Past hurts and old injustices have a way of keeping us stuck in our tracks, unable to move forward or experience joy. Here are five action steps you can take, to begin righting the wrongs of your past.
1. Anchor yourself in the future
It’s hard to let go of the past without a deliberate and positive focus on the future. Something to re-invest all that effort in, which you’ve been spending on negativity. How will you re-purpose all the mental energy, once you’ve stopped hating your ex, re-hashing fights with your brother, or being humiliated by your boss?
DO: Choose something positive that is worth your efforts, and invest in it. Pick a visible reminder of it, and place it somewhere prominent in your field of vision each day.
2. Discard the symbols
Ruthless discard can be a necessary path forward in your life, especially when it comes to physical reminders of hurt. Things like old love letters, photos of ex-partners, little keepsakes. At times, the task may be insurmountable, so move in stages. Put memorabilia into a box, put the box at the bottom of a cupboard. One day it will mean less, and you’ll be ready to relinquish it.
DO: Look around your own space with a critical eye. It says a lot about how open you are to change and rebuilding.
We’re talking about making amends. Apologising. Acknowledging, being authentic in the problem. The stuff that chews on the sleep wires in your brain, that sit heavy in your gut, that you wish would just go away. It generally involves reaching out to someone, in person or in writing, and expressing your remorse for something you’ve said or done. A statement of remorse includes three essential pieces – a clear articulation of the harm you caused, validation or acceptance of that persons’ feelings towards you, and an authentic expression of remorse.
DO: Reflect honestly on any occasions of hurt you may have caused and apologise.
4. Change your narrative
When it comes down to it, we are our story. The story we tell ourselves about the events in our lives, and the role we play in them. Note these are not always synonymous with the truth; rather our own dialogue is often skewed to showcase us as we’d like to be seen, whether that be hero, villain or victim. With time, and a more mature or broad perspective, it can help to re-write these events in order to change the way we feel about them. Not to change the facts, but to change the narrative we created around it.
DO: Revisit a moment in your life, which you’d like to let go of the pain you still carry. Re-write the moment, taking diligent steps to be truthful and empathetic to your role in it.
5. Be present – now
Nothing—not one single technique or inner evolution—is as powerful an antidote to the past as the capacity to be present in the here and now. Whilst our natural tendency is to let our emotions either pull us back to the past or launch us frighteningly into the future, there is one technique through which you can improve your ability to be present – mindfulness. A practice in which you document (in a non-judgmental way) the thoughts and feelings occurring at any given moment.
Mindfulness is an acquired skill. Its stress-reduction benefits are well documented and there are many positive emotional and spiritual side effects. And it still has a bonus: As your skill at mindfulness increases, you will, by definition, get past the past.
DO: Create space to write down your thoughts, as you move through your day; focus on instances where your feelings or response to an issue is positive. Celebrate wins by reinforcing them in writing them down.
Connection is one of the attributes that is explored in the ELEVEN executive leadership development program.