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The Emotional Pain of Holding on to Yesterday

Three steps to help you let go of the pain caused by holding on to the past.

fotolia, used with permission
Source: fotolia, used with permission

Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.
Robert H. Schuller

When I was young I had big hair. My hair was curly, black and frizzy and it caused me to stand out in a crowd. People were always saying to me, “Allison you have to do something about that hair!” I became a bit insecure about my hair and tried everything to make it straight and not frizzy. My hair became something that always bothered me. Over the last ten years, I have noticed that my hair is a little thinner than it was and I am often battling new grey hairs. I look back on my childhood hair and miss it. I miss the fullness and the shine. Yet when I had that hair I did not appreciate it and I was struggling with my hair again for different reasons. Then a few months ago, I was out on the street and I saw an older woman with some bald spots. In that moment, I was struck by the thought that I could be that woman one day (it could be any of us). I realized that in thirty years I might be thinking about my hair as it is today and missing it; possibly missing the grey hairs that might have fallen out and left some bald patches.

Longing for the hair of my youth is not the most painful or significant thing in my life. However, it is a simple example of how we hold on to the past. Some of us long for our twenty-something bodies, our carefree childhoods or the opportunities we had when we were younger. We also obsess about relationships that ended years ago, a former job that we really enjoyed or money lost in the stock market. There is nothing wrong with remembering these things we once had in our lives, but sometimes these memories are the source of our pain. The reason it can be so painful is that often we cannot recreate the past and we compare it to what we have in the present. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have great things come into our lives in the future, sometimes even better things. If we lose a great job, we can get another terrific job. We can set goals and do our best to achieve them. Yet everything changes and, for better or worse, the past is no longer with us. Everything in this moment is different from yesterday and the day before.

So we have a choice. We can continue to long for what was and live with pain in this moment or find another way. There are ways to get the most out of this moment, even if it is not what we hoped for, dreamed of or expected. Here are three steps to help you try to let go of yesterday and embrace today with less pain. This can be a slow process and certain things we hold onto can be tougher to let go. But try these steps and see if you feel a little lighter.

1. Acceptance. When we refuse to accept where we are in our lives, it causes pain. Arguing with “what is” is like banging your head against the wall. It hurts! Acceptance does not mean we won't try to improve our circumstances, but we need to be able to remember yesterday without holding on to it so tight. It is not an easy task to let go of youth, a relationship or something that was very important, but the pain of clinging to something that can no longer be is excruciating. I don’t write this lightly, and understand the struggle of acceptance. We are asking ourselves to let go of a very meaningful past as we try to accept “what is.” But if we don't let go we are shouldering a burden and limiting ourselves from finding new ways to live and new hopes and dreams to pursue. Take a moment and think about a few aspects of your life that you are not accepting. How would it feel not to struggle with it anymore? Can you accept this circumstance and relax into the moment? You can accept your situation and still try to improve your position in the future. Try the mantra, “I did not expect this, but I accept this. Maybe everything is still okay.” I use this mantra often and find it gives me a foundation for finding acceptance. It helps me feel hopeful that I can live with my present circumstance and find a way to move forward.

2. Appreciation. When I saw the woman with bald spots, I was not judging her appearance but was realizing how everything changes whether or not I am holding on to the past. Allowing myself to appreciate what I have in this moment brought me more peace and acceptance with my current circumstances. Sure, I was just thinking about hair and not an illness or the loss of a job, but the same mindset can apply to most aspects of our lives. Appreciating what we have in any moment, from good health to a good meal, from a friendship or our memories of friendships, helps us to be more content with what is today. We can also appreciate how lucky we are to have had those cherished experiences from our past!

3. Something new. Sometimes we need to try something new to create some distance from the past. Take a class, apply for a new job, volunteer, take up a sport or a new hobby. It will help your mind get busy with the present instead of thinking about yesterday. When we allow ourselves to engage in new activities, we inspire new thoughts, and we often meet new people. Our new activities might not be what they used to be or even what we expected at this point in our lives, but action can move us forward with joy and open us up to wonderful opportunities. We start to see that life was always moving forward and only we were hanging on to the pain of yesterday.

Acceptance, appreciation and finding something new: a good recipe for reducing our daily pain of longing for yesterday. Today has its own gifts if we are willing to be present enough to open them. MAYBE the best is yet to come!

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