How to Let Go of the Past and Finally Move On

“Have you forgiven her?” I asked bluntly.

“I don’t know, man…” my friend responded, struggling to find an answer to what I thought was a pretty straightforward question.

I knew right then and there that he hadn’t.

“Look, if you really want to move on after all of this time, you need to forgive her for the pain she caused you, regardless of whether you think she deserves it.” I retorted, trying to help him see that he wasn’t letting himself move on. I pushed further: “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It’s about letting go of the energy someone cast upon you. You can’t carry around that heaviness forever, you know.”

His eyes developed a glisten in the fading evening light—and his voice grew soft.

“You’re so right, Chris. I don’t know if I’m ready, but I need to find a way.”

I reached across the table and grabbed the top of his hand.

“Give yourself permission to do it. It’s the only way.”

He smiled and we clanked our glasses of wine, soaking in the final warmth of early autumn.

That was just a few months ago. And now, after years of struggling to move past a painful breakup, that same friend of mine has met someone new—and they’re completely smitten with one another.

That’s the power of healing. That’s the power of forgiveness. That’s the power of letting go. And that same power is available to you as well.

Below, I share five simple steps to transcend the idea that moving on is difficult. Because you deserve peace. You deserve to live in the now. You deserve to let go.


1. Give yourself permission to let go.

When it comes to matters of the past—and of the heart—there’s really only one way to let go. And that’s to give yourself permission to do it. Yes, it’s really that simple. If you want to let go, just don’t hold on any longer. Stop clinging to the pain. Refuse to let it have dominion over you.

Michael A. Singer touches on this in his best-selling book, The Untethered Soul:

There is a law you will learn very early in the game because it is an unavoidable truth. You will learn it early, but you will fall many times while trying to adhere to it. The law is very straightforward: When your stuff gets hit, let go right then because it will be harder later. It won’t be easier if you explore it or play with it, hoping to take the edge off. It won’t be easier to think about it, talk about it, or try to release only part of it at a time. If you want to be free to the core of your being, you must let go right away because it will not be easier later.

Cold turkey is the only way to go. Make the decision to let go and just do it. Clear away all of those things you know you have been allowing to hold you back for far too long. There is no big ceremony. There is no blowout fight. There is no goodbye grace period. There is the purge and then the peace that follows—until another disturbance arises. At which point you let it pass through yet again. This is the elemental emotional and spiritual practice of life. And it all starts with a commitment to yourself to just do it—and a vow to not make any more excuses.


2. Say thank you (next).

The two most powerful words you can ever utter out loud are “thank you.” Honoring the role that your past has played in shaping who you have become brings you closer to a sacred truth: Every touch, every sight, every experience—it all had a purpose. When you pay tribute to that fundamental law of life, you shift your mind and you create more happiness. And research shows that gratitude can actually change your brain. Now that’s pretty damn cool.

It’s like taking what’s happened and bringing it in for a huge hug—an embrace of what’s happened and what’s to come. When you stop resisting the way things are, you reduce the friction of energy trying to move through you, and by proxy decrease pain and encourage more happiness. It’s truly the only way to never be unhappy again.

And it all starts with saying, “thank you.”


3. Forgive them. Forgive yourself, too.

Forgiveness is the fundamental act of wiping your energetic and emotional slate clean no matter what someone may have said or done to hurt your feelings—or how you may feel they’ve wronged you; it’s the literal shedding of your emotional baggage. In this way, forgiveness is a bridge between fear and freedom, finally allowing you to liberate yourself from the past and move forward.

If you really want to let go and start fresh, forgiveness is the emotional eraser on your proverbial white board. And yes, you’re going to think it’s hard as hell. Part of why you may feel that way is because you just don’t want to let go of the past. Letting go means that you don’t get to be mad anymore. It means that people won’t feel sorry for you and you won’t get the attention and emotional pity you once received. Worst of all, you may think that forgiving invalidates the past.

The reality is that forgiveness cannot change what happened. Nothing can do that. But it does release you from its grasp. It grants you that freedom I talked about. And your emotional freedom is far too important to lease out to anyone—or anything—else.

If you’re struggling to forgive, try these exercises on for size.


4. Surround yourself with love.

As much as you may practice the simplicity of letting go, it can still be a long, winding road. And it can take its toll on you if you let it. But not if you surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart and who will mirror back your progress at you and encourage you along the way.

In the end, though, it all starts with you. Give yourself the same love that you would if you were the friend in the situation. After carrying a burden with you for far too long, a little self-compassion goes a long way in helping you to finally release the heaviness. Once and for all.


5. Remain open.

Burying. Avoiding. Numbing. Hiding. Lying. Acting out. What do all of these behaviors have in common? They stem from a closed heart. When you experience pain, one of your first reactions will likely be to avoid feeling it at all. And that’s only natural. Who on earth wants to experience pain? But the only way to not close yourself off is to allow the energy to pass through you. And sure enough, just like all of your thoughts and emotions, the pain will pass. But only if you do not attach onto it or cling to the heaviness.

Here’s another essential nugget of truth from Singer’s The Untethered Soul:

How you learn to stay open is up to you. The ultimate trick is to not close. If you don’t close, you will have learned to stay open. Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you’re willing to close your heart over it. When your heart starts to close, just say, ‘No, I’m not going to close. I’m going to relax. I’m going to let this situation take place and be there with it.’ Honor and respect the situation, and deal with it. By all means deal with it. Do the best you can. But deal with it with openness. Deal with it with excitement and enthusiasm. No matter what it is, just let it be the sport of the day.

And what a sport it is! A clear mind and open heart unlock the power of possibility. Never forget that.

What are some things you’ve struggled to let go of? How have you moved on? Tell me in the comments below—or Tweet me at @crackliffe.