Why You Dwell On The Past And How To Stop

Something many people struggle with is being unable to move on from the past. Most people understand dwelling on the past isn’t healthy, but still do. Why?

One stance you could take on this issue is that people hold onto their past because doing so is more comfortable for them than living in the present. Fair enough, if someone is replaying pleasant memories. But why then do people also dwell on mistakes and negative experiences? Surely doing so is less pleasant than experiencing their present.

Well, at least that’s what I believed initially. However, I’d challenge you to consider some alternative perspectives as well. One being that the 20/20 clarity the past brings has an addictive allure to it. The brain is not comfortable with uncertainty, so perhaps some people find dwelling on the past a guilty pleasure.

Another possible scenario you may entertain is people dwell on the past because it hasn’t provided them with clarity. You could certainly argue the reason many people are unable to move on is because they haven’t received closure for events that have happened to them in the past, and thus they find it difficult to let go of events they never understood in the first place.

You could also speculate that many people have success barriers. They don’t believe they are entitled to positive experiences so dwelling on a negative past allows them to spend time in a place they’re more comfortable with.

From my current level of consciousness I certainly wouldn’t dispute the validity of any of these theories. You may disagree with me, but nonetheless, the reason I’m throwing these theories out there isn’t an attempt to prove myself intellectual superior over anyone else.

If you have a scientific or otherwise derived theory of why we hold on to the past I’d love to hear it. Right now I’m merely throwing ideas out there to give you some different perspectives to consider if you find yourself regularly dwelling on the past.

Begin Meditating

The first piece of advice I’d offer you in learning to let go of the past is to begin a regular meditation habit. In addition to reducing cortisol and increasing prefrontal cortex capability, meditation also allows you to become more present to the moment.

One of the biggest reasons people repeatedly playback past experiences is because they’re stuck in their head. By learning to breathe deeply, and remain present to the moment you’ll find yourself becoming more grounded, and you’ll find yourself much less of a slave to the voices in your head.

Find Closure

In the past I’ve held a lot of regret and had difficulty moving on from previous relationships. What allowed me to ultimately let go of regret in my past relationships was learning why they didn’t work. I spent many nights in self-examination, reading about social dynamics, and going out, but that’s what has allowed me to move on.

What I’d challenge you to do is find closure in whatever it is you find yourself dwelling on. Read books about what’s bothering you, talk to the people about your situation, even be willing to talk to the person who hurt you. Peeling back layers you’ve built over time to protect yourself will likely be extremely painful, but similar to a muscle, sometimes tearing yourself down is what’s necessary to be built back up stronger than ever before.

Remove Success Barriers

Probably the largest thing I’ve struggled with, and at times still struggle with is not feeling entitled to the results I’m producing. I mainly experience this in the relationship area of my life, but success barriers can appear in any area of life, and different people typically struggle with different success barriers.

In the past I’ve conquered success barriers in the health, and self-expression areas of my life, but I still often encounter barriers in my relationships. On a logical level I know I’m a bad-ass motherfucker. I have an 8-pack, I’m a performing level juggler, I’m intelligent, I’m making a contribution to the world through my blog, and I’m one of the funnest people you’ll ever meet (when I’m not stuck in my head.)

The problem is that my whole childhood I was a socially clueless loser, and my beliefs regarding what I’m entitled to socially haven’t shifted at the same speed as the beliefs in other areas of my life.

What I’d recommend to you is working to identify your success barriers, and then taking whatever actions necessary to eliminate them. The quickest way to desensitize yourself to something is to expose yourself to massive amounts of it. This WILL mean doing things you’re not comfortable with, but your circumstances will never change until you do.

Closing Thoughts

In addition to the solutions I’ve provided above, something I challenge you to do is adopt a mindset towards the past I’ve been experimenting with, and found highly effective. I call this mindset the “Cool, But What’s Next?” mindset.

Every time you feel your focus shifting from the present moment to the past ask yourself “Cool, But What’s Next?” Ask this question regarding both positive, and negative experiences.

Just won the championship basketball game? Cool, but what’s next? What are you going to do to repeat this experience? How can you keep moving forward?

And conversely, if a girl rejects you, “Cool, But What’s Next?” It sucks that she rejected you, but maybe the reason she rejected you was you need to learn something. Maybe you weren’t dominant enough. Maybe you were permission seeking and outcome dependent. How can you use this experience as leverage in moving forward?

Sometimes, the worst things that happen to us end up being the best things that ever happen to us. If that girl never broke my heart I probably would still be a socially clueless video game addict, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing this post for you right now.

Learn from your past, and be grateful for it, but then let go, and focus on what’s next.


Picture is from my 8th grade Spanish fashion show in I believe 2011. Maybe 2010. Newer pictures coming soon!

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