Back to the Future Past
Have you noticed how some of us seem determined to drag our miserable past (or elements thereof) kicking, screaming, and bitching into our present reality? Despite an alleged desire for happiness, some of us seem to be strangely focused on, obsessed with and, even controlled by, aspects of our not-so-desirable history. Somehow, we keep finding our way (or, maybe, thinking and behaving our way) back to the place we don’t want to be. Constantly replaying, relaying, and reliving our not-so-happy times day after day; much to the disdain of our long-suffering family and friends.
Getting Past Our Past
My observation is that some people appear to be more preoccupied with generating sympathy, pity, and attention (about their past) than they are with designing, creating, and enjoying their own fantastic life in the present (the only place we’ll ever live). Instead of consciously and methodically exploring their (largely untapped) potential, making some life-shaping decisions, getting uncomfortable and taking a few chances, they seem to be more inclined to gravitate towards the familiar, the habitual, the unfulfilling, the (seemingly) safe and the low (or no) risk.
A Prisoner of Our History
While I genuinely empathize with and feel for, people who have endured hardship (isn’t that all of us?), I don’t believe it does anybody any good to ‘wear’ it for years like a miserable badge of honor. Yes, we’ve all experienced sadness, pain, injustice, and even tragedy in our lives; it comes with the whole being human thing. However, the challenge for those of us seeking to create something better than our current reality is to find a way to let go (emotionally) of the hold (power, control, influence) those past experiences have on us in this present moment. In other words: to move on – mentally, emotionally, and practically. Being a prisoner of the past ain’t where it’s at.
I have worked with people who have felt compelled to be sad – for years. I had one woman share with me that she didn’t feel entitled to be happy five years (five!) after one of her children had died in an accident. The thought of moving on and letting go made her feel guilty. When I suggested she didn’t need to let go of the memories of (or love for) her child but rather the misery associated with his death, her response was “why should I be allowed to enjoy life when my child (who died at twenty) doesn’t have a life?” She had convinced herself that it would be disrespectful, selfish, and insensitive to move on. On some level, not right. In truth, her misery (although understandable) was helping nobody (including her) and was destroying and damaging relationships all around her. Thankfully, she has since moved on and is now channeling her emotional energy into something much more positive, productive, and empowering – helping others through the grieving process.
Sadly, many of us will drag around fear, anxiety, and pessimism like emotional anchors chained to our hearts. We will allow our past to destroy our health, happiness, and hope for what we might do, be, and create in the future. Sometimes we will train ourselves to expect the worst so that when it happens, it’s not so painful. Expect misery and life will be more tolerable – what a sad (but popular) paradigm to inhabit.
Some people will even get defensive about their negative disposition (attitude, communication, reactions) labeling it as realistic and practical – while simultaneously blaming anyone and everyone (except themselves) for their less-than-desirable (current) situation. Then, for good measure, they might dismiss those who choose to find the good as delusional dreamers who give people false hope.
Yowzer – glad I don’t live there.
Fanning the Flame of Negativity
While our past experiences were real (of course) and many of them were painful (of course), the only way they can continue to exist or influence us in the now, is if we keep feeding them; if we keep them alive. The only place the (negativity of our) past lives is in our head. That is our thinking, beliefs, expectations, standards, and fears – the window through which you and I view the world. It (the negativity of our past) only survives because we continue to hand over our power and potential to it. For a range of (fear-based) reasons, we (some of us) don’t allow ourselves to move on.
- What if I expect good and get bad?
- What if I open my heart to him/her and get hurt – again?
- What if I try to exercise and I injure my back again?
- What if go to the party and nobody talks to me?
- What if I enroll but I’m not smart enough?
Being Defined by Our Past
Consciously or not, intentionally or not, many of us will allow our previous negative experiences to shape, if not, determine, us in the now. This is the ultimate betrayal of our natural state (happiness). Of course, past events (good and bad) will influence who we are and how we roll (function, think, perceive, react, cope) in the present; that’s called being human. But, when our past negative experiences totally define (control, limit, paralyze) us in the now, it’s time for a new strategy, some cerebral renovation, and a little re-programming above the shoulder region. Unless, of course, life-long misery is your goal.
Now, I’m the first to acknowledge that the theory of moving on and letting go is easier than the practical reality of it but I would remind you that all lasting transformation starts with (1) a moment in time (a realization, an acknowledgment and a level of awareness), (2) a decision (don’t over-think it) and (3) the taking of a first step (like the one some of you are about to take).
Here are a few suggestions that might help shift your thinking and your reality:
1. Do a treasure hunt on your life. Find the good; it’s there when you choose to shift your focus.
2. Ask better questions. When we ask solution-focused questions (as opposed to why-is-life-so-unfair questions) we put ourselves in a more resourceful, creative, and empowered place.
3. Invest your emotional energy wisely.
4. Find some perspective. Last month I visited a children’s cancer ward. If an eight-year-old with a terminal disease can smile and laugh, so can I.
5. Hang out with people who will drag you up, not down. Don’t spend time with people who will feed your negativity.
6. Keep in mind that the difference between a catastrophe and a lesson is YOU.
7. Recognize your thoughts for what they are: concepts that only have the power and influence that you allow them to have in your life.
Our history can be a stepping stone to an amazing life or it can be a millstone that keeps us weighed down.