Are you stuck in the past? Do you find it difficult to let go of negative thoughts about what happened to you? Do you want to experience a new life and develop a new identity, but you are not sure how?
Today I will share fifteen useful tips to forget the past and move on in life. If you follow these tips, I guarantee it will be much easier for you to finally let go of the past and experience happiness in the present moment.
If you don’t have time to go through the whole article, feel free to skip to the summary at the end, otherwise keep reading. Let’s begin with the most important concept: your thoughts about your past are unhelpful.
1. Realize your thoughts are unhelpful
Too often we get lost in our own negative thoughts, and we don’t realize that those thoughts don’t help us in any way — if anything, they hinder our growth. Whenever you dwell on something that happened in the past, and you feel upset, ask yourself whether that state of mind can help you in any way. Chances are it doesn’t.
There is a powerful psychological technique called cognitive defusion that helps you detach from your thoughts and understand that, surprisingly, you are not your mind. To practice cognitive defusion, you can imagine your negative thoughts about the past as clouds or planes passing by, or leaves on a stream: simply observe them and realize that they will go away very soon.
Alternatively, you can write your thoughts on a tiny piece of paper. You can then look at the piece of paper, put it away, or tear it. As you do so, silently repeat to yourself: “these are my thoughts about the past, and I choose to ignore them because they don’t help me in any way”. To learn more cognitive defusion techniques, you can read this article.
When you identify a thought or thought pattern that makes you upset, anxious, or fearful, just let it go. Sometimes our mind can be our worst enemy, so it’s important that we choose which thoughts we should listen to, and which we should ignore completely. When your mind generates images about your past, and those images cause you pain — ignore it, and direct your focus elsewhere.
2. Realize the past does not matter
“I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become”. With these words psychiatrist Carl Jung makes us reflect on what our past really is. Is what we experienced in the past part of our identity? The truth is that we choose who we are, and who we want to become, regardless of what we did or what happened to us.
The second tip to forget about the past is to realize that it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t affect your current life. It’s that simple. Though what we experienced in the past may have shaped our attitude and personality, it’s gone, and cannot interfere with our dreams and aspirations.
To paraphrase a famous quote, every day is a second chance. Every day, when you wake up, you have the opportunity to create a new life. So don’t focus on your past; focus on what you want right now. All we have and all we can use is the present moment — everything else exists only in our mind, and should not prevent us from growing.
3. Move somewhere new
Even after you have realized that your thoughts about the past don’t help you in any way, and that they don’t define who you are right now, you may still find it difficult to forget the past if you are surrounded by people, objects, or places that remind you of the past version of yourself.
The easiest way to create the new, exciting, powerful version of yourself, then, is to change your environment. Ideally you want to move somewhere new, however changing your environment could be as simple as finding a new job, changing the places you go to, or even reconfiguring your home.
If you are trying to forget your past, being in a new place can help you evolve for many different reasons. For one, it gives you the opportunity to be surrounded by new people who can inspire you and make you grow. A new place also increases your awareness: you pay attention to everything around you, you focus on the present moment, and you forget about the past naturally.
Most importantly, a new environment is likely to make you feel liberated: you no longer have to deal with the things you have seen over and over again. In a new environment, you are new as well, and the thoughts about your past disappear effortlessly.
4. Cultivate a new hobby
As we’ve seen, if you want to forget the past, it’s important that you see yourself as a new person who does new things. Cultivating a new hobby that you enjoy can help you focus on the present moment as well as discover skills you never even knew you had.
When you immerse yourself in a new activity, your mind doesn’t have time to dwell on the past, or worry about the future. You simply focus on what you are doing right now, and you don’t have any thoughts in particular.
If you’re not sure which new hobby or activity you should pick, try meditation. It’s an excellent way to temporarily detach from your mind and body, and increase your awareness. If you make meditation a habit, not only will you be able to quickly forget about past experiences and move on in life, you will also notice positive effects on your health such as better immunity, mood, and sleep.
5. Talk to a therapist
Sometimes in order to forget the past you may have to deal with unresolved emotional issues that may be buried in your subconscious mind. An experienced therapist can help you identify why a certain event or situation from the past feels painful. Moreover, he or she will teach you practical ways to silence negative thoughts and develop a new mindset.
