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The Key to Letting Go of the Past

Some people are stuck with the past. Others are effortlessly reshaping their future. What is the secret of their progress?

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Why do we sometimes find it so difficult to let go of the past? Especially when we have had negative experiences, it should be easy for us to leave this painful time behind us faster. Instead, we are stuck to past injuries and injustices. It is not uncommon for us to have the feeling that they are not making any real step forward.

This situation can be quite a challenge. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about because I’ve seen it myself.

If we take a closer look at our environment, we will meet people who seem to move effortlessly to the next stage of life. Without looking back, they turn to new topics and shape their future anew. What makes these people so confident and determined? What is the key to their progress? Let’s explore this together in the next few paragraphs.

Why self-awareness is important

Our life has shaped us. This includes, for example, the upbringing we receive in childhood or the experiences we have gained over the years. These are important cornerstones of our existence. But from this, we can also develop ideas that do not necessarily suit us – hold on to them, even if they are no longer reality.

In some cases, this can lead to us not trusting ourselves enough. Or overestimate us. Both extremes do not get us any further in life.

It reminds me of my youth. I hated to write back then. Sure, when I was 14 I had completely different things on my mind. Nevertheless, from that time I took over the idea of not being a good writer. And so, I very rarely put anything on paper (or on my laptop) until my mid-40s. Let alone thought of becoming the author of my book.

Self-awareness can help us get to know ourselves better. This allows us to become clear about our strengths and weaknesses. And to better understand our motivation and actions. Above all, however, to process negative emotions and to learn from our mistakes.

This approach has helped me to come to terms with the past and reshape the future.

Gaining self-awareness is not easy

It is often easy for us to describe our fellow human beings accurately. But it looks very different when it comes to ourselves. We are having a much harder time with that. And if we succeed, the question remains whether we see the right “picture” of ourselves.

Organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich found in her research project: 95% of the 5,000 participants believed that they were self-aware. However, only 10-15% of the people examined met the actual criteria.

According to Dr. Eurich is a major reason why most people tend to ask themselves the wrong questions on the way to self-awareness. To put it simply, you will come to self-awareness that corresponds to a logical answer. However, this may only partially or not at all take into account our true attitudes and motives.

Dr. Eurich also adds that the question of “why” often does not take us to the next level of development. It is much more the question of “what” or “how”. So instead of asking ourselves why we ended up in a job that we don’t enjoy, the better question is what the new job looks like, in which we can fully develop our skills. And thus achieve greater satisfaction.

I can confirm this from my own experience: while the why question helped me come to terms with the past, the what and how questions helped me develop a new vision of my future. And ultimately to implement it.

The first step to self-awareness

Who am I? What do I want? What moves me? These are typical questions that we ask ourselves more than once in life. Self-awareness can help us find the right answers to these questions.

So what does it look like, the path to self-awareness?

There are several ways. And these paths are so varied like the individuals who walk them. An essential basic requirement, however, is that we want to go one of these. Because sometimes we get an answer that we may not like, it can even be painful. However, it also has a lot of potential so that we can close the past and redesign the future.

Once this first important question has been clarified, we can start.

When I look back on my experiences after life-changing situations, I always started with the why question. Because for me it was important to understand the past first that is, “Why am I in the current situation”. Then I dealt with the questions “Who am I” and “What do I want”. And I also checked my answers to all three questions over and over again.

I know that sounds pretty analytical and pretty simple too. But it was by no means like that because I have dealt with these questions again and again and for a very long time. And the answers I received at the beginning of this process were completely different from the answers I got at the end.

Through this intensive examination of myself, I became one thing above all else: honest with myself. And it was this honesty, even if it was painful at times, that allowed me to grow personally and make progress.

How long this process will take for each and every one of us cannot be said in my opinion. Some of us can safely achieve that within a couple of weeks. Others take years to do this. How long it ultimately takes is not that important. It is much more important that we answer the questions honestly and, in the end, come to terms with the past and redesign our future.


People who complete an old phase of life and can shape their future anew usually have a good level of self-awareness. This state does not fall from the sky, but above all means hard work – in this case on yourself.

Even if this path can be painful, it is still worthwhile to follow it consistently to the end. Because self-awareness is the key to letting go of the past.

Mike Flache

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Cover image: Pietro De Grandi on Unsplash

Mike Flache is an advisor and mentor, former entrepreneur and angel investor. On his way, Mike had to face and solve many challenges. Whether in business or life, each of these experiences has been an invaluable lesson and has made him grow. 

Disclaimer: The names of the people were chosen at random. They only serve to explain and better illustrate this text. Any resemblance to actual events or persons living or dead would be purely coincidental.

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