all of them or mix a few – whichever you are most comfortable with.
1. Face and replace the negative emotions
All of us experience sadness, anger, and other negative emotions throughout our lives. Some of us try to suppress these emotions by pushing them away. However, this increases the suffering in the long run, making it impossible for us to be as happy and healthy as we can.
To be able to leave your past behind, you must first learn how to face it. You have to acknowledge and accept your feelings and emotions, instead of avoiding them. Understand what has happened, why it is making you uncomfortable, and how you should respond to it in the best possible way.
You’re trying to escape from your difficulties, and there never is any escape from difficulties, never. They have to be faced and fought.Enid Blyton
However, facing the negative emotions of your past does not mean you have to keep focusing on them. In fact, the faster you face them, the easier it will get to move past them. Recognize these feelings and replace them with positive actions.
Whenever I have negative thoughts of a major surgery I once went through, I do something that makes me happy and grateful for being healthy now. I go for a run, meditate, or dance to my favorite song. Whenever you feel haunted by your past, pick yourself up with happy activities to feel more positive.
2. Love yourself
Falling in love with life begins with falling in love with yourself first. You can only let go of the past if you can let go of constantly judging and criticizing yourself. It’s difficult to find true happiness if you don’t know how to love yourself.
Embrace each perfect and imperfect part of yourself. Accept who you are and empower your inner strength by loving yourself without judgment. Remember that you are the source of the happiness that you seek. Even if life brings you joy or sorrow, you have the power to accept them and fuel your growth through these experiences.
3. Forgive others
Holding onto grudges and resentment is never good for you. It not only hurts the other person but also increases your own suffering. You have to stop carrying the baggage of your past experiences and focus on your present.
Tell yourself that you have the power to forgive others.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.Tony Robbins
Give yourself the freedom to let go of the bitter memories. This might take time. In fact, it took me years. But the more I forgave people, the easier it got for me to move on and focus on myself.
Here’s a guide on how to forgive others, if you’re looking for more tips!
4. Choose positive people and habits
Leaving your past behind includes embracing better habits and better company. Try to improve the way you do things to move ahead in life. Start conditioning your mind by watching and reading empowering stories and spending time with people who bring out the best in you.
Do not try to change everything at the same time. Select specific areas to set attainable goals and then begin changing your habits step by step.
You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.John C. Maxwell
For example, when I wanted to get healthier, I started eating healthy. Then I moved on to meditating. Finally, I joined a gym and started exercising there. So break down your big, long term objectives into small, daily goals and practice them every day. It might take time to change your habits. But keep practicing, and it will get easier.
5. Write it all down in a journal
I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.Anne Frank
Take a journal and pour down your feelings and emotions. This will help you organize your thoughts and untangle your issues in life. Journaling helps you to look at your past in a positive manner, while taking lessons from it, without the worries.
You can write about anything you want, but make sure you don’t forget the positive things and jot them down as well.
Practice and express gratitude regularly to improve your perception of life. Writing journals has helped me to reduce my stress and anxiety. Through journaling, I was able to express myself without judgment. The more I wrote, the lighter I felt. It easily turned into a habit that helped me to improve my mental health and emotional growth.
If you want to know more about how to start journaling, here’s a great article to help you with actual stories and tips.
It is not easy to leave the past behind, it never has been. It takes time and practice. But the effort is worth it.
Remember that you cannot change or undo what has happened in the past. However, you can change your perspective and habits to have a better present and future. Don’t dwell on your past, learn from it. Reframe your mind, write down your worries, focus on the positive, and set yourself free from the past. It’s time to live a happier life.
An introvert at heart and a nerd by birth. Clocks in as a strategic planner. Breathes as a writer with a decade of experience. Loves picking positivity and happiness over pomp and haste.