You know you’re wasting time and energy, but you don’t know how to stop. Obsessing about what happened in the past is more common than you think – but don’t worry! I have three steps that will help you let go of what’s behind you.
I spent the last two days updating and revising How to Let Go of Someone You Love: 3 Powerful Secrets and 75 Tips for Healing Your Heart. I originally wrote it in 2010, and have been adding to it for the past six years…but I’ve wanted to do a more complete revision for several months. I really wanted to add three secrets I recently discovered on how to stop obsessing about what happened in the past.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned about stopping an obsession with what happened – or with a person from the past – is the idea of “active grieving.” I used to think that time healed all wounds. Eventually, I’d get over my recurring thoughts about the mistakes I made and the losses I’ve suffered. But I was wrong. The truth is that learning how to stop obsessing about what happened requires ACTION on our part. With that in mind, here’s what I know about stopping an obsession with what happened in the past…
How to Stop Obsessing About What Happened
Our theme on Blossom this week is letting go of the past and making room for new growth and fresh life. Since “The past is not a package one can lay away,” (according to Emily Dickinson) – we won’t be forgetting what happened! We’ll just stop those obsessive thoughts that are sucking us dry.
This is the third post in a Four-Article Series; the first was a definition of what letting go of someone you love actually means. The second article – one of my all-time favorites because I’m starting to connect relationships and gardening! – was How to Forget Someone – A Lesson in Deadheading.
Tomorrow’s article is about forgiving and forgetting an ex boyfriend or husband. Did you know that it’s awfully difficult (probably impossible) to stop obsessing about what happened when you’re clinging to anger, bitterness, or a “victim” mentality.
3 steps to stop obsessive thinking:
- Meet your brain
- Get groovy with your brain
- Decide what groove you want to make in your brain
Before we start taking those steps down the garden path, however, there is one preliminary thing I need you to think about. Let’s call it “putting on our gardening shoes”…
But first – learn you’re actually obsessing about
Before you can put any of my tips on how to stop obsessing about what happened into actual practice, you need to get clear on the root of your obsession.
Don’t jump to the obvious. For example, I once thought I was obsessing about an ex boyfriend because I thought about him all the time. When I thought about it more carefully, however, I realized that it wasn’t HIM I was obsessed with…it was the idea of him. Once I figured out that I was obsessed with the idea of having a smart, professional, tall boyfriend, I was able to let go of the recurring thought patterns that were driving me crazy.
What are you actually obsessing about? Write down THREE things that occur to you. Don’t just write “I’m obsessing about what happened with my ex.” I want you to be specific and thorough.
1. Meet your brain
So, your brain is made up of grooves and depressions, fissures and convolutions, sulci and gyri. Your brain is amazing and fascinating – it’s like a whole gray universe unto itself. It’s a world, a solar system, a galaxy. A culture. A system.
Your brain has the power to make or break your whole life. The good news is that even though you can’t control the thoughts and emotions that randomly pop into your brain, you CAN control your responses and actions.
This is brilliant news, actually! It means that you are not at the mercy of your experiences or your past – and that you can actually learn how to free yourself from obsessive thoughts.
2. Get groovy with your brain
The more you think about something – such as your ex, or the mistakes you made in a past relationship, or how helpless you are in your marriage – the deeper those grooves get in your brain. It’s like a rut. Say you have a big red Hummer and you keep driving over the same soft road in the same place all the time…those ruts would get pretty deep, wouldn’t they?
Whatever you’re obsessing about is making a deep groove in your brain. That’s why your thoughts keep returning to that idea, because it’s well-worn, easy, and automatic. Those Hummer tires of your brain slip right back into the rut because they don’t know any differently. And your brain is efficient, which means it tries to exert minimal effort for maximum results.
The grooves in your brain are making it too easy for you to obsessively think about what happened in the past.
3. Decide what groove you want to make in your brain
How do you want your groovy brain to make you feel? If you want to feel peaceful, then think peaceful thoughts. If you want more joy in your life, choose to focus on ideas that bring you joy. If you want action and adventure, use your brain! Create the life you want.
It really is as simple as that.
But it’s not easy.
It takes effort.
I tend to obsess about what happened in the past – which is why I wrote my blog post called How to Let Go of Someone You Love about 10 years ago. I then wrote an ebook of the same name because SO many readers asked for help on how to stop obsessing about what happened to them.
When I recently revised and updated my ebook, I realized that I really have come a long way. I had a bad experience – I lost someone I loved very much – and that prompted me to write about loss. I couldn’t let her go, which is why I write about finding freedom and peace in relationships.
How I learned how to stop obsessing about what happened
I got tired of being at the mercy of my obsessive thinking. It doesn’t add value to my life, it doesn’t make me happy, and it drains my energy and creativity.
So, I learned how to stop obsessing about what happened by refocusing my thought patterns. This means that when those sad, negative, hand-wringing thoughts arise I simply replace them with stuff I’d rather think about. God. Chocolate. My dogs. My blogs. Lunch. The moon. Shark Tank. Blossom.
And guess what? I just realized that I don’t even want to write about what happened anymore. I’ve come to the point of not wanting to relive it. I don’t want to go back there. It’s done, I’m finished with it. Yawn.
Questions for you
- What do you keep obsessively thinking about? Go beyond the simple answer, such as “I can’t stop thinking about my ex.” Try to figure out what about him – or the relationship, or the breakup – is driving your obsession.
- Tell me in the comments section below what you would RATHER be thinking about. What do you want your life to be about? Who do you want to become? How will you get there? What do you love thinking about – that adds value, energy, and beauty to your life?
- Do you believe you can learn how to stop obsessing about what happened?
While I can’t offer advice, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of learning how to stop obsessing about the past. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
One last thing:
You have all the POWER you need to STOP obsessing about what happened, and create a FRESH exciting new path for yourself!
Your brain is mighty and strong, and your spirit is willing. Your flesh may feel weak – but that’s okay. Your brain and spirit is stronger than your flabby undisciplined flesh, right? You better believe it.
On Blossom this week
Letting go of the past and making room for fresh growth, fresh life, fresh Blossoms was my focus this week. Here’s the lineup:
- How to Forget Someone – A Lesson in Deadheading (Imagine)
- What “Letting Go of Someone You Love” Means (Dare)
- How to Stop Obsessing About What Happened (Prepare)
- 7 Ways to Listen to the Still Small Voice (Leap and Flourish!)