How to Let Go of the Past: 4 simple steps to let go of the past and forgive yourself

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Doesn’t the past let you go? Do you keep the same stories in your head?

Stories about:
  • an argument that you had and that is still raging on your head
  • Mistakes you made and regretted or made you feel bad
  • Another person did something that makes you upset
  • a wish that things were different from what they are
  • Anger about something someone else did to you
  • Frustration with how things have turned out so far
  • Stories about things that happened that make you feel sad, depressed, hurt or angry

Wouldn’t it be nice to let go of things from the past and instead consciously experience the present moment as it is? Wouldn’t it be nice to free yourself from the heavy burden of the past?

And wouldn’t it be nice if you could see that your clinging to the past actually hurts you in the present moment and that letting go is a loving act of never hurting yourself again?

The way there is not always easy, but it can be done. Here are the 4 simple steps to let go of the past will help you:

letting go of the past

Step 1: Recognize the story that is hurting you

Let’s say you feel sad, hurt, angry, frustrated, disappointed, regret something or have other problems that won’t let you go.

Where do these feelings or thoughts come from?

The answer is: they are caused by the story from the past that is on your mind.

Now you might be thinking: Okay, the painful feeling and the negative thoughts came from what happened, and not from the story in your head.

But also remember: what happened in the past is not happening now. It’s already done and over.

But the pain in you continues to rage, triggered by whatever story you have in mind.

Please do not mind the word history. This has nothing to do with real history or fictional history. Nothing with true or untrue. Nothing with good or bad.

In this context, it just means a simple process that happens in your head:

  • You remember what happened.
  • You have a judgment, a certain point of view, about what happened and that you are the injured party.
  • This triggers an emotion in you.

Realize what kind of story you have in mind. Only see, don’t judge. Neither about the story nor about yourself.

Having stories is normal. Just know that it is there. And realize that it is causing your pain, frustration, or problems.

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Step 2: Stay with the physical feeling

In the second step, you turn away from the story in your head and devote yourself to the feeling in your body.

What do you feel?

The physical feeling can show itself in different ways: You may feel a sharp pain, tightness in the chest, inner emptiness, heart pain or maybe the energy that radiates from your stomach in all directions.

There are many more variations on how the physical feeling is shown.

The exercise is: face the physical feeling. Take your attention away from the story in your head and direct it into your body.

Don’t try to block the feeling like we usually do. Be brave and stick to the feeling. Explore the feeling.

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How does it feel? Where in your body is it changing?

Explore the feeling as long as you can bear it – feelings can become very violent and unbearable. However, if you look carefully, you will see that most feelings do not mean the end of the world.

Okay, you feel a bit uncomfortable, but you can see that these feelings are not overwhelming. You can take it. They are not something to panic about.

Dwell with the feeling; be kind, gracious, and welcome. Embrace feeling like you’re hugging a good friend.

Practice this way and you will be comfortable with discomfort – it is the path of valor.

let go of the past

Step 3: Exhale and let go

“Inhale your pain and exhale compassion.”

This is an exercise from Tibetan Buddhism and is called Tonglen:

Inhale whatever difficult emotions you are feeling and exhale the feeling of release from them. You are not only breathing in your own pain but also the pain of others.

For example:
  • When you feel sadness, breathe in all the sadness in this world, then breathe out contentment.
  • If you feel frustration, breathe in all the frustration in this world, then breathe out peace.
  • If you feel regret, breathe in all the regrets in this world, then breathe out joy and gratitude.

Practice this for a minute or two.

Imagine all the frustration of the people around you that you inhale. And then a feeling of peace that you exude to all frustrated people as you exhale.

You can do this exercise every day. The effect is amazing. Instead of running away from your difficult feeling, you hug it, take it in.

And you do it for other people too. What gets you out of the self-centered mode and directs your attention to others as well.

And as you do that, you start to let go of your pain and problems.

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Step 4: Turn to the present with gratitude

When you feel that you have let go instead of getting caught up in your story, turn away and see what is going on here and now, at this moment.

What do you see? Can you appreciate some or all of the things? Can you be grateful for anything that is happening right now?

This step is important because: If you are caught up in stories from the past, you are not paying attention to what is happening at this moment.

Your mind is so filled with the past that you don’t appreciate the present. However, when you let go of the past, you empty your mind and fill it with the present.

Open yourself to the present moment. Be grateful for what is there instead of worrying about what is not.

And when you do, you have turned your inner struggle into a moment of joy.

Related post: 5 Ways to Practice Gratitude Daily

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