7 Ways to Break Free from the Past

Whether trying to break the hold of an old habit, rebound from a dead relationship, or survive a job loss, making a clean start can be a difficult, but freeing, experience.  Maybe, you want to limit drinking to the weekends, implement an exercise routine, or stop obsessing over your past so you can focus on the now. Here are seven tips to rip free of the iron grip of thoughts and habits trapping you in misery and dysfunction.

  1. Stop beating yourself up about past mistakes. Keep the lesson, but ditch the paralyzing regret and guilt. End the rotation of negative thoughts and self-defeating criticisms by listening to your inner voice, and interrupting the negative loop right when it arises. Reverse the what-ifs and should-haves by thinking about the present moment.  We don’t get do-overs in Life, but we can start being the person we wish we had been. Today: Seize the opportunity to start responding to the events occurring now in a way that feels authentic. Why waste today’s opportunities by obsessing over missed chances that are long gone? In the now we are free to be the best version of who we are capable of being and that is empowering. Punishing ourselves over past actions we no longer have control over robs us of our personal power, motivation, confidence and hope.
  1. Clear out the clutter. Physical clutter also clouds our focus and attention. Letting go of clothes and appliances we don’t use, clearing out old files, and shredding unneeded paperwork helps us to let go of past worries and discouraging thoughts that take up precious space in our minds. When you clean out your physical space there is less to mentally and emotionally distract you. Instead of feeling emotionally claustrophobic, boxed in by old apprehensions and fears, you have room to move and breathe. Want to amplify the good vibes you’re feeling? Give the stuff you’ve been hoarding to a local shelter or non-profit that accepts donations. Your old coat might save an elderly man or woman from a winter of being chilled to the bone, or an old pair of sneakers could allow a homeless teenager the chance to participate in his high school gym class.
  1. Leave the past in the past. Be aware of this moment, since it is the only one that really exists. You can’t go back into the past, or flash forward to the future; you can only live this exact moment. So do it. Visualize the disappointment that has you trapped as a lesson that is building you into a stronger person, not as a failure that has broken you down. Change your perception. Where you once saw a tragic end, envision a thrilling new beginning.
  1. Do one thing at a time. The desire to transform our body, our health, our career, or our relationships, can be so compelling that we try and overhaul all our outdated habits at once. It took a while to get into the routines you have now, it’s going to take some time and effort to break free of them. Just as the caterpillar has to build a cocoon and then do its time before it comes out a moth, there are no short cuts. Start with one thing at a time; as you witness a small change in your life your confidence will grow.  You will feel empowered as you exert your will over your mind and body. Then add another, then a bigger change, a more daunting challenge.  If your goal is to lose weight and get more fit, start by switching out sodas for drinking water for a week or so. Once you got that handled, then add a weekly exercise. A month in, you got this, so kick up the work outs to 3 times a week. Two months later, you’re ready to cut fast food to twice a week, tops. Slow and steady wins with creating change because you won’t stick to something long-term if it’s too extreme and difficult out of the gate. You’ll get discouraged and give up. But you can focus when you’re only doing one thing at a time.
  1. Forgive yourself and others. I know what you’re thinking, but the first thing to realize is: Forgiveness isn’t being weak or letting anyone “get away” with treating you badly or doing you dirty. That’s because forgiveness isn’t even about them, it’s about you. Forgiveness is your gift to yourself; it’s setting yourself free. And just like you needed to cut the cord with forgiveness so you could fly away from those that hurt you, you need to unlock the iron shackles you put on your own wrists and ankles. Forgiving yourself is sometimes tougher than forgiving other people, but you won’t get very far into a fresh start shackled in chains.
  1. Set yourself up for success. We have all heard the saying, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. Turns out people keep repeating this glittery gem of wisdom because it’s true. Let’s revisit our healthy lifestyle example. You’re trying to look more fit and cut down on your chances of being wheelchair ridden in your old age. You want to have more energy and not grip your chest as if your heart is going to burst when you sprint from the parking lot to the office door because you’re running late. The key?  Stock your kitchen with healthy foods.  When your stomach starts to rumble you’re going to hit the fridge and eat what’s there, so fill it with easy to make, healthy ingredients and you’re half way to eating better. Take your lunch to work. You might feel like you’re a pimply faced, Calculus-despising teen again, but when you have an already prepped option you’ll find it a thousand times easier to pass on the group grabbing tacos or burgers.
  1. Replace an old habit with a new one. It can be easier to surrender an old pattern if you the void. Let’s say you want to cut down on your alcohol consumption so you decide to give up drinking during the week. It could be helpful to replace that beer or glass of wine you usually kick back with as you watch the news with a tasty chocolate banana smoothie. Stick a banana, some chocolate-flavored protein powder or raw cacao power, a spoonful or 2 of peanut butter, and there you have it, a tasty treat to sip on that will fill that void. Not feeling the choco-banana-peanut butter shake? Replace with something that tickles your taste buds, coconut pineapple (coconut water, fresh pineapple chunks and vanilla protein powder) or whatever pampers your palette. Anyone who says change is easy is lying or delusional. But when remaining trapped in the same demoralizing rut is more painful than doing something about it, you will be ready to do the work. And once you start you will hit little victories that will pump you with motivation, pride, confidence, all types of positive feelings you haven’t felt about yourself and your life for a long time. Then you’ll catch a wave where more days are good than bad. And you’ll ride that wave right into a more empowered and fulfilling life.  Hang ten!