15 Ways to Stop Living in the Past

Even though the present is right in front of us, so many of us instead live with our focus either rooted in the past or planted in the future.

Living in the past can be a difficult temptation to overcome, particularly if there are hurts and wounds that still require healing.

But even if you have a complicated past that is difficult to forget, you are only borrowing time from yourself when you choose to take up residence in old hardships.

Living in the past makes you lose sight of the present, and prevents you from building a happy future.


So how can you break those habits and stop living in the past once and for all? As you can imagine, this is not something you can do cold turkey.

It takes time to give old hurts and situations the healing they need so that we can properly move on from them – otherwise, they just turn into unprocessed baggage that will wreak havoc later on.

Likewise, learning to embrace and enjoy the present can be a process as well if you’re not used to living in that state of mind. It will take time, but it is possible.

When you finally move past your history and learn how to enjoy life in the now, you’ll be glad you did. Here are 15 Ways to Stop Living in the past once and for all:


1- Examine Your Life

One of the first things you’ll need to do as you work toward no longer living in the past is to examine your life. People don’t live in the past for no reason.

There is something keeping you stuck on things that happened years or perhaps even decades ago, and you need to unpack it.

You need to look deeply at what is bothering you, at what is keeping you stuck in the past, and you need to bring it to the forefront temporarily so that you can begin the healing process, with the goal of moving forward.

don't live in the past

2- Acknowledge Your Emotions About the Past

As you examine your life and your past, emotions are likely to surface, and some of them will probably be unpleasant.

In order to stop living in the past, you need to acknowledge and own these emotions. You may be used to ignoring or denying them, and while this may stuff the negative feelings down temporarily, you are only hurting yourself in the long run.

Acknowledge your emotions and validate yourself for feeling them. Remember that whatever you are feeling is valid, even if it is confusing or doesn’t seem to make sense.

You have a right to your emotions, and now you are going to name them and own them so that you can process them and heal them.

3- Feel Your Pain and Heal

You may notice that thinking about your past causes you to feel angry, hurt, resentful, scared, ashamed, embarrassed, anxious, or any other uncomfortable emotion you can think of.

This is normal. You are working to bring healing to years of hurt and confusion, piled under more years of suppression and poor coping mechanisms.

Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you are feeling. Feel them in full. Take time with them. Pick them apart and unpack them.

While you are doing this, know that you are not alone, and do not burden yourself with guilt for feeling whatever emotions are coming to you at this moment.

4- Don’t Dwell on Negative Thoughts

If you notice any negative thoughts arising that draw attention to insecurities, insults, or negative ideas about yourself, get rid of those thoughts as quickly as possible.

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Do not believe the lies that others may have told about you, and do not internalize the lies that you may have believed about yourself.

Some of these lies may be that you are unworthy, or that you are not good enough, or that someone else is better than you.

These are lies, and they are not part of your healing process. Get rid of them, and do not let them in.

living in the past

5- Learn from Your Experiences

Once you have taken the time to acknowledge your past and to feel the emotions that have arisen, it is time to begin turning the tables, transforming tragedies into lessons that can help you as you move forward.

You have given the past its moment, it has had its spotlight and its chance to speak, and now it is your turn.

Think about the events you’ve endured that have made you stronger. Think about the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences.

Think about the qualities or skills you have acquired as you navigated the difficulties of your life.

Think about the person you have become, and know that your past, however traumatic it may have been, has led you to this point where you are now equipped to take control of your life.

If it helps you to write things down, jot down all that you have gained from overcoming the events of your past – the skills, the allies, the lessons, etc.

This will help you to remember who you are as you move forward.

6- Don’t Play the Victim

Though your past may contain moments and events where you fell victim to something tragic or traumatic, something that was unjust and beyond your control, remaining the victim will not benefit you.

You may have been the victim then, in that past situation, but you are in control now. You are in control of how you respond to the events of your life, and whether you use them to make you stronger, or whether you allow them to keep you stuck.

Acknowledge that you were once the victim, and that the treatment you endured was unfair and unwarranted. Then, remind yourself that you are no longer the victim today. Today, you are in control. Today you get to choose to stop living in the past.

7- Forgive Past Hurts

Part of closing the book on the past is forgiving those who have hurt you, whether or not they come to you with an apology.

Some of the people who have hurt you will realize what they have done and they will feel compelled to say they are sorry.

However, it is just as likely that this may never happen.

You may have been hurt by someone who has no idea of the impact their transgressions had on you, or who have no intention of making things right.

Their lack of willingness to see their own fault cannot stop you from moving on, and in order to move on truly and fully, you need to forgive.

Let go of the hurt that has been done to you and don’t allow it to burden you any longer. When you refuse forgiveness, believe it or not, you are actually burdening yourself more than you’re burdening the other person.

This is because you are the one who has to keep track of what they did to you, and you are the one who has to keep it close and remember to stay mad about it.

Their transgression becomes part of your identity, not theirs.

Think of how much lighter you will feel when you let it go.

Forgiving the person who hurt you doesn’t mean you have to be best friends. It simply means you are letting go of the hurt and allowing yourself to move on.

8- Don’t Wait for Closure

One reason some people find themselves living in the past is because they are waiting for closure from a situation that did not end the way they expected.

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Unfortunately, life is not governed by poetic justice, and situations don’t always get neatly wrapped and packaged with endings that make perfect sense.