Though sometimes it’s best to simply forget what happened and move on, in some cases you may want to deal with your inner demons and truly understand the root cause of your negative thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
If you believe your past haunts you no matter what you do, asking for help and talking to a therapist is definitely a good idea. Though you do have the power to move on, there’s only so much you can do on your own. When you share your feelings with someone else, they will be able to see your situation more objectively, and help you out.
6. Write down your goals and dreams
The act of writing down your goals helps you focus on the present moment and remove all distractions — including negative thoughts about your past. When you are crystal clear on what you would like to achieve, the past doesn’t matter anymore.
Though you may already know what you want to experience and accomplish in your mind, it’s probably not enough. Every single day we are bombarded with distractions, as well as images that remind us of our past, so it’s super important to write down your dreams and then read them often so you don’t forget them.
Also: when you are clear on what you want, it’s easy to understand how most of (if not all) your thoughts about your past don’t really help you. At the beginning of this article we saw how sometimes our mind doesn’t help us grow, and why it’s important to detach from it from time to time. Writing down your goals can help you do that.
7. Identify who you want to become
You know who you have been years ago, but what kind of person do you want to be in the future? Just like it’s crucial that you are clear about your goals, it’s equally important that you identify who you want to become.
The truth is that no matter what you have done in the past, you can choose to change your identity in an instant. Perhaps you have experienced failure, and you chose to identify as someone who isn’t successful, but right now you have the power to identify as a winner. Perhaps so far you have been the kind of person who isn’t able to control your emotions, but now you can choose to be a calm, confident individual.
Again, it’s all about what you want to become, not who you used to be. Who you used to be does not define you in any way. So ask yourself: what positive personality traits do I want to develop? How do I want to feel every single day? What kind of mindset, or attitude, will allow me to become the best version of myself?
8. Realize that you are in control
Most of us mistakenly assume that we have no power over what we think and how we feel. It’s easy to play victim and assume we can only passively accept the negative thoughts and images generated by our mind.
The truth is that while no one is able to control what goes on in their mind 100 percent of the time, you can train yourself to have more control over your thoughts. As soon as you notice thoughts about your past that are unhelpful, you can choose to either challenge them, or ignore them.
For example, the thought of “I have failed” can easily be replaced by “I have learnt a lesson”, or “I have grown”. The thought of “I don’t like my past” can easily be ignored by simply focusing on something else. Remember: as we’ve learnt earlier, your thoughts and emotions are like clouds, or leaves on a stream — they are temporary, and go away quickly.
9. Eliminate guilt completely
When you realize that you deserve the best life possible, you automatically stop worrying about your past all the time. The problem is that many people tend to feel excessive guilt (whether they have made a mistake in the past or not), and they don’t believe they deserve a better existence.
If you want to forget the past, it’s vital that you learn to love yourself, be proud of who you are, and eliminate guilt completely. I don’t care how many mistakes you have made, how stupid you think you have been, or how bad you have been playing the game of life so far — ultimately, you are on this planet to experience fulfilment.
So start focusing on what makes you happy, and stop being ashamed. You really don’t deserve to dwell on your past all the time (it makes you feel depressed, and it doesn’t help you in any way) and you do deserve to desire, attract, and create the life that you want.
10. Understand what really happened
Some of us keep dwelling on a certain event from our past over and over again, without actually being aware of what happened. This is one of the reasons therapy can help you accept and forget the past: your therapist can help you go through the exact situation or series of events that caused you pain, so you can better understand them.
Much like a scene from a scary movie that haunts us, even though we don’t remember all the details and we only have a blurred memory of it — an event from our past could be causing us extremely negative feelings for no reason at all; and if we took the time to analyze what actually happened to us, or what we did and why we did it, we would determine that there is no reason to be upset.
Before you keep worrying about your past, ask yourself what you experienced and whether it’s actually a big deal, because most of the time it’s clearly not, and it’s “all in your head”.
11. Appreciate the present moment
Gratitude is powerful. It allows you to focus your energy and attention on what you really appreciate about the present moment, rather than directing your energy to bad memories.
Much like meditation, gratitude can train your brain to be more present and actively concentrate on what you want. It can be difficult to be grateful at first simply because we tend to take everything for granted, however the more you do it, the more your mind will get used to it.
