By Allie Brickman
Don’t think about a red elephant. You can think about anything but a red elephant!
This blog is about letting go. But guess what? You’re probably thinking about a red elephant. When we want to let something go from our past we try to push it out of our thoughts as best we can. When it enters we get annoyed at ourselves for not having separated ourselves from it yet, and we assume letting go is a hopeless cause.
Just like with the red elephant example, telling yourself you have to move on and not think about something sometimes makes it difficult to shut it out. The key to letting go of the past- whether it be a relationship, an old self-defeating attitude, a friendship- is accepting that it was a part of your life and that it is allowed to enter your brain every now and then. It’s like physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you push these thoughts out of your mind with x amount of force, they’re likely to push back with that same force. Once you allow the thoughts and memories to flow through your mind…enter, hang out for a bit, then leave….you’ll find they won’t force their way in quite as strongly over time.
This would be easy if the thoughts weren’t so painful when they entered. The reason we try to push these thoughts out of our minds with such vigor in the first place is because there are likely attached to some negative feelings. Perhaps regret over a past action, pain from broken trust, sadness over how things played out…all of these things feel pretty crappy, and the intensity of these feelings makes it difficult for us to let go of the past to the extent we’d like and to allow the memories to flow through us without fighting to rid ourselves of them.
It’s how we deal with these negative emotions that will allow us to more easily let the past run through our minds, then exit, without allowing ourselves to stew in them. Constantly saying to ourselves, “Why did this happen? Why me? I didn’t deserve this” is not going to be helpful, although all of us think this way at times. We have to develop something called “Unconditional Life Acceptance” where we accept that life is not going to be fair and that shit happens, as much as it stinks (no pun intended). Once we stop fighting the fact that something happened, we can embrace the past for what it was and focus on living life in the present. Additionally, constantly telling yourself: “I was so stupid, why did I do it the way I did? If only I…” is not allowing yourself to be human. We learn from our past and we rarely get things right the first time (tons of personal experience figuring that one out).
So if you want to be able to let go of the past you need to 1) Accept that things happened the way they did/remember life is not fair and we are not perfect. This will help the memories of the past be less painful. And 2) Once memories of the past enter your mind, do not fight them or yourself- allow them to flow in and out without beating yourself up for thinking about them, or for what occurred in those memories.
These two steps are not easy, but if you work on them, letting go of the past can absolutely become a part of your future. And look! You’ve probably stopped thinking about that red elephant somewhere throughout this blog…because you stopped telling yourself not to, and you let your thoughts be.
If you’d like some guidance in working through these steps in the process of letting go of the past and fully experiencing the present, feel free to contact me at http://www.mytherapist.info/allie/.