5 Steps to guide you in leaving the past behind and moving toward your future
We all say goodbye many times throughout our lives. We say goodbye to friends, family, homes, jobs, businesses, lovers, and relationships. We also say goodbye to periods of our lives. On the precipice of saying goodbye to the 2010’s and hello to the 2020’s with this upcoming New Year, I am acutely aware of how powerful Goodbyes can be.
This past decade I have said goodbye to my 20’s, friendships, a burgeoning corporate career, a city I loved, and a marriage, including all of the relationships and family that came with that marriage. In addition to (and because of) these momentous “goodbyes”, I also said goodbye to past ways of behaving that no longer served me. And though these goodbyes have been accompanied by positive and powerful hellos on the other side, such as new relationships, a more fulfilling career, and a new city, I have noticed that each goodbye has also been accompanied by varying degrees of grief, fear, and guilt.
Like me, you might notice before or following a goodbye you experience a period of reflection and mixed feelings. This period is the heart of the transition. What is your response to goodbyes usually? Do you consciously or unconsciously hold onto the past and therefore delay or avoid letting go? Or alternatively, do you rush through the goodbye process and plunge headfirst into something new?
In either case, whether we delay or rush through goodbyes, we can shortchange ourselves the growth that comes with a thorough and conscious goodbye. A complete goodbye allows us to let go of the past and carry fresh energy into the future. As we prepare to welcome a new decade, it is prime time to check in with ourselves. Are you holding onto things from this past decade that are no longer serving you?
Some cues that you might be carrying old energy are that you experience conflicting feelings such as unresolved anger and grief. You might notice intrusive thoughts, reactivity, or behaviors, such as anger, sadness, lethargy, or a litany of defenses that pop-up in your current life.
Using this moment to reflect, what might you need to say goodbye to? What energy are you still holding onto from the past? Maybe it’s a past relationship, a past way of being, a past trauma, or lessons/experiences from your family-of-origin.
The following steps have been modified from the Imago Relationship Therapy “Goodbye process”. These steps are intended to help you say goodbye in order to create space for new energy and experiences to come. This activity can be done in writing or it can be spoken aloud to another person. I highly suggest that you seek support from a trained therapist if you are saying goodbye to something that holds powerful emotions for you.
Step 1. Describe the experience overall. To use a recent example from my life, I recently moved from a city I lived in for almost 12 years. I might say, “During this time, I discovered who I was. I developed deep meaningful friendships. I created a community that felt like home.”
To use a break-up as an example, one might say “We had a lot of good times in the beginning and then toward the end it was hard. I felt loved and cared for…etc.” The goal here is to continue to reflect on what comes up about the overall experience before moving onto the next step.
Step 2. Name the negatives and say goodbye to each. I consider this step an unburdening of the memories that plague us and often color our view of the experience. The brain is a danger detecting machine so over time we often become more aware of the negative things. Use this as an opportunity to name the negatives and say goodbye to them. Using the examples from above, starting with my example about moving, I might say, “I felt stuck in the image of my 25-year-old self, and I say goodbye to that.”
For a break-up, you might say, “I felt criticized by you regularly, and I say goodbye to that…etc.”
And then continue to name all the negatives of the experience and say goodbye to each until you feel ready to move onto the next step.
Step 3. Name the positive things and say goodbye to each. Like the last step, name all of the positives of the experience, and say goodbye to each of those. My moving example: “I built a career and a business, and I say goodbye to that.”
A break-up example: “We had common interests, and I say goodbye to that. We laughed a lot, and I say goodbye to that. I loved your family, and I say goodbye to that.”
The idea is not that we leave these things entirely behind us but that we say goodbye to any nostalgic energy that might keep us bound in the past so that we can move forward a little lighter and more open to the present moment.
Step 4. Identify your own behaviors that got in the way of what you wanted that you will let go of moving forward. These next two steps are my favorite steps of all. At this point, you get to take time to reflect on your own behaviors that may have gotten in the way of getting what you wanted and say goodbye to it so that you can let it go as you move into your future. For my moving example, I might say “Over time, I didn’t put a lot of effort into networking and reconnecting with old acquaintances, and I say goodbye to that”.
An example of a break-up might be, “I tolerated too much and did not have good boundaries, and I say goodbye to that. I was passive rather than direct about how I was feeling, and I say goodbye to that”. The important thing here is really to reflect and be honest about your own behaviors so that you can open yourself to doing things a little differently as you move forward.
Step 5. Identify the positive behaviors you exhibited that you want to take with you into the future. We end with the positive behaviors because not everything is meant to be left behind. These are the ways you behaved that you want to take with you into your future. You deserve a pat on the back for all the work and energy you have put into your past experiences. It is important to give ourselves credit for what we have brought to the table so we can continue to do those things moving forward. Here are a couple of examples:
“In my last city, I developed a great routine that supported my wellness and health, and I will take that with me into my future.”
“In my last relationship, I loved with my whole heart and was willing to reflect and grow, and I will take that with me into my future.”
Now that you have completed these steps, you are ready to say consciously goodbye and welcome in your new year and new decade with purpose and an open heart. Wishing you a healthy, happy, and conscious New Year!