As your friendly neighbourhood Life Coach, I am often asked how to "let go". How to let go of past hurt. Betrayal. Abandonment. Lack of love. Lack of courage. Lack of integrity when it counted. Regret. Poor choices. Appalling experiences. It's a jolly good question.
The Ghost Of Experiences Past can haunt our present and cloud our future. Rob us of joy in the now by applying a subtle fearful filter of "what if...". What if that happens again? What if I'm really not good enough? What if I can't fix it? What if this is all there is? What if things don't change? What if it was all my fault?
When we find it hard to let go it means we have too tight a grip on what is past. It means we are still pulling hard on the rope of the past, and while we do that, the past pulls back. It imperceptibly defines our present.
We may so want to let go of what happened before. Of course we do. Looking back and reliving something painful is clearly no fun. And yet, what happened, happened. It was real for us. So that lingering bad thing that blindsided us can quietly stalk our every current move.
From what I observe, when we have something big we need to let go of, we need to change our focus from wrestling unsuccessfully to let go, and instead decide to consciously and deliberately hold on. The reason it's so hard to let go is because it suggests a void. A vacuum. And as humans we are not great at stepping into wide-open spaces. We find them scary.
That's why we need to not look at letting go in isolation. It's so much easier to let go of something if we have something else to hold on to. A vision of a new career. A delicious new relationship. An energising plan for a new hobby. A training programme that creates the fitness and body we desire. A strategy for exiting the outgrown career. The blueprint for a new living space. We can fill the void with something exciting and compelling to hold on to, drawing our focus forwards.
I had a wonderful client, a strong and resilient cancer survivor. The cancer had been in remission for over three years, but yet it stalked her every waking moment. It had something to say about everything. From what she was choosing for breakfast to what her possible new career might be. It cast a shadow over every move and kept her tied to the worst time of her life. We had much work to do.
The day she came into my coaching room and said she had met a group of new people on a training course, and during the usual "go round the room, what's your name, who are you and why are you here" thing she didn't mention her prior illness. For once she didn't define herself in that way by her past. She spoke of her excitement for the course and its possible impact on her future career direction. She spoke as a well woman creating a new life and enthused about her possibilities. It was the first time in many, many years she had not defined herself in terms of her prior horror. She interacted with all her new contacts as a lawyer. A mother. A surfer. A smart, professional woman. She had an amazing few days. It was a real watershed moment, and I don't mind telling you we both shed a tear when she said how once she had Let Go of defining herself by the past horror, and held tight to that uplifting definition of herself, that she had so much more fun and connection as she grabbed hold of her new path in life.
The key here is to let go by finding something else to hold on to. You can start to let go of that appalling old relationship by holding on to the qualities you would like in a new one that is a much better fit.
You can let go of whining about your terrible job by holding on to some concerted job-seeking activities and updating your CV to make it the best it can possibly be.
You can let go of feeling like you are not enough when you compare yourself to others with more money/perfect family/great job by holding on to relishing the things you do have, which might be a great partnership or good health or connected friendships.
We will always be a product of our past and what has happened to us. The extent we let it define our present and future however is up to us and how committed we are to holding on to an alternative that uplifts us. You can start to gently let go of the past by finding something more compelling in your present or future to hold on to - starting today.