The art of letting go: 13 techniques to move on from the past

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Are you struggling to let go of the past? Perhaps no matter how hard you try, you can’t move past it?

It’s understandable. Traumatic events and experiences can bring about pain, and that’s not easy to shake off.

Though it may be difficult, it is possible to move on.

In this article, we’ll be going through the following techniques to help you move on from the past.

1) Accept the past

We can’t move on without first accepting our past.

You may find yourself replaying certain events in your head. Or reliving and questioning your experiences.

Perhaps you ask yourself – ‘What if things had played out differently?’ ‘What if I had never messed up?’ You may even dream of that alternative life where everything went smooth sailing.

But that’s what makes it hard to move on.

Unfortunately, we can’t change what happened in the past. We’re not able to hop into a time machine and go back to a specific point in time, altering our history.

Since we can’t do that, the only thing we can do is accept our past for what it is.

Accepting it will allow you to take a step in the right direction towards letting go.

2) Let your emotions out

Let’s be clear here. It’s ok to feel how you’re feeling – anger, sadness, hatred, pain. Whatever your feelings are, acknowledge them.

It’s better to let those emotions out rather than bottle them up. Trying to block out or avoid our pain will only delay the healing process and make it harder to move on.

So, allow those emotions to wash over you and face them head-on. Your feelings are valid.

3) Cut off the source of your pain

Another thing that can delay the healing process is keeping in touch with the source of your pain.

If that person is still a part of your life, they might be a constant reminder of your past.

For example: If you went through a painful breakup, you may find yourself reminiscing about the good times you had together and cannot move on from that.

If that’s the case, it helps to cut off all contact with that person, at least until you can move past it.

That means going cold turkey. Try not to check that person’s social media platforms, text or talk to them for a while to give yourself time to heal.

4) Forgive yourself and those who hurt you

Another part of the healing process is forgiving yourself and those that hurt you.

While it’s ok to feel pain and sadness, it doesn’t help to hold onto those emotions. Neither does clinging to bitterness and resentment.

Yours or their actions may be unjustifiable or difficult to forgive. But forgive them, or yourself anyway.

You owe it to yourself to accept past events and let go of that pain. Choosing to forgive rather than hold onto those negative emotions will help you do that.

5) Be kind to yourself

It’s funny how our mind works. We can say such mean things to ourselves without even realizing it. It’s almost like we’re bullies of our own minds, the way we criticize ourselves.

Let’s say that someone was constantly bullying and saying mean things to you. It would probably affect your mental health and how you see yourself.

Well, that’s what happens when we are overly critical of ourselves on a day-to-day basis.

What I’m trying to say is that beating yourself down repeatedly doesn’t help, so show yourself some compassion instead.

For instance, you might blame yourself for what happened or convince yourself you’re a terrible person.

Well, push those critical thoughts to one side. Instead, tell yourself that you’re human and that making mistakes is a part of life. You’re not a terrible person. You have many great qualities about you.

Also, your mistakes don’t define who you are. You will learn and grow from them.

Just imagine what you’d want a close friend to tell you. This approach can help you be kind to yourself when you catch yourself being critical.

6) Challenge your negative thoughts

Another approach that can help you combat negative and painful thoughts is by challenging them.

Let me ask you this. When you have negative thoughts about yourself, do you question them or accept them as fact?

If you believe them to be true, then stop right there.

It’s time for you to stop believing those thoughts. All they do is hold you back and halt the process of letting go and moving on.

I ask you to challenge them instead.

Example: Negative thought – ‘I don’t deserve love.’

Challenging that thought – ‘That’s not true. I do deserve love. I’m a good, kind person with a lot to offer.’

Constantly monitor the thoughts that enter your head, and challenge any negative ones that come your way.

7) Set goals for yourself

Now, I’ll move on to techniques to help you focus on the present and look onward towards the future.

Setting goals for yourself helps you think about the present and how you want your future to be.

What do you hope to get out of life? What do you want to achieve?

Perhaps you’d like to travel more, meet new people, or be in a good place mentally.

Well, ask yourself what you can do to reach that goal. This is where you can start making a plan and break your goals into sizeable chunks.

Setting goals is a great way to give yourself things to work towards and live in the present moment.

8) Practice mindfulness techniques

Another technique to help you focus on the present is by practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness techniques like meditation or yoga can help you shut off past thoughts by clearing your mind.

So, when you find yourself haunted by the past, practice mindfulness to help bring you back into the present moment.

Doing this can also help you gain more control and awareness over your thoughts.

9) Try new hobbies and activities

One reason you might find it hard to move on is that you’re not able to move past the negative experiences you’ve had.

To null out those bad experiences, it helps to create new, positive ones.

One way to do that is by trying new hobbies and activities.

You might stumble across something you enjoy – this can help relieve your pain and make you feel better.

Another benefit of trying new activities is meeting new people and perhaps even making new friends.

Establishing friendships is another way to create positive experiences. The more positive experiences you have and positive emotions you feel, the easier it will be to let go of the past in time.

10) Spend time with your loved ones

Spending time with your loved ones is another way to create positive experiences – this can further help cancel out the negative experiences of the past.

It’s best to spend time with people who will cheer you up and make you laugh. That way, it can help take your mind off of things.

You may also want to speak to them about what you’re going through if you’re comfortable doing so. Going through pain alone is a burden, so sharing your feelings with someone can take some of that weight off.

11) Remind yourself of the good things in your life

When clouded by thoughts of our past and the negative experiences that follow it, it’s easy to lose sight of how good we have it.

Take a moment to remind yourself of the good things in your life.

What are you grateful for? Family? Friends? Enough money to live comfortably? Write it down if possible.

Do this consistently, and it can help you think more positively, alongside challenging your thoughts and being kind to yourself.

12) Look after yourself

Being buried under our emotional pain not only stops us from letting go. We can also neglect to look after ourselves. That’s when our mental and physical health slips, and we fall deeper into a pit of despair and sorrow.

Remember – your mental and physical health is important, so make it a priority to be healthy and happy. If you’re not quite there yet and that’s not one of your goals, put it on the list.

Do whatever you can to help you feel better.

Spend time with people you care about. Have a day out. Treat yourself to a nice, long soak in the bath. Be compassionate and kind to yourself.

Exercise helps too. Exercising, even for as little as 30 minutes a day can help boost your mood. So, take a stroll or jog in the park and let those feel-good endorphins hit you.

13) Speak to a therapist

If nothing seems to help and your pain affects every aspect of your life, it may be worth speaking to a therapist.

Therapy is a safe space to talk about your past without judgement. You may also find it easier to speak with a stranger, rather than someone you’re close to, about how your past affects you.

It can help you understand your feelings and guide you in finding practical solutions to help you move on.

Final thoughts

Moving on from the past is no cakewalk. It takes time.

It’s ok to feel sad, upset or angry. Your feelings are valid and understandable.

Just remember to treat yourself with compassion, accept the past and focus on the present moment.

Work towards creating positive experiences to counteract those negative ones and look after your mental and physical health.

Work on these techniques, and in time, letting go of the past will get easier.

Natalya Edwards

Natalya Edwards is a content writer with experience writing content on diverse topics, from entertainment and music to personal development and short stories. When she’s not typing away at the keyboard, she enjoys gaming, reading and watching Korean dramas.

If you and your partner survive these 7 conflicts, your relationship is rock solid

20 relationship red flags in a guy you shouldn’t ignore