How to Leave the Past Behind and Be Mindful of the Present

a woman leaving her past behind

Do you find yourself closing your eyes at night, desperate to fall asleep as soon as possible, but you just can’t? Perhaps you keep replaying negative memories in your head and wish for them to have ended differently. Had you made another decision, maybe things would’ve turned out better for you. Such thoughts fill you with regret.

For instance, you might lie awake at night thinking about how you’d messed up a particular job interview. No matter how much you toss and turn in bed, you still can’t get it out of your head.

You may often hear people tell you that “Past is past,” or their advice to you could be to stop dwelling on the past. Those are logical statements given that what’s already happened can no longer be erased. You can’t travel back in time, either, to change certain events.

You shouldn’t allow your past experiences to define your present and future. Instead, learn from them and keep moving forward.

If you’ve been hurt before and haven’t found closure, letting go of the past and unburdening yourself might sound impossible right now, but it’s possible. This article will give you suggestions on how to leave the past behind and live in the moment.

Why You Shouldn’t Dwell on Past Mistakes

Thinking about past events and the mistakes you’ve committed is understandable. Feeling sad and remorseful about them is part of the process of moving on.

However, constantly thinking and worrying about the past can be frustrating and far from beneficial for you. The energy and time you spend pondering on it is a futile and draining activity.

According to studies, dwelling on past experiences can negatively affect your current behavior. Mistakes are part of life, and committing them makes you human. Therefore, there’s no need to mentally torture yourself by constantly reminding yourself of their existence.

You can change your life anytime you want and write a better story for yourself. So don’t let negative experiences hinder you in any way, shape, or form.

Ultimately, a person’s past could influence their future thoughts and behaviors. Because of this, doors to better opportunities may not open if you’re stuck in the past. That kind of mindset might prevent you from even realizing that there’s a chance for you to have a more pleasant future.

Research has shown that a person’s mind-wandering episodes are often sad and linked to their past. Of course, there’ll be times when you recall positive memories. That’s when drifting away becomes advantageous for your mental health.

It’s Alright to Think About Past Events

In one way or another, your past defines who you are. After all, a person’s memories are the core essentials of their being. That’s why thinking about the past is a normal part of life.

Memories provide meaning to a person’s life as well as learning opportunities and growth. There are even studies indicating that recalling your past is vital for memory functions.

Looking back at past events can also be therapeutic. In geriatric mental health care, reminiscence therapy is used as part of a person’s treatment. This aids patients who are suffering from dementia and depression. Seniors may age gracefully when they reminisce about happy moments in their past.

Thinking about joyful memories can help you get through stressful and difficult times. In a 2017 study, it was found that looking back on positive memories induces positive emotions, which have restorative and protective effects on a person’s brain.

Your Past Is a Moving Target

Every single day, life throws you all sorts of challenges. These are bullets you have to either dodge or face head-on in order to pass to the next round. By now, you’ve escaped and survived countless bullets, so you can’t expect to be the same person you were years ago.

Your past can be likened to a moving target because it’s something you think about continuously and, at the same time, try to leave behind. In line with that, a study conducted by psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema showed that more individuals aged 25-35 years old overthink compared to those aged 45-55 years old.

Advantages of Living in the Present Moment

While it’s good to think about your past once in a while, you shouldn’t allow yourself to wallow in it. Don’t be trapped in a cycle of looking back and worrying, either. You have to stay and live in the here and the now. Overall happiness and a positive outlook in life result from being mindful of and focusing on the present.

Steps on How You Can Leave the Past Behind

You can’t be happy in the present if your mind is in another time. You may struggle to live to the fullest if your consciousness isn’t ready to experience it.

Leaving the past behind is not as easy as it sounds, especially when it’s coupled with pain and regret. To help you out, here are some techniques you can do to keep moving forward and stop looking back:

Cry as Hard as You Can

If you need to let go of negative thoughts because it feels as though your heart and brain might explode if you don’t, then go ahead and cry. Breaking down and crying can be a good outlet for anyone in that situation.

Should you be constantly haunted by memories of hurt, humiliation, or remorse, give yourself the chance to fully embrace those feelings. Suppressing or holding onto painful experiences can be harmful to you. A study conducted in 2013 explained that individuals who hold onto their emotions and don’t express them are 30% more likely to die prematurely.

Crying is highly beneficial and therapeutic. When a person cries, the body releases feel-good chemicals like oxytocin that help alleviate emotional and physical pain. Don’t be fooled by the belief that crying is for the weak. There’s nothing to be ashamed about since it’s part of being human.

Be Responsible for Your Healing

When someone hurts you, it can be difficult to forgive and forget. It might be challenging for you to move on from what happened. Negative feelings such as anger and hurt are natural reactions. However, you shouldn’t allow them to consume you.

You have the power to control your life, so you have to be responsible for it. It’s not right to keep blaming other people for your misfortunes and struggles. Instead, recognize what has to be done, act on it, and persevere in attaining and maintaining a good life.

Moving on can be challenging, and most of the time, you may want to give up right away. But keep in mind that no one else can do this for you, so you should at least give it a try.

Accept Your Mistakes

You may often hear the phrase “Everyone makes mistakes,” and that’s because it’s the truth. No one’s perfect. While you may have gotten hurt before, you’ve also hurt other people in the past. This cycle is part of human interaction. 

