10 Tips to Let Go of the Past So It Won’t Anchor You Down

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn.” ~Unknown

Let’s face it: we all dwell on the past from time to time. That’s okay—we’re human beings with emotions. As we live life and experience it to its fullest, it’s only natural that we sometimes cling onto what once was.

But when our desire to cling to the past affects our future, we begin a potentially unhealthy and seemingly endless battle with anchors that can hold us down and sink us.

For the past six years I’ve dreaded spring. While many would embrace the rain, the newborn green, and the post-winter renaissance, I’d plead with the powers that be to skip past March and April.

For me, spring is a brutal reminder of a series of unfortunate events. I experienced two subsequent losses that made me think I had to be miserable.

I carried this burden with me, letting it anchor me down, which made certain locations, dates, and possibilities “off limits.” I dreaded every arrival of spring, afraid that my emotions would spin out of control because of these anchors.

Sometimes they did, but it took me a while to realize it was because I let them.

Whether you’ve experienced a breakup, a tragic death, or a streak of bad luck, certain people, places, and things probably anchor you to the past. These tips may help you let go and move forward.

1. Anchor your ship.

Allow yourself time to cling to the anchors that bind you. Though it may seem like a strange piece of advice, this is the first step in the process of moving on. Perhaps set a half hour every night to “dwell,” then challenge yourself not to dwell before or after then.

2. Think it through.

When you begin to dwell on the past more than you feel is healthy, ask yourself a series of open-ended questions: Why does this memory matter to me? Does it serve me to restrict certain opportunities because they remind me of this memory?

What’s the worst that can happen if I’m faced with a brutal reminder of this memory? What can I do to live with this memory, accept it, and move forward? And of course, eliminate could/should/would from your vocabulary.

3. Stop rehashing.

In Lori’s and my recent post about giving advice that helps, we mentioned that people love to rehash their problem in hopes of gaining new insight or hearing what we want to hear. I can assure you, this won’t work.

In fact, you may feel even more compelled to dwell on the past. If you stop telling your story, you’ll realize more and more each day that you’re the one in control. You have the power to un-anchor yourself.

4. Toss  ’em in a box.

This is a crafty way of letting go of the anchor. Find any old shoebox and stuff it with memories you may have of whatever’s holding you down. For me, it was a few letters, a deck of cards, a toy soldier, and a necklace.

Shut the box and hide it until you’re ready to revisit it again with a different mindset. The key is to not allow yourself to hide it forever, but to get yourself to a place where you can achieve acceptance.

5. Put it into words.

You don’t have to be an eloquent writer to get your feelings out in a letter. Take a pen and jot (or even doodle) down everything you’ve ever wanted to say to your anchor-person (or if it’s situational, personify the memory).

Paper is tougher than you think, so don’t hold anything back. Now comes the hardest part: dispose of your letter. Bury it, shred it, or even burn it.  I thought this was clichéd advice until I actually tried it. It felt wonderful.

6. Realize who matters.

Take Dr. Seuss’s words to heart: “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Take this as an opportunity to discover who is really touching your life now.

Who’s truly there for you? How can you enjoy your shared connection with a person to your life now?  Try your hardest to forget about who once was there for you.

7. Reciprocate the effort.

Subsequently, be there for those who are there for you. This is a great step in building new and meaningful relationships to help focus on the present. Perhaps they’re anchored down, too. You can help each other. This is why reciprocated relationships are the only ones that truly work.

8. Find your thing.

Your anchor does not own you. It cannot dictate your actions, make you feel inferior, or restrict you from living the life you want without your consent.

You are your own person, every anatomical and emotional part of you. Find something unique, make it your own, and rise up. For me, rediscovering my rollerblading hobby and contributing to Tiny Buddha have helped.

9. Disconnect (or reconnect).

I use these terms interchangeably. By disconnecting from an anchor, you’re reconnecting with yourself.

Open up that anchor box you’ve kept hidden. Look at its contents with an accepting, not pessimistic or self-defeating attitude. Walk the streets you once walked and maybe you’ll notice a newly painted house or get the chance to pet a puppy along the way.

10. Make new memories.

Keep yourself busy with physical activity, join a club and meet like-minded people, meet someone who has no clue what you do for a living and why you do it, and just live as much as you can.

Every day, you have the opportunity to make new memories happen. This is a gift we often take for granted.

Remember, anchors don’t have to hold you  down. If you choose to let go, they can become slight road-bends in the endless highway of life.

