How to Stop Living in the Past: Tips and Strategies

For some people, it can be extremely difficult to let the past go and move forward with their lives. It’s an important step to take, but not everyone can just take it.

Sometimes, you need some help and guidance. If it’s a struggle for you, there are steps you can take, and actions you can do that will make the process seem less daunting and overwhelming.

What Does Living in the Past Mean?

To live in the past means you are unable to move past certain circumstances that have happened to you or events that took place.

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For some, this could be a harmful and traumatizing event. Something terrible happens, and it continues to affect your life in drastic ways for many years.

There is, of course, a period of healing that must take place after something traumatic happens. But, when you can’t seem to get past it, and you allow it to get in the way of your happiness, your career, and your relationships, it’s a problem.

For example, letting the hurt and paranoia from a past failed relationship prevent you from entering a new relationship healthily.

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Living in the past can also mean you’re holding on to circumstances or memories that no longer exist because you don’t want to let them go or live differently.

This can be anything from an old lifestyle, a past relationship, a former job, or an old location.

If you were forced to move from a city or a home you would have preferred to stay in, it could be easy to get caught up in the memories.

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There’s nothing wrong with remembering the good times, but if you do it so often that it becomes an obsession, it’s a sign you’re stuck living in the past. Why do people allow themselves to remain living in the past? It can happen for several reasons.

A common reason is a fear. People fear the future because it’s unknown. The past, especially if it was right, is familiar and comfortable. They know everything and everyone, and constantly reliving the memories and comparing the present to the past brings them comfort and security.

Many times, people don’t even realize they are living in the past. There are five things you can consider when trying to determine whether or not you’re stuck in the past:

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  • Is there a time from your history that you find yourself thinking about more than anything else?

  • Does it feel like you will never get to that level of joy, happiness, or satisfaction again?

  • How satisfied are you with your current state and place in life?

  • Does the future scare you?

  • Do you ever get sad or regretful when thinking about the past?

Consider your answers to these questions carefully and be honest with yourself.

Obsessing over stuff from the past is problematic because it prevents you from being able to live in present moments.

It’s so much easier to live in the past than deal with current issues.

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For example, if you’re currently unemployed, it can be easier to think about the past job you had that was fantastic rather than do the work necessary to find a new one.

Whether you’re stuck in the past due to a fear of the future or a lack of ability to deal with current issues, it’s something you must address. It’s so crucial that you do not live in the past.

How Do You Stop Living in the Past and Move Forward?

Now you know why it’s important to let go of the past and live in the present, but how do you go about doing this?

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It’s a tricky question because it’s often easier said than done. To start and to try some of the following steps and see if you can get yourself on the right track:

Step Back and Look at Your Life From the Outside

Start by taking a step back from your life and try to look at it from an outside perspective. What does it look like? What patterns and habits do you see? Is anything no sitting right with you? Where are you headed?

This is an excellent way to figure out exactly what’s going on and how healthy your relationship is with the past.

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Spend some time with memories and look at them from this same perspective. This will help you understand how these memories are still affecting you today and how you might be able to best deal with them.

Take your time with this, and if you need to, write down every new insight and revelation you find.

Feel the Emotions

Next, take some time to examine the feelings and emotions you might have about what happened in the past.

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Don’t shy away from them. Don’t fear them. Some might be hard or painful, but you’re never going to get past them if you keep them buried.

Allow the feelings to wash over you. Do whatever you need to do to express and process them, and then let them go. You’d be surprised how many emotions you’re holding in when you really sit down and look at yourself.

Once you’ve allowed yourself to feel them and face them, you’ll be refreshed and much more capable of moving forward.

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This one is extremely important. True forgiveness can be one of the most challenging feats to achieve, especially when those who wronged you have failed to apologize or change their ways/behavior.

However, harboring unforgiveness and resentment is only hurting you. You may think you’re punishing the other person, but you’re not.

You’re never going to be able to fully move on from the past until you forgive anyone you may be holding a grudge against.

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Remember that whatever they may have done to you was their fault. It was their choice, and whatever let them, there was their problem. But, allowing the transgressions to continue affecting you is nobody’s fault but your own.

Accept Things

The next thing you need to do is accept things in the way that they are. Acknowledge what has that hurt you, what you cried over, and the things you loved.

You may also acknowledge traumatic events and painful relationships. Accept these things and accept the effect they have on your life.

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You can’t change anything that has taken place, so you must accept it all and move on from there. You’ll never truly be free of the past if you can’t accept it.

Determine What You Can Change

You may wish you could change things that happened in the past or individual decisions that you made. This is, obviously, impossible, so instead, place your focus on what you can change about the present and the future.

You can change your reactions, and you can change how you deal with the past. Alternatively, you can make changes to your current situation if you wish.

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True, you may not be able to change the loss of a great opportunity from a few years ago. Still, you can go after the opportunities that are in store for you today.

Deliberately Think About the Future

If the future is something you’re afraid of in any capacity, you need to make yourself face it.

Spend some time thinking specifically about what is in your future. Allow yourself to dream and fantasize. Figure out precisely what you want, and start thinking about how to achieve it.

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The more you choose to look at your future and take control of it, the less scary it will seem.

Learn to Love the Present

Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things you can do. Even if the present is so far from your ideal situation, learn to love what you can about it.

Sit down and count your blessings. Determine the good things you have and make sure you remind yourself of them daily.

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How do You Stop Letting Your Past Haunt You?

If your past is haunting you in ways that are debilitating to your life, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to stop letting it do this to you. It can take some time, so you mustn’t give up once you start the process. 

If something specific from your past is haunting you, the first thing you must do is eliminate any reminders of the person, event, situation, whatever it may be.

Throw away pictures, get rid of items that are related to it, etc. This way, you won’t be hit with memories regularly.

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If what’s haunting you is the memory of a person, avoid that person at all costs, even online.

Delete them, block them, do what you need to do. Holding on to them will only stop you from being able to live in the present.

Next, you need to make peace with the situation. Sometimes, this involves confronting the person and making peace or getting closure. Other times, this isn’t possible, and you’ll have to make peace within yourself over the situation.

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Lastly, you need to replace the thing that haunts you with something better. If it’s a failed relationship, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should jump into a brand new relationship right away.

Sometimes, the person can be replaced with a new friend or even a new hobby – something to occupy your mind and help you let go of the past and move on.

How Can I Get Present-Minded?

Once you’ve figured out how to let go of the past, there is still the matter of learning how to live in the present moment. Learning how to do this can take some time, but try starting with these tips:

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  • Have a calming, grounding morning routine.

  • Focus on one thing at a time. This will bring you into the moment without distraction.

  • Learn to find beauty and enjoyment in doing absolutely nothing for a short time every day.

  • Connect with nature. This will refresh and calm your mind.

  • Take breaks from technology and just take in the present moment. Technology is distracting and should only be used in moderation.