5 Reasons Why It's Important to Let Go of the Past
How letting go allows you to experience your life fully.
Posted December 25, 2020 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Letting go seems to be a hard thing to do for many. And it’s puzzling why that should be. We all move through numerous experiences in the course of living. Each stage of our life brings new challenges and opportunities to master specific tasks, to gain new skills, to explore new facets of ourselves, and to learn about who we are in relation to others and to the world we live in. Often, there is pride in our achievements and in the way we accomplish our goals. In that case, letting go and moving on feels good. When we feel content with how our life is unfolding, it’s easier to let go and be open to whatever turns up next for us.
But there are times in our lives that are particularly challenging and stressful; times that cause us worry, fear, and anxiety. Sometimes we simply don’t know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Sometimes we get stuck in a place, and no matter how we try, we can’t seem to find our way out. Believe it or not, that’s often part of life. It happens to most of us and, it’s OK. There’s no shame in feeling lost and uncertain of the future. Hopefully, somewhere down the line, our issues and problems will find resolution and we’ll finally be able to move on.
But what happens when you get stuck, and stay stuck? You just simply can’t get beyond and remain in a state of ruminating and obsessing about the past—about what was, about what couldn’t happen, about the opportunity that slipped away, about the person you love who doesn’t love you in the same way, about that difficult relationship that continues to challenge your integrity and health. All of the things you believed would make you happy, all of the things you expected, all of the hopes and dreams you wished for and didn’t happen—you just can’t let go! You remain stuck in the emotions of that time, replaying over and over again the hurt, the guilt, the shame, the sense of loss, and on and on.
I know it’s hard to let go of all you're deeply invested in and stubbornly attached to, but let go you must because as painful as it may seem, it is the path to growth.
So, here are five points to help you begin to move forward and hopefully, to let go of what no longer serves you.
The past is done. No amount of thinking about it, energy spent on, emotions invested in it will change that fact. You can’t change what happened but you can change your reaction to it. Instead of thinking negatively about the past—your disappointment, your sadness, your struggle to have something that is not meant to be yours—you can reframe your thoughts and feelings more positively to reflect lessons learned and wisdom gained. You can allow yourself to understand that you are a continuous work in progress and that what has happened to you reflects where you are developmentally. As you grow as a person, you learn to see these past events as stepping stones toward your future.
Self-limiting beliefs prevent you from letting go. When you believe that what you’re experiencing is the only choice you have and the only time you'll have it, you limit your potential to expand and grow. When you limit your belief about your capabilities you deprive yourself of so many opportunities. When you think narrowly, you drive away chances to try something new, and to succeed. You deprive yourself of being the “master” of your own creative abilities. You deprive yourself of helping to manifest what you most want to happen.
When you let go, you create space for something new to happen. It’s like having a closet of junk, things you no longer use or need. Do you even know what’s in there? It’s essential to stop and take stock of what you really need emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Do the things that once made sense in the way you lived your life still make sense? Are you hanging on out of nostalgia for the past? Are you afraid if you let go you’ll forget? When you clear away the debris of the past, you create a vast space for anything to happen.
Your past is not your identity. Yes, it’s part of your history, a part of who you are but it’s not you. Your experiences reflect pieces of yourself. Things happen, but the way they happen, their unique way of presenting themselves, is colored by each person individually. You place your own imprint on the way events occur. Your identity is as much a part of your tomorrows as is your past. When you stay mired in the past you prevent yourself from living in the present and living into your tomorrow.
Letting go is the cornerstone of change. The points above all allude to this but it’s essential to clearly say this. Some people live their life by just going through the motions. They look like they’re actively participating in life, but they’re not. They’re thinking, feeling, hoping, and dreaming about a life that once was, about a life that should have happened but didn’t. A terrible waste of time. You will never know your own strength, your own courage, your own potential to live life fully. When you refuse to let go you are succumbing to fear of the unknown and fear of possible failure. When you won’t let go you prevent yourself from experiencing life in an expansive and abundant way.
As a new year approaches, it might be a good time to take stock of what is not finished in your life. Maybe you need to complete something that was never resolved. Maybe you need to make peace with part of your past that is over and done. Maybe you need to promise yourself to commit to open yourself to the new and the yet unknown.
For those of you inclined, ritual is often a wonderful way to let go of the past. Ritual is a symbolic action that allows you to imagine letting go of what no longer serves you and to take action to help you break the ties that bind you to the past, and move on.