So, what are you grateful for? Take the time to really think of, and appreciate, what you have in your life right now (or what you will have soon). It puts you in a better mood instantly, and it helps you forget about negative things from the past. If you want, you can even keep a gratitude journal.
12. Don’t be afraid to cut people off
We’ve already seen how important your environment is, and how much it can influence your thoughts and feelings. If you want to change your surroundings, and you are able to do so, and you believe it would help you move on in life, do it; if you are not able to do so, then consider cutting off people in your life.
Specifically, I am referring to energy vampires and anyone who hinders your growth, causes you to have negative feelings, or simply reminds you of the past version of yourself — whether they do it on purpose, or not. For example, your family or some of your friends may genuinely care about you, however they may still prevent you from growing.
You don’t need to burn bridges for good: you could simply explain and tell them that you need to move on in life, and in order to do so, you may need to stop interacting with them all the time. Don’t feel bad about it because your growth and your mental health should always be your number one priority. You can’t truly love others unless you learn to love yourself.
13. Find something bigger than you
If you think about it, the act of focusing on your past could be defined as selfish. Not only does it not help you; it does not help anyone. I am not saying that you are selfish if you are not able to move on: I am simply saying that the same energy that you direct to your inner world could be used to create amazing things in the external world.
If you want to forget the past, you may want to find something bigger than you: a dream, a goal that seems impossible, a way to contribute and help other people, an idea that would make the world a better place.
When you use your time and energy to create something greater than you, you automatically forget about your toxic thoughts and emotions. It’s almost as if you were meditating: you are in a different mental state. You no longer give importance to your own past, and you concentrate on something in the external world.
14. Stop using social media all the time
You may have changed your environment, and you may even have decided to stop seeing the people who remind you of your past. But what about your social media accounts?
You may think that anything you see through a digital screen isn’t important, but it is. If you want to forget the past and move on in life, choose what you see on social media very carefully, and don’t spend too much time on it.
It may be tempting to find out what your old friends or partners are doing right now, but if you are serious about creating a new life, I recommend that you resist the temptation and simply focus on something else. If what you see on social media inspires you and helps you move on, great! Otherwise, you probably want to take a break.
15. Practice self care
The fifteenth and final tip to forget your past and move on is to learn to love yourself, and one great way to do so is to practice self care. You want to put yourself first and take care of your physical, mental, and spiritual health as much as possible.
You want to tell your mind that you deserve to experience a new life, and that you are supposed to feel positive energy only. By embracing positivity, you simultaneously reject negative thoughts and energy — including what happened in the past.
Practice self love and self care often, and realize that you are worthy of a new, exciting, fulfilling life. Learn to love yourself, and understand that the person you see in the mirror deserves the best, regardless of what happened to him or her.
How to forget the past: summary
To forget the past and move on in life:
- Realize your negative thoughts about the past don’t help you in any way; you can silence or ignore your thoughts with cognitive defusion
- Realize that the past does not affect you in any way; every day you have the opportunity to create a new life
- Change your environment: move somewhere new, find a different job, discover new places to go to, reconfigure your home
- Cultivate a new hobby: when you immerse yourself in a new activity, it’s impossible to dwell on the past
- Talk to an experienced therapist who can help you identify your negative emotions and move on in life faster
- Become crystal clear on what you want to achieve and experience in life, and write down your dreams
- Identify the kind of person you want to become, which personality traits you want to develop, which mindset you want to have
- Realize that you are able to control, challenge, or ignore your thoughts; it may be hard at first but the more you do it, the easier it gets
- Eliminate unnecessary guilt and shame; you don’t deserve to dwell on the past, and you do deserve a new life
- Take the time to analyze what actually happened in the past: chances are it’s nothing to worry about, or at least it’s not as bad as you think it is
- Practice gratitude and appreciate the present moment as much as possible
- Don’t be afraid to cut people off: even those who care about you may hinder your growth subconsciously
- Find something bigger than you and direct all your energy to it: you will no longer give importance to your past
- Don’t use social media too often, and carefully select what you see on social media
- Put yourself first and take care of your physical and mental health; realize that you are worthy of a new, exciting, fulfilling life
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