Letting Go Of The Past In Life Coaching

While life coaching is focused on the future (helping clients achieve goals and change behaviors), sometimes you need to be able to let go of the past before you can fully focus on the future.

We are all shaped and influenced by the experiences we have encountered in our lives.  It begins on the day we are born and continues unchecked until the day we die.  All of us also inevitably have some things in our past, some events or experiences, which were negative.  We might cringe when we think of them, perhaps we are angry that they occurred, or maybe we are thoroughly embarrassed about them and never want anyone else to find out about them.  Regardless of the type or severity of the experience, however, the only way to move on with your life is to let go of the past and look to the future.

It’s déjà vu all over again

The only way to take charge of your life and your future is to release the past and leave it behind you.  This can be a difficult thing to do, for sure, and it certainly does not mean you forget completely about past events.  It simply means you make the conscious choice to let go of your anger, hurt, embarrassment, or whatever you are feeling, and focus your attention on your life as you experience it right now and as you want to experience it in the future.

Holding on to past events is like having a constant sense of déjà vu.  We play the same pictures and tell the same story to ourselves and to others, over and over again.  By doing this we remain trapped by those past events, still allowing them to control and influence our lives.  This is why so many people end up repeating past behaviors and experiences again and again and again.  Maybe it’s the woman who gets into a series of abusive relationships, or maybe it’s the man who has trouble connecting with his son because he had trouble connecting with his own father.  It can even show up as other smaller things, such as telling yourself you can’t lose weight so you don’t lose weight, or thinking you are not attractive so you dress unattractively.

Why do we hold on to the past?

When we experience events from our past repeatedly, living them over and over again, it becomes very easy to use those experiences as excuses for our life as it is right now.  We blame the schoolyard bully who intimidated us every day at recess, or we rationalize our lack of self discipline as being due to poor work habits taught to us by our parents.  Regardless of the event or the current situation, we find a way to use our past as a tool for creating and telling the “story” of why our life is the way it is today.

In a way it’s comforting to hold on to these things because they are familiar territory.  We “know” these things intimately and are afraid to let go of them, even if they are disempowering and holding us back.  Some people would use the old phrase “It’s better to be with the devil you know than the one you don’t know” to explain this phenomenon.  However, it is precisely because we hold on to the past that it repeats itself in our future.  In other words, our future becomes nothing more than a continuation or extension of our past.

Letting go of the past

It is of course important to learn from the past, but you should not let it define who you are and what your future will become.  You have the choice of whether to let tomorrow be and extension of your past or let it be the start of the rest of your new life.  This sounds simple and of course it isn’t, especially when dealing with extreme experiences such as abuse, neglect, and the like, but even the most difficult process of letting go begins with the simple act of making a choice.  It’s up to you; do you want to let go or keep hanging on?

There is a parable about two monks that helps to illustrate this point.  The monks belonged to an order with strict rules about not touching or speaking to anyone from the outside world.  One day they were walking along the road into town when they came to the river.  A woman was sitting on the bank crying because the water was too deep and she could not make it across.  The older monk calmed the woman, picked her up on his back, and carried her across the river where he set her down and started walking along the road once more.

The younger monk was astonished at first, and quickly became angry with the older monk for violating the order’s strict rules about interacting with outsiders.  The more they walked the more upset he became, until finally he blurted out to the older monk, “Brother, what were you thinking when you carried that woman across the river?  Why did you break our strict rules?”

The older monk paused for a moment, looked thoughtfully at the younger monk, and said, “Brother, I set that woman down over an hour ago.  Why are you still carrying her around?”

The lesson is that if you continue to carry the “baggage” of your past around with you, before long it becomes heavy and overwhelming.  It shapes your thoughts, influences your emotions, and triggers behaviors that you might not want or like.  Instead of continuing to carry around your past, why not make the choice to set it down?  Sometimes it really is as simple as stopping for a moment, making a decision, and then walking away without looking back.

While life coaching can help you focus on the future and become more aware of these past experiences that may be holding you back, if you need help working with and “releasing” these past experiences (particularly traumatic experiences) you should consider getting the help of a counselor or therapist who specializes in this area, because that’s not really the realm of life coaching.


  1. What we are right now is part of our past. Keep the ones that make us a good person and correct the ones in the past that make us weak and scared. We learned a lot of things in the past but, if you keep on holding on it you will never start the future.

    • The good thing about our past is that it is there to make us stronger! And we can also learn for it and move forward .. No one or nothing happens in are life that’s doesn’t have a specific reason …

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