4 Simple Steps to Letting Go of the Past

letting go of the past

Letting go of the past is a challenge that we can all struggle with at times.  We build up stories about what happened in the past that still impact how we live now. These past events make us feel hurt, sad and even depressed. Also, they can leave us feeling angry over mistakes we’ve made or frustration over the how our life has progressed. I speak with people every day who wish their life had turned out differently and don’t know how to get past the feelings that makes them feel so bad.

Below are four simple steps that help me to unburden the impact of past events and the stories they create in my life right now. This process is not a silver bullet and needs a commitment to practice regularly. Here are the four simple steps to letting go of the past.

letting go of the past -personal story

Letting Go of the Past- Step 1 – What Are My Stories

Right now we all carry some frustration, pain, regret, anger or even hurt. Take the time to focus on one of your difficulties from the past. You will soon notice that what ever you feel about this past event is caused by the story you have created in your mind.

Often, we tell ourselves that this challenge or pain is caused by the past event.  On reflection, you will see that the past event is not happening right now because it’s long gone. However we are still feeling the pain right now. Of course, the reason we are feeling pain now is because of the story we have created about the past event. It is therefore our stories the create the pain or discomfort we feel now.

These stories are neither true or false, but represent how we process thoughts and emotions in our head.  We remember what happened to us and judge it as good or bad. Was it painful or pleasurable? So it is our perception of what happened to us that creates strong emotions right now.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that this is quite natural and that we all create stories in our mind this way. Secondly, we need only become aware of our own stories without judging them in any way.

letting go of the past -pain

Letting Go of the Past- Step 2 – Feel it Now!

Now that you are aware of the stories that stop you from letting go of the past, it’s time to focus on the feelings they create. For each story take time to become aware of the effect it has on your body. What is the sensation it creates?

Is it a feeling of physical discomfort or tension, or perhaps a specific area of pain.  Perhaps it’s a more general feeling of sadness, frustration or agitation.  In fact, the stories in our head can create a wide range of feelings and emotions when we re-visit them.

It is quite normal to resist and avoid any feelings of pain or discomfort. So, the next step of letting go of the past is to shift your attention from the story in you head and directly onto the feelings and sensations in you body.

With a little courage and curiosity we can simply face the feeling in our body rather than avoiding it. Simply explore the sensations. What does it feel like and where is it located?

For most feelings, we soon see that they are not too intense and we can tolerate them. In fact, most are unpleasant but are not overwhelming when confronted.  However, if your feelings do become overwhelming, take a break and deal with them in short bursts over time.

The key here is that you are training yourself to tolerate a low level of discomfort that you can build over time. So, be courageous and embrace the feelings that arise.

letting go of the past -breathing

Letting Go of the Past- Step 3 – Breathe Away

The next step to letting go of the past is to learn how to breathe away these feelings. Now it’s time to learn a simple mindfulness meditation that will help you deal with the feelings and emotions bought up from past events.

Imagine you feel sad because of past events for which you have created a story in your mind.

Simply relax and imagine yourself breathing in this sadness and the feeling it creates in your body.

Then on the out breath, imagine all the feelings of sadness being expelled and  leaving your body. With practice you will feel the emotion reducing and being replaced by a feeling of peace.

Repeat this process for a minute or two each day. This practice allows to let go of difficult emotions and to bring compassion to past pain and frustration.

letting go of the past -positive emotion

Letting Go of the Past- Step 4 – Constructive Shift

It’s important to make sure you don’t get caught up in the old stories again. In fact, just observe the story and see what is left behind. Is there anything else to deal with here?

Once you have released the emotion and feeling released, simply shift your attention to the now. There may still be part of the story that you can be thankful for. Perhaps you have learned something about yourself or someone else. Focus on the how you feel now.

You may simply be thankful for the feeling of peace you have created.

Constructive Shift

Letting go of the past also requires a choice. We always have the choice to give energy and power to destructive emotions. On the flip side, it is a choice to focus on constructive emotions.

So, make the choice to shift your focus to what is going really well right now.

It’s important to do this because if you keep your focus on past hurts, you will be unable to enjoy the wonder of right now.  This is the perfect time to employ the power of gratitude.

Shift your thoughts to what’s happening in your life right now. Is there something you can be grateful for right now?

Using the attitude of gratitude brings your mind into the now. Also, it allows you to bring constructive emotions like joy, happiness and love into your life. Given the opportunity, constructive emotions can become a bigger part of your life and help you to let go of the past.

What Next?

As you try these four simple steps to let go of the past, don’t expect all your fear, anger, discomfort and hurt to disappear instantly. This process is not a silver bullet. It is about exploring  and understanding ourselves and learning to let go. Like any new skill, it takes time and regular application to get results. Also, it requires patience and self-compassion, so don’t forget to love yourself.

We are all human and built with the same frailties, so please be gentle with yourself and other.

You may also find these posts useful…

Mindful Living – 7 Tactics for Living Powerfully

How to Be Happy More Every Day

17 Daily Affirmations for Self-Empowerment

14 Daily Affirmations for a Great New Year


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