How 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.

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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