The past two years have brought with them so many surprising lessons, but one truth that has been paradoxically reaffirmed throughout the monotony of lockdown is this: change is the only constant. Even when the conditions appear the same, every day we’ll be presented with a new gift or challenge… the emotional issues that took centre-stage pre-pandemic will still rear their heads. One skill that will help us all deal with the challenges of day-to-day life is the ability to let go – to accept the impermanence of everything, and look forward to the future rather than focus on what we might have lost.
So – how do we put a situation behind us? Is there an art to letting something (or someone) go? As far as we can tell, not exactly, but there are steps you can take to make the process of moving on a little easier.
Living in denial about the situation you’re trying to let go of is a step in the wrong direction, so when painful feelings arise, allow yourself to feel them. If you view it as a process of purgation, you’ll feel some catharsis in the release of the negative emotions surrounding a situation, with the understanding that you’re working towards understanding and releasing the situation.
Having said that, wallowing is never wise, so although negative emotions are natural and at times essential, focusing on the positive is ultimately what you need to be working towards. Pay attention to your internal monologue, and rather than allowing negative thought patterns to repeat in your mind, flip the narrative to be more positive and hopeful. Choosing a positive mantra such as “I am on the right path” will help rewire the neural pathways in your brain, and will allow you to develop a more positive mindset which will allow you to better notice and embrace expansive opportunities. Alternatively, ruminating over the loss you feel is likely to encourage you to fall into a pessimistic headspace, one that limits and deters future opportunities.
If the situation you hope to let go of involves another person, it’s understandable to desire some kind of resolution on their part to help you let the situation go. Unfortunately, this kind of resolution might never come, so it makes sense to accept that forgiveness is an inside job. You don’t need to attempt to convince yourself that the other person isn’t responsible for the situation, but really letting go involves allowing yourself the gift of forgiveness. Rather than assuming victim status, view this as an empowering challenge: you are leaving the situation (and those involved) behind, and moving on with positivity and grace, on your own terms.
That being said, although the ultimate work has got to come from within, talking about what you’re going through with people you love can help you understand and process your feelings. The old adage “a problem shared is a problem halved” remains true, and sharing your thoughts with someone who supports you can help you achieve clarity, perspective and – in time – space. It’s important to be cognizant to who you’re talking to about your issues, what their response says about their own emotional headspace, and how talking to them makes you feel. It might be wise to check in with your confidant about whether they have emotional capacity to hold space for your issue, and if they do, respect their advice, but allow your intuition to guide you. If you find talking to someone about the issue isn’t helping, it’s understandable (and sensible) to tell them that you’d rather focus on another topic for a while.
Processing a major life adjustment is likely to leave you feeling uniquely fragile and susceptible to the energy of other people, so pay attention to the way people make you feel, and spend time with the people who make you feel good about yourself. When you’re feeling positive within yourself, envisaging a future that’s brighter than the past you’re trying to let go of can become a whole lot easier.
Our brain really does only have a limited amount of space, so letting something go might require taking something else on. Finding a new book/ hobby/ challenge to focus on is an easy, effective and healthy way to let a situation that’s been occupying your mind fall down on your list of mental priorities. The most effective distractions will be those that allow you to access flow state (you can read about achieving flow state in our article here), and might even involve helping someone else move through a difficult situation of their own. Distracting yourself from the situation you’re trying to let go of also involves muting the past situation where you can. While talking about your feelings can help, raking over details of the situation (including social media accounts associated with it) won’t, so if you can mute the content that might remind you of the situation/ person/ place you’re trying to leave behind you, do… you’ll feel better for it.
If you’ve been through an emotionally taxing situation, it’s natural for that to take centre stage in your mind. Especially during lockdown, when there are few distractions, it’s very easy to find yourself focusing on the past: overthinking and ruminating on how the situation played out. Rather than punishing yourself for thinking about the situation you want to let go of, show yourself compassion: acknowledge the challenge, and when the painful feelings and thoughts arise, treat yourself the way you would treat a friend. This self compassion can take many different forms, but one of the most impactful acts of self compassion you can take is to set and honour your own boundaries. Be vocal about the fact that you’re going through a challenging time, clear about what you need, and gentle on yourself and the world you interact with. Practicing self compassion isn’t about being selfish… in fact, when we’re being kind to ourselves, we engage in every situation with more kindness, and the energy we project is reflected back to us.
While you might not be able to feel actively free from the past at first, by engaging with the world in a way that reflects what you hope to experience in your future, you’ll begin to believe that the past is something you’re happy to part with.
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