Stuck in the Past? Here Are 5 Mindfulness Tricks to Transport You to the Present

Photo: Getty Images/Nicky Lloyd
Reminiscing about the good old days is harmless and often straight-up mood-boosting. But being stuck in the past holistically? An entirely different story. Some signs that you may be clinging to the past include not being fully present, acting as if you’re still living in a previous iteration of reality, not feeling inspired, or finding it difficult to get excited about things that used to really do it for you.

Maybe you’re living, at least emotionally, in a past failed relationship. Maybe you won't forgive yourself for a mistake you made and you continually go over in your mind what you could have done differently. Maybe, you’re holding onto limiting beliefs from childhood that don’t serve you. Or maybe something else entirely. Regardless of how, exactly, you're stuck in the past, the way of being can hold you back in all areas of your life and prevent you from enjoying the present moment.

So why does this happen in the first place? Lack of self-love, low self-worth, unawareness, and fear are at the core are all reasons that can explain why people get stuck in the past, says life coach and breathwork teacher Gwen Dittmar. Additional causes include feeling unhappy with present life, not wanting to deal with a current problem, or feeling fearful of the future. In these cases, the past stands to simply feel more comfortable, safe, and predictable.

Have a suspicion that you may be a bit too chummy with the past? Check out Dittmar's five mindful tips for getting unstuck so you can start moving forward again.

Stop feeling stuck in the past using a pro's top tips

1. Talk to someone who loves you

If the signs of being stuck in the past sound all too familiar, one strategy you can definitely call upon is to talk to someone—but not just anyone. Rather, Dittmar recommends seeking someone who loves you and will provide a safe space for you.

“We begin to change the stuck neural pathways when someone we love looks us in the eye and celebrates our strengths and dreams.” —Gwen Dittmar, life coach

Since being seen, heard, and understood is something we, as humans, crave she suggests asking this person to remind you of your strengths and dreams. “We begin to change the stuck neural pathways when someone we love looks us in the eye and celebrates our strengths and dreams,” she says.

2. Write gratitude lists

It's no secret that writing gratitude lists can be a very powerful tool for keeping your mind focused on the good in your life, which can help you feel happier overall. Beyond that, scientific research supports that the practice can be especially helpful for getting unstuck.

Ready to start your habit? Dittmar recommends writing a gratitude list every day—and to supercharge the ritual, you can challenge yourself to not repeat any items for which you're grateful. “Finding new things to be grateful for stretches your mind-set beyond what you've been experiencing and stops the loop of negative and past thinking,” she says.

3. Look for the opposite of stuck

If there’s an up, there’s a down; if there’s a hot, there’s a cold; and if you’re feeling stuck in the past, there's a solution that'll help you get unstuck. In order to identify that stuckness-antidote, Dittmar suggests taking pen to paper.

On a blank sheet, create two columns, with the left side being a list of what you don’t want anymore in your life and the right side being the opposite. This exercise will hopefully provide an aha moment (or at least some clues) for actions you can take in order to start moving forward again.

4. Have a conversation with the stuck energy

Just like you’d sit down and have a conversation with a loved one to sort out a disagreement, Dittmar suggests having a convo with the stuckness. “Let it tell you why it's lingering and what it wants you to do,” she says. Then, pay attention to any messages that may come up. Where do you feel it in your body? What does it look like? Then, she says, affirm that you love and respect yourself and that you deserve to be happy.

5. Move your body

Whether you’re focusing on what happened five years ago or five minutes ago, that sensation of feeling stuck in the past stays, well, stuck, in your body. To allow it to move through you, Dittmar recommends moving your body every day until you feel it dissipate. Maybe that looks like dancing to Beyoncé in your living room or spinning your wheels at a cycling class. No matter what method feels best to you, just make sure to get moving.

How you’ll know that you’re unstuck

Once you’ve implemented and followed all the tips, how can you know you’ve successfully let go of the past and are living in the now? For one thing, your attention will likely be fully focused on the present, and on planning for your big, bright future.

Other signs that you’ve moved on, Dittmar says, include feeling clarity and inspired to take action toward a goal, getting excited about things, sensing connection to your purpose, and prioritizing yourself.

Arguably one of the best effects of getting unstuck is feeling warranted to leave behind people and things that doesn’t serve you. “You'll feel no remorse or sadness about leaving and ending the people, places, or things that used to bring joy and opening yourself up to new people, places, and things,” Dittmar says. Fresh start without the baggage, here you come.

Now that you're no longer stuck in the past, here's a breathing exercise to keep stress at bay. And when everyone around seems to have big moments to celebrate, here's how to not lose sight of the little things.

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