Letting go of our past is probably one of the most difficult things to do. We are riddled with a lifetime of guilt, failures, and mistakes. We have the tendency to hold on to things for far too long.
I started contemplating this as I prepare to do some spring cleaning this weekend. I am also promoting a garage sale to help raise finds for our animal rescue. We not only want people to come to the garage sale; we are giving people the opportunity to do their own spring cleaning by asking for donations of old items that they’ve been meaning to get rid of for some time.
In thinking about all of our generous supporters who are taking the weekend to go through their garages, closets, or maybe even storage units for the dual purpose of getting rid of unwanted shit and to support a worthy cause, the idea of our ability to let go of things inspired me to write this little tome.
In Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism”, he talks about the need to simplify life down to the essentials. One example he uses is cleaning closets: Think of what happens to our closets when we use the broad criteria: “Is there a chance that I will wear this someday in the future?” The closet becomes cluttered with clothes we rarely wear. If we ask, “Do I absolutely love this?” then we will be able to eliminate the clutter and have space for something better.
Or take the Marie Kondo approach and by asking it: “Do you bring joy to my life?” If the answer is anything but a resounding “YES”, then it’s time to toss it.
We can do the same with the mental and emotional baggage we tend to hang onto because we foolishly think we need to hang onto it. We keep that old item that we haven’t worn or used in years in the event we might need it or want to wear it again some day. We feel it offers us a layer of protection. That baggage is a part of our past. It’s an integral part of our story and who we are today. Like that old sweater full of holes, or those old rusted out tools, your past offers a strange sense of comfort and familiarity. But does it bring joy to your life?
We link the emotion to information. We all remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001 when we heard the news about the terrorist attacks, but most don’t remember what they did on August 11, 2001 or even August 11, 2019 (without cheating and looking at our Facebook page).
We don’t remember these things because there is no emotional attachment to them. That’s why we hang onto material things that have a perceived sentimental value. You won’t think twice about tossing those old running shoes unless you won your first triathlon in them.
Letting go of the past means stepping into an unknown future, and that can be very uncomfortable for most people. There is fear of the unknown, which is why most people are resistant to change, even though they know deep down that that change is better for them and could mean a happier and more fulfilling life.
So yes it hurts to let go of the past. Yes, the future is scary and unknown, but if you truly want to move forward with life in a way that’s beneficial to you, it’s a must. Here’s how to let go with confidence:
- Make the decision to let go. Hanging on to your past mistakes, disappointments, or failures is just as much of a choice as hanging on to that old set of dishes from college. You can choose to let them go, and once you’ve made up your mind, there’s no turning back. Why would you want to turn back anyway? That’s like choosing to go back into a burning house after you’ve been rescued by a very handsome (or, er pretty) firefighter. It doesn’t serve you. You’ll only continue to get burned.
- Own it and release it. We all have choices in life, which whether consciously or unconsciously, have created the life we have now. If we continue to blame everyone else for our mistakes, experiences, and circumstances, change can’t happen. This is also very dis-empowering as you believe others control your outcomes. They don’t. You do. So own your part of it and release it by admitting it either personally say in a journal or a letter you never send; or outwardly to a trusted friend, family member, life coach or therapist. Get it out and move on.
- Focus on the present. Be where you are. Looking back doesn’t serve you, and the past isn’t really here anyway. You’re the only one keeping it alive. Find joy in the present. Relish in the fact that whatever pain you’ve experienced in the past is where it belongs: in the past. Leave it there. If old thoughts or feelings come up, acknowledge them. Thank them for getting you thus far in life, then gently let them go and bring your attention back to the present moment.
- Forgive yourself and everyone else you feel wronged you. As they say, holding on to bitterness and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to feel its effects. So forgive them, and for God’s sake forgive yourself first and foremost. Quit beating yourself up over something you can’t change. It only causes the wounds to grow deeper.
- Visualize a better future. Take a moment and think about how would feel if you were free from all of the negative experiences from your past. Picture yourself doing a mental and emotional deep cleaning all of that which has cluttered your thoughts and feelings. How does it feel to have a sparkling clean and organized mind free of all that which has held you back? Pretty cool, huh? When you plant positive thoughts and feelings into your subconscious, you are allowing them to take root. Your subconscious doesn’t know good from bad, right from wrong. It only knows what you tell it. So when you start to tell it positive things and most importantly feel the positive emotions that coincide with those thoughts, your subconscious starts to recognize it as the new normal. Practice this technique daily. You can either meditate on it or journal about it. You can also try hypnosis. There are some great free guided meditation and hypnosis videos on YouTube.
- Give back. When you focus on something greater than yourself, you are letting go of the things that don’t serve you and devoting yourself to service. Focusing on the needs of others allows you to take your focus off of the petty shit that’s been gnawing at you and empowers you to do more. It gives you a sense of purpose and meaning, which opens you up to living in a more loving, compassionate and meaningful way.
Just like the closet or garage, when you get rid of old crap, you make room for new positive opportunities and experiences. This allows you to live your best life, the life you were meant to live, which is a life full of joy, compassion, and meaning.