Also, the hurt you’ve felt or the hurt you’ve caused may not have been entirely intentional. Each person’s bound to mess up once in a while. Hopefully, they’ll learn from their mistakes, which you can commit if you don’t know any better.

Constantly revisiting your horrible past won’t do you good. This’ll only exacerbate the negative emotions you’re experiencing. Though you can’t change the past, you can certainly glean lessons from it. Here are several ways you can embrace your mistakes and gain self-confidence:

  • Forgive yourself first. Admit that you were at fault and accept your shortcomings.
  • Asking for forgiveness is the best thing you can do if you’ve wronged someone. Though doing this might not be easy, reconciliation can do wonders for your relationship with them.
  • Mistakes are life’s best teachers. The concept may be challenging to grasp, but if you take this perspective, you’ll feel less burdened with worry and stress. Also, you won’t be a victim of the same mistake because you’ve learned your lesson.

Turn Your Failures Into Life Lessons

You have to look at your memories as stories that give your existence meaning and define your being human and where you’re from. This way, you’ll see life as a series of learning experiences.

Use all the hurt, shame, worry, or failure lingering in your mind as your competitive advantage against who you were a few seconds ago. Consider them as tools you can use to sharpen yourself.

Pay attention to every single detail of your life, good or bad, just like how you intently focus on schoolwork or office tasks. In doing so, you can develop a strong foundation for your growth and self-improvement.

Focus on What’s New

Shake yourself off from thinking about your past. It’s time you focused more on creating better, fresher memories. Life offers you limitless opportunities to immerse yourself in new experiences. Open those doors and step out of your dark bubble.

Let go of past horrors and make memories you can hold on to for a lifetime. Here are some activities you can try to do just that:

  • Take a vacation and go to a new place you’ve never been before.
  • Grab a good recipe book and get cooking or baking.
  • Start a hobby you’ve always wanted to try.
  • Immerse yourself in a new culture and language. You can even go to a particular country to be among native speakers and experience their way of life firsthand.

Stop Pointing Fingers

It’s instinctive for most people to blame others when something doesn’t go as planned. Being the victim is easier, and you might even get the sympathy of others. Also, pointing fingers requires no effort at all compared to assessing yourself for the mistakes you’ve made.

Some individuals prefer to blame others because it’s their defense mechanism. They avoid reflecting on their actions and behaviors. They may also play the blame game because it’s a subtle way of attacking a particular person.

Letting go of the past requires you to stop assigning blame when it’s absolutely uncalled for. You can’t move forward if you refuse to admit that you’re at fault as well.

Learn to Forgive

You may find it challenging to forgive, especially if the pain is still fresh in your mind. Perhaps you’re not even sure if you’ll feel better after letting bygones be bygones or if the person even deserves to be forgiven in the first place. Try thinking of it this way: forgive so you can be free yourself. Do it for yourself and no one else.

Studies show the beneficial effects of forgiving. Dr. Bourne, the author of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, stated that venting out your feelings can have benefits such as:

  • Decreasing the pain and stress you feel
  • Lowering your risk of having a heart attack and developing high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression
  • Improving your quality of sleep and cholesterol levels

A 3-Step Formula to Leave the Past

A 3-Step Formula to Leave the Past

At this point in the article, you’ve read about different strategies you can take to move on from the past. It’s therefore understandable for you to feel overwhelmed with all the information you’ve been given. Here’s a shorter list of how to leave the past behind:

Step 1: Start Your Sentence With “I”

Figure out what your feelings are about the past. It’ll be easier for you to connect with negative emotions if you use the pronoun “I” every time you describe your feelings. What’s more, this technique will help you express your thoughts more simply and effectively.

Step 2: Be Descriptive

It’s not enough to recognize or acknowledge your feelings. You can be a step closer to being mindful if you can also name what you’re feeling. Whenever you encounter emotions such as anger, regret, shame, confusion, or nervousness, list them down.

Step 3: Ask “Why?”

There’s always a reason behind your emotions. It’s important for you to understand why you feel the way you do so you’ll know how to manage it.

When you add these three steps together, you can express your emotions well and eventually leave the past behind. Here’s an example of what you should be able to come up with:

I felt intense regret after my partner and I discussed the project with the company’s top executives yesterday because I didn’t properly prepare for it. As a result, I was unable to help my colleague with the presentation, which the higher-ups found unsatisfactory.

Learn the Best Life Lessons

You can imagine your life as a dirt road. Many people will avoid passing through it. However, in time, it’ll be turned into pavement, allowing numerous vehicles to pass through it on a daily basis.

Basically, you’ll get hurt, you’ll break down, and you’ll become unapproachable. Life will throw stones at you to make you stronger. They’ll serve as the cement that improves your dirt road and gives it a purpose. With them, you become more open, knowledgeable, and optimistic.

Keep building passable roads instead of bumpy and winding paths. Focus on yourself and the present. The past has gone and has shaped your very being. Now all you have to do is learn from it and apply those lessons in your life.

Counseling Now understands that the journey toward self-improvement and self-healing isn’t easy. You’ll need a solid support group to cheer you on. That’s why we offer the professional help and support you require to forget about the past and move forward. Our team of therapists and counselors can be the shoulders you could lean on when the going gets tough.

No one has the power to change the past. But because of that, there’s no point in worrying about it anymore. There’s only one power that you certainly have: to create a better and brighter story for yourself.

Don’t wait any further. Now’s the time to step out of the past and work toward your future. Contact Counseling Now today to get started.

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