How To Stop Living In The Past With These 7 Techniques

We have to learn from the past and try to live in the present moment. All too often we find it hard to stop living in the past. We can get stuck reliving certain negative or positive moments of our lives. It becomes a problem when we start obsessing and dwelling on the past instead of using it as a tool to better ourselves.

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” 
― Søren Kierkegaard

Our past helps to define us, it shapes who we become. When we use our previous experiences as a tool for reflection it can teach us what not to do or how not to behave. We can look back at events and decisions in our lives and learn from them. We can use our personal history to better ourselves and our circumstances.

Why Do People Live In The Past?

Living in the past is so easy to do, it’s ours so it’s very familiar and comfortable to us, living there can come very naturally. When we focus on the past we escape our reality and that’s convenient if we aren’t having a good time in the present moment.

We also romanticize our past experiences and relationships, why we do this I have no clue, but we do. I often find that when I’m doing something I’m not particularly enjoying I can go back into my past and fantasize about how things used to be ( It usually starts positively but ends up going sideways).

Like that time I won five hundred bucks on a scratch card and spent it on crap……………..I should of put it into some kind of savings plan or a retirement fund. Maybe I should of bought bitcoin with it? IM A FAILURE!

The same thing happens when I feel depressed or sad. I will reinforce this feeling by reliving an event that resonates with how I feel in the present moment. (If I feel like I have made a bad decision today I will go back into my past and relive similar bad decisions I’ve made before.) Many people struggle to stop themselves from reliving the past and move on because of this kind of “present moment escaping” behavior.

People live in the past because it can be a comfortable and familiar place to be. Life is hard and we use our history as an escape. The thing we need to ask ourselves is this. Does living in the past help me or hinder me?

I believe that you can find positivity and growth in visiting your past experiences, a quick visit though not a weekend away at some sea side cottage.

If you are thinking about your life in the past and now making positive changes to your present, it can be a welcome tool.

If your past causes you to become upset, depressed and angry then it’s not serving you in a positive way. Your’re probably overstaying your welcome and you might want to learn how to stop worrying about the past and focus on living in the present moment.

How To Forget The Past And Move On

There is no magical button you can press to instantly stop looking back. However, there are a few techniques you can practice to keep you from escaping to the “good old days”

1. Make the present your new home

How do we stop reminiscing? Firstly, try and bring yourself back to the present moment. I know this sounds like a simple answer to a complex problem and it is. Being present means you are focused on your life and what is happening in this moment. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to keep yourself in the present moment.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” 
― Amit Ray,

What I like to do when I catch myself reliving an old memory is to use that as a signal to bring myself back to my reality. In this way the action of dwelling on the past actually acts as a mechanism to propel me back into the present moment.

How do you bring yourself to the present?

To bring yourself to the present you simply have to focus on your breath. Once you are focused on your breath and you can feel yourself breathing you are there. Don’t let thoughts come into your mind, when they do you simply and gently let them go and come back to your breath.

When you are busy doing something like driving you will focus on the task. You bring your attention to everything you are doing. The feeling of the pedal under your foot or the wheel in your hands. When your mind wanders you simply and gently bring it back to your task.

2. Take time to process and express your past

We all have certain memories good or bad that have the power to hold us back in life. It is important that you identify which past events are the most prominent. Once you are aware of which memories you often dwell on you can take action and work through them.

You have to explore and process these events by expressing how you feel about them. Expressing how you feel about the past will help you to understand and accept it for what it is.

Here are some options you could use to express your feelings about the past:

  • Talk with a therapist about it. I have found amazing benefits when talking to someone that is not connected to anyone I know.
  • If you are strapped for cash you could talk to a good friend. Make sure you can trust this person before you spill your beans.
  • Write down your past in a journal. At the end of the day you could take note of all the past memories that have come up for you. Write them down and read it back to yourself, this helps me to explore the reasons I think about them in the first place.

There is a lot of power in expressing your feelings about your past, whether it’s to a person or on paper. When you take action in letting out your thoughts you can explore them in a healthy way.

3. Make peace with your history

Making peace with your past requires you to let go of the experiences that hurt you or made you happy. These experiences have shaped and molded you into who you are today, don’t forget that.

There’s no point in trying to forget the past. You can’t make your past disappear either. At some point you are going to have to make peace with it and accept that your past will always be there.

If something in your life triggers a past memory of pain you have to accept that it is there. Gently allow that experience to fade away as you bring yourself back to the present. Just know that every past event has value in it, extract the value or lesson, make peace and let the rest disappear.

4. You can’t change it

The past cannot be changed, no matter how much we would like to change it, we can’t. A lot of my past experiences are filled with regret. Regretting something I did, didn’t do or should’ve done. When I focus on the past in a regretful way I know, that I secretly want to change it.

Simply realizing that I want to change it helps me to understand that I cannot change it, no matter what I try. If you find yourself regretting your experiences you might have to stop and tell yourself that it can’t be changed. When you accept that you can’t change the past you wont get stuck thinking about it. Your thoughts will dissolve when you allow yourself to accept the obvious.

5. But you can change this…

We know that we can’t change the past but we can change our present. When we learn from our painful events in life we can implement those lessons in the here and now. Our pasts are filled with valuable life lessons that we can access at anytime.

I used to regret and want to change the way I dealt with my past relationships all the time. When I learnt to process and express these past events I was able to learn from them instead of dwell on them. I make much better decisions now that I have learnt to stay in the moment.

Learning to take responsibility for my actions and not play the victim has dramatically changed the way I treat other people. I have overcome the need to always be right and have learned to start listening more.

The past doesn’t make me feel bad about who I am anymore. I have taken specific steps to work on myself as a person. I am no longer the person I was before, people CAN change.

6. Forgive to forget

Sometimes the simple act of forgiving someone or something for the pain they caused you is enough to set yourself free of that past memory. Forgiveness is a tricky thing to deal with, but it is powerful and transformative in dealing with past pains and trauma.

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future”
-Bernard Meltzer

Forgiveness is for YOU, it’s an internal process that takes a bit of time and strength. When you are able to forgive you will become self empowered and have the will to stop focusing on the negative aspects of the past and move forward in a positive way.

7. Practice gratitude

Practicing gratitude for what you have can be extremely powerful, it puts things into perspective. When you catch yourself thinking about the good old day’s take a step back, think about what you have in your life right now.

If you lost your house a year ago it might be hard to practice gratitude, especially if you are living in a one bedroom apartment. It’s important though to find something to be grateful for in that moment.

There is always something to be grateful for in life no matter how bad your situation might seem. I am often grateful for the small things in life like my supportive friends and family. I am grateful for the fact that I have mobility and the motivation to look after my mind and body. Gratitude keeps me focused on whats important.


Jill Sherer Murray shares in this Ted X talk how to let go. If you have 10 minutes you should check it out.

In Conclusion

We all carry our past with us, we’ve all made mistakes but when we learn to live in the present, life becomes more pleasurable. The important thing is to use your past as a learning experience to make better choices in the here and now. We all have the potential to improve our lives, the decision rests with you.