Photo by AlicePopkorn

About Maelina Frattaroli

Maelina was born knowing she wanted to pursue writing. She believes most of life’s complexities can be cured through the written word; listening to Neil Diamond; and eating garlic-infused dishes. In her spare time, she writes poetry, hikes mountains, and wines-and-dines with good company.

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  • Fave part about this is that you rocked a Dr. Seuss quote. Awesome, helpful stuff, thanks Maelina 🙂

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  • ogbole

    that was awesome. I enjoyed it. Am defitely going key in on the tips.

  • Erin

    Thanks for this!

  • Comando21

    Excellent article. Congrats.
    Without knowing it just one week ago I followed your tip #5. It was an awesome experience and I really recommend it for those who really want to let someone go. Nonetheless I’m not sure I agree with your tipo #4. I havent done it yet, but I think the best thing we can do with all those memories is to burn it too. We’ll probably be ready to revisit it again in some time (might be days, months, years) but I think it will always bring us some sadness because it was a relationship that did not end as we wanted to

  • lindsay

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  • thanks for sharing this to us.this is a very useful tips and information. nice site.

  • Jninny

    Being one post breakup….I loved this….it made perfect sense and I am going to do it……thank you

  • okimat

    Great advice , I definitely plan to work through your steps  , thanks so much for sharing .

  • Deep within all beings is a kind of spark that lights and warms our lives. It’s been called by many names in many different traditions. In the Buddhist tradition it’s known as “Buddha nature”– which is often described in terms of three qualities: boundless wisdom, infinite capability, and immeasurable loving-kindness and compassion.
    One of the core teachings of Buddhism is that we all possess this nature. You may think that you’re an accountant, an executive, a teacher, a student, a parent, a child — and indeed, on a mundane, every-day level, you are. But underneath a particular identity and all the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may attach to it, what you are is the ever-evolving potential of a being who is capable not only of transcending suffering but of leading all other creatures out of darkness and pain, as well.
    So all you really have to do in order to open your heart and your mind is to remember your Buddha nature!

  • michjuicys .

    This is a fantastic article that recommended things I’d never even considered. I do have a question though. Your article focuses mainly on what I assume are ‘bad/unhappy’ memories, do the same principles apply to letting go of happy memories? I know that sounds strange, maybe ‘letting go’ isn’t the right term, but in my case, I feel I am bogged down by all my happy memories and left wandering why life isn’t as good anymore…

    Needless to say, I’m a pessimist, but I’m trying real hard to shake that. I just feel like I’m constantly trying to rewrite the past, rather than creating the future. So, my question is, do these same 10 principles apply, or are there other suggestions?

  • Guest

    Great tips! Tip #3 and 10 spoke out to me. I need to stop rehashing my stories about toxic friends since they are history! I think I can’t help it sometimes because although I cut them out, they keep coming back to say or do nasty things. Tip #10 is something I’ve been making an effort to do more. During the period where I was dealing with toxic friends, I forgot to live my life as my time and energy were poured onto them. With them aside, I’m enjoying every aspect of my life and I’m grateful for it!

  • Rita

    This does not help me, I don’t know how to or every let go of hurt and anger

  • BuieJ

    The reason being, is because u hate yourself for what reason im not sure. Love you because you have all the control. An once done so all the angry an hate you have will turn in to forgiveness.#FACT

  • Deepa Shivappa

    Thank you so much. I will work on letting go of hurt and anger. I need to fix my life, I need to get back to being my old self. I am a simple person with simple desires. Your advice is good. I will work on myself. Thank you.

  • Ethereal

    Hi there, I don’t think it’s strange to try letting go of happy memories too. I’m struggling to let go of a relationship that ended, and half a year later still find it too painful to think about the joyful memories. Because then I’ll get nostalgic and remember the heartbreak and logically my brain would ask me the impossible question, “if it were so wonderful why did it end so badly?” For me, it’s very hard to dwell on happy associations when reason tells me I need to detach to move on. I wish I was better at this.

  • Lovemylife93

    Thanks so much for this article!!!! Helps a ton!!!!!! Very well written!!

  • Jensen

    Brought up a lot of forgotten raw emotions. So it seems even forgotten memories are anchors. Maybe should have read this in the PM instead of just before getting to work.

  • Atala

    Thank you

  • Lima Beans

    I don’t know myself at all. Because everyone decides there life for me and that makes me angry cause I never learned to be myself. All I know is working on becoming a fashion desginer. but otherwise I’m angry that my choices were taking away harm to the point I don’t even know if I’m making the right choice. I’m constantly compared to people. I don’t even know me. I don’t know how to bring love to my life or self compassion.