Some situations are going to end awkwardly. You might have questions or doubts. You might play a memory over and over again in your mind trying to make sense of it.

The bottom line is that depending on the situation, if you are waiting for closure, you might be waiting a long time.

If your closure involves a conversation you feel you need to have with someone, and initiating that conversation is feasible, then do what it takes to make it happen.

Remember, however, that they are in control of their own response, and it may not play out the way you imagined.

But if your closure involves someone who has passed away or something that can no longer be amended or changed, it may be best to let it go.

Make your own closure by vowing not to let it affect you anymore because you’ve decided that’s what’s best for yourself.

Do what needs to be done, and put the past where it belongs: in the past.

9- Build Relationships

It is hard to keep living in the past when you have great things in front of you in the present.

Think about the relationships you would like to have in your life – whether that means finding a romantic partner, making more friends, or getting closer with family – and do the work to get those relationships where you want them.

Get out and meet people.

When you meet someone you connect with, whether it be a friend or a romantic interest, make the effort to advance that relationship.

Surround yourself with people who get you and who support you.

This is one of the best ways to stop living in the past, because having healthy relationships will anchor you to the present – and make you more excited about the future.

living in the past

10- Focus on Today

When you want to stop living in the past, think about what is in store for you today.

Where are you going to work? What plans do you have this evening? What part of today are you most excited about?

If you’re having trouble answering these questions (or being excited about the answers), maybe this is the wake-up call you need to make some changes and start building a life you love and that you can embrace more wholeheartedly.

Think of something you can do today or this week that is easy for you to get excited about – and then do what it takes to make it happen.

Fill your present with things that keep your mind focused on the now, and not on the past.

11- Find Work You Love

When you hate your job or are bored at work, and you’re going through most of your day on autopilot, this perpetuates living in the past because you have too much time to be stuck in your head, and too few reasons to embrace the present.

Take whatever steps you need to take to find a job or career that you enjoy and that challenges you.

You want to be focused and excited about your work, otherwise, your thoughts will naturally start drifting to the past.

12- Keep Improving Yourself

Nothing will keep your head out of the past like taking steps to improve yourself in the present to reach the goals you’ve set for the future.

Reflect on your ideal version of yourself:

What does that person look like?

Where do they work?

How do they dress?

What is their personality like?

What do their friends say about them?

What are the primary relationships in their life?

If you’re noticing a gap between the person you just envisioned and the person you are right now, that’s normal!

That’s where most of us are.

But now your job is to think about what you can do to get closer to being the person you’d like to become, and identify the steps you can take to get there.

It’s almost impossible to keep living in the past when you’re set on self-improvement and personal growth.

13- Conquer Addictions

If you have any addictions that are holding you back, it’s time to conquer them.

This doesn’t have to mean alcohol, gambling, or drugs – though those are definitely addictions you’ll want to get under control if they apply to you.

This could also mean an addiction to social media, or an addiction to comparing yourself to others.

It could mean an addiction to gossip that drags down your character as well as the reputations of others.

Maybe you’re addicted to fast food, or soda, or sitting on the couch and watching TV for six hours a day – and this is keeping you from reaching your goal of getting in shape.

An addiction can take the form of anything you can’t live without that is preventing you from being who you want to be.

It’s time to acknowledge any addictions you might be struggling with, and doing the work to conquer them.

14- Take Risks

It’s hard to live in the past when the present is always keeping you on your toes. Jump into opportunities that excite you.

Put yourself out there.

Decide to finally do the thing that has been in the back of your mind for years. This will fill you with renewed hope and energy, and it will jumpstart your enthusiasm for what is possible right now.

15- Embrace the Present Moment

At the end of the day, the present moment is the only moment you have, and if you are stuck living in the past, then you are missing out.

Plain and simple.

If you are living in the past, then you are handing over the only moment of your life that you have control over right now.

The past cannot be changed, but you are in charge of what you do from now on.

Take the present moment, run with it, and don’t look back.


Living in the moment essentially means appreciating what is in front of you right now and making the most of it.

It means seeing what is available to you and taking advantage of those opportunities rather than letting them pass you by.

No matter who or where you are right now, there is something you can do with the moment you are in right now that will help you get closer to the life you crave – even if only by an inch.

Use the present moment to ask the coworker you have a crush on if they want to go for coffee after work.

Use the present moment to enroll in the class that will help you build your skill set.

Use the present moment to write the first draft of your novel, or to initiate a date night with your partner, or to rekindle a friendship you’ve been neglecting.

Living in the moment is about not letting what is in front of us pass us by because we are too caught up in either living in the past or worrying about the future.

And there is always something you can do, right now, even if it is something small.

Sometimes the smallest moves end up making the biggest impact, but you’ll never know until you give it a try.

If you are struggling with living in the past, hopefully, you have been able to gain some helpful insight from these suggestions.

At the end of the day, living in the past is not going to help you to become your best self or to enjoy the life you’ve been given.

Living in the present is the key. Change your life today by taking whatever steps are needed for you to stop living in the past, and you definitely won’t regret it. What are some things keeping you in the past? Share in the comments below…

1 thought on “15 Ways to Stop Living in the Past”

  1. I am so excited looking around me to work out which of the myriad things i can do is the most exciting. I have felt that way ever since stage 4 lockdown (including curfew) began. Thank-you so much for helping me see how vibrant and wonderful my life really is, even though i haven’t been able to meet with any member of my family for six months. Your advice is so useful and practical, I don’t know how i survived without it.

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