“Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future”. -Arnold H. Glasow
Does your past haunt you? Do you have failures, hurts and disappointments that affect your confidence and actions today?
I do. My life is riddled with bad decisions and the consequences from my actions. If you’re like me, you realize you cannot change your past, or can you?
Can our past become not only a tool for learning what to do and what not to do, but also an ally to help us live the life we dream of? Yes, and there are two ways to do this. The first way is a bit obvious but worth mentioning.
1.) Create a Past You Can Live With Tomorrow.
A mentor of mine, Larry A., uses this quote often, “Today I am going to create a past I can live with tomorrow”. You will leave a path no matter where or how you walk today. Your actions of today will determine your future past.
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To change your past today is to decide in advance where you want to go. If you don’t like your weight, today is the day to decide what you want your weight to be. If you don’t like your finances, today is the day you can decide to save more, spend less and earn more. Every journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step. The first step is deciding what you want your past to be like today and writing it down.
Next is to decide what you are going to do today. Take the actions that will carry you in the direction you want to go. If you decide you want to lose 20 lbs, today you can join a gym and and throw out all the junk food in your home. If you want to take control of your income, today you can sign up for a Financial Peace course or some other course that will help you budget and excel. Take action. “Pray with your feet” as the old African Proverb says. Do something! Now!
The second step to change your past is based on some new research.
2.) Edit Your Memory of The Past
You can edit your memory of the past. This sounds crazy, right? Well, you are doing it anyway. A recent article in USA Today explained that current research suggests that our memories are not static or accurate. Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that every time you retrieve a memory it changes a little bit. New information is added depending upon what your current view of life is.
For example, a couple that has been married for fourty years and are still madly in love may say that when they met it was ‘love at first sight’. In actuality it may not have been but their memory is changed by their current, passionate love. Another couple going through a divorce might say that they saw some ‘red flags’ in their partner but ignored them. Our current emotions can change how we recall a situation from our past. So is there a way to use this to our advantage? Yes!
First you can decide that, while you are not going to live in your past, you will carry an positive outlook on it. Author Dan Miller has a great article on his blog that made it into his book, Wisdom Meets Passion. He talks about how he could choose to look at growing up as a poor Mennonite farm kid as a disadvantage in life or he can choose to look at it as being an advantage that contributed to his success. (You can read the article here.)
The way you look at your past and tell your story can contribute or diminish your chances of success in life. Many people like myself grew up in dysfunctional families. For years I’ve blamed my father for my failings in life. However that didn’t serve me and my ambitions. In fact it contributed to my self-destruction. I have found that a healthier way is to choose to forgive and remember the good things, like my dad attending every hockey game I played, cheering me on.
Second don’t beat yourself up. Let the past go and don’t let the past undermine your dreams and goals or your actions of today. By all means learn from your mistakes but move on. If you’ve got one foot in the past and one foot in the future you are pissing all over today. Don’t piss all over today. If it is not serving you then do your best to leave it and move on.
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