I didn’t realize how much the past was hurting me. Initially, I reflected on the past through a lens of pain, sorrow and hurt. I stayed stuck in a place of sadness over my heartbreak.
Then my past seemed pleasurable and nostalgia-filled as I reflected upon the good times in my marriage. Our first conversation. Our first visit. Our first kiss.
The marriage, the laughs, the dreams we shared… the good things continued to replay in my mind. Happy memories of my marriage became my escape, my salvation and my rock as my life otherwise floated away.
It took some time to see what I was doing. I resisted accepting my current reality. First it was pain, then it was happiness. I was fighting with today – the present moment.
And it felt good – real good. There were so many comforting moments in the past, and so much happiness. It seemed like a wonderful place to be.
Except it wasn’t.
- I was living in a moment in time that was no longer there.
- I was lingering in a life that no longer existed.
Because of a place I knew well, I was giving up today and tomorrow for what had been. And that’s the attraction of and the problem with living in the past.
- You continue replaying a time so that you can embrace something that no longer exists.
- You want to feel comfortable and happy in a situation you liked.
- Or you might be doing something even worse -- replaying the sorrow and hurt of your past.
- You might decide that the best way to live is to punish yourself and blame yourself for what happened.
- You might think of all the reasons you were a terrible husband.
- Or why your ego and anger ruined your relationship.
- You might ask yourself why you never learned enough, matured enough or became a better version of yourself fast enough to make your relationship work.
Because you feel like you failed or because you’re feeling guilty for what happened, you’re going to suffer by putting yourself through the fire of shame and guilt -- over and over and over.
It doesn’t matter why you’re lounging on the pool chair of the past – to relish it or to suffer
. You have to make some changes.
- You can no longer live a majority of your days in a time that no longer exists.
- You are no longer going to rob yourself of today’s possibilities.
- You’re no longer going to wallow in sadness, pain and spilled red wine.
It’s time to pick up the pieces and move forward, but how do you do it?
How do you actually live in the present moment and release yourself from the shackles of your past?
Here are 7 practical strategies to help you live for today.
1. Watch yourself escaping to the past.
- You may be settling down for the night to enter a dream state of your past.
- You want to romanticize, cry about or feel the pain of your past, but realize what it is you’re doing.
You’re likely doing what I did -- replacing your past relationship with memories of your past. Because you no longer have that relationship, you want to hold onto something else in its place.
Fine. You’ve done it. You’re doing that, but maybe you’re tired of it.
As soon as you notice that you’re going to your happy place (i.e., your past), you can make a move, a choice, a decision to not do that.
You can consciously decide, “Enough of that. I’m going to stop living in a place that no longer exists and bring myself to the present moment.”
Recognition, observation and watching your thoughts are the first steps toward bringing yourself to present-day living.
2. Make peace with the past.
“Easy for you to say, Vishnu, but how do I stop? My thoughts are working against me and trying to sabotage me. I can’t stop my thoughts,” you say.
If you can’t stop your thoughts simply by observing them, try this: make peace with your thoughts.
I want you to look at the thoughts or the pain from the past that you’re dealing with. Imagine it’s a failed relationship or someone who hurt you that makes it very hard for you to stop thinking about the past.
Try as hard as you can to find some gratitude for that person. What are you thankful to that person for? How did he or she change or improve your life in some way?
You can also try to accept the circumstances of the past and acknowledge the pain it caused you. Remind yourself of what you went through, but then remind yourself that it’s safe and perfectly okay to let go of the pain that consumed your life.
Wish this painful experience farewell and thank it for coming into your life.
Allow for peace and closure of what happened.
3. Tell yourself a different story about the past.
Turn your focus away from blame, anger or complaints to a more empowering story about your past.
- If you’re telling yourself that you’re broken and ruined, you’re going to spend a lot of time lamenting that story.
- If you think of your breakup as your life’s greatest tragedy, you’ll likely replay that story many times in your mind.
Change the story -- you have the power to do that.
- You are who you are today because you suffered and survived your heartache.
- You can find a new, more compatible relationship today because you made it through a hellish one.
- You learned what didn’t work and now you’re open to what will work.
- Your breakup taught you to embrace change; now you can embrace anything else that comes your way.
4. Welcome your past back and gently wish it well.
- If your past continues to come back and haunt you, welcome it back, watch it, then let it go.
- Allow it to stay for a bit, and even welcome the past, but know that you’re consciously allowing it to stay.
- Then, like a good host, lead your past back to the door and wish it well.
- If your past would like to stay for a bit, allow it to stay.
- If you are feeling a lot of pain and sadness, allow yourself to experience those feelings. Write them down so that you can process them. Talk them out to a trusted friend.
Related article: Learn to trust yourself again.
Don’t deny yourself the ability to grieve or mourn the past. There’s no point in resisting what happened – experience it, feel it and embrace it so that you can learn to accept it and move on.
5. Pay more attention to what’s right in front of you.
If you find yourself in past-living, find ways to bring yourself back to the present.
You can try meditation or mindfulness practices that allow you to be here more of the time. Mindfulness is simply being present to what’s in front of you.
- If you’re reading this post, just read this post.
- If you’re walking outside, just walk outside and pay attention to walking outside. Notice the sounds of the birds. Take note of what it feels like to walk and how the wind feels on your skin.
The more you can be fully present and fully here, the less likely you’ll slip into the past.
Make a conscious effort to be fully alive in the present moment.
6. Catch yourself whenever you slip.
Whenever you find yourself reliving your memories, call yourself out.
Observe yourself doing this and remind yourself that you’re doing it as soon as you notice what you’re doing. Try to be a police officer of your mind. You’re not giving tickets or arresting anyone, you’re just directing traffic.
If a past thought comes back, you’re going to remind it where to go – to your past. Allow your mental police officer to be on duty during all your waking hours.
7. Savor the life you have.
Create the life you want and enjoy the life you have.
Frolicking in the sadness or happiness of the past can go on for only so long -- you’re likely getting tired of the burden of replaying the past. It’s a lot to carry with you.
- Create a rich and fulfilling life right now; do exactly what you want to do.
- Fill your life with so much passion and joy that you have no choice but to live in the present moment.
- Make the second chapter or part two of your life more exciting and fun. Use your past as a springboard to your best life.
- Embrace this moment and squeeze every bit of joy out of it. If you’re not living the life you want, start from scratch and create that life!
You can choose to live in the past, but you’re only sacrificing today and tomorrow to do so.
You have permission to move on. Set aside all those emotions and memories for a bit -- they’ll always be there. Embrace and appreciate the gift that’s in front of you today: this very moment.
Vishnu is a writer and coach who helps people coming out of divorces start over and rebuild their lives. For weekly updates, visit www.vishnusvirtues.com. For his Amazon book, 10 Sacred Ways of Healing a Broken Heart, click here.