“You can’t master your future if you’re a slave to your past.” – Unkown
On the island of Sulawesi, in the Pacific Ocean, live an Indonesian people called the Torajans. The Torajans believe that when a person dies as long as their bodies are kept at home, they are not really dead; they are just sick.
Consequently, they keep the bodies of their deceased relatives in their homes; and treat them as if they are still alive. They talk to them and feed them; believing they are not dead. The corpses remain a part of their family; for weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
What corpse are you keeping alive?
As morbid as this practice sounds, are we truly any different? What corpse or corpses from your past are you harboring? Do you talk to and feed the thoughts of hurts, mistakes, and disappointments?
If you do, there is no difference between you and the Torajan people. Whether you realize it or not, you are keeping the corpses of your past alive.
After years of coaching and identifying how people stay stuck, I’ve been able to pinpoint two very dangerous places where they live; the past and the future. In today’s blog post, I am going to address the mindset trap of dwelling on the mistakes and regrets of the past; and projecting fears into the future.
Keeping the Past Alive
Focusing heavily on your past failures, disappointments, and regrets keep you from moving forward; you remain stuck, holding on to dead weight. This is a dangerous place to live because it robs you of today and possibly your tomorrows.
How can you overcome this detrimental mindset? There are things in life you have absolutely no control over; your mindset, however, is not one of them.
You have 100% control over your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Instead of dwelling negatively on the past, be intentional to concentrate and focus on the things you do have control over; and by the way, all of those things are in the present.
3 Ways to Stop Living in the Past
1. Conquer the Negativity Bias
Do you dwell and fixate on mistakes and criticisms, allowing them to have a greater influence over you than your accomplishments and successes? If so, you are experiencing the psychological phenomenon known as the negativity bias.
The negativity bias is real and it is our tendency as humans to focus on and give more weight to negative experiences than positive ones. In a nutshell, because of this bias, we not only tend to focus on the bad things that we face but those negative memories stay with us longer. This, in turn, causes us to make decisions based on the negative rather than the good that we have experienced.
So how do you combat this bias? Change your focus; focus on what is true, good, and right.
Make a list of your strengths and accomplishments. Being mindful of your accomplishments will help you start chipping away at this bias because as you do so, you are training your brain to focus on the good. This also allows your brain to start adopting a more positive, optimistic, perspective as a default setting rather than always jumping to the negative.
2. Look for Your Gifts
Taking steps to overcome the negativity bias in your mind is the first step to stop dwelling on the past. The next tool you can pull out of your toolbox is to reflect over your past experiences and record the gifts. Ask yourself the following questions to help you see them:
- Who did you become because of the things you went through?
- What do you have now that you didn’t have before?
- How were the things from your past done FOR you rather than TO you?
Once you practice this art of seeing the gifts in your life, your focus and thoughts dramatically change for the better.
3. The Power of Forgiveness
Most people cringe when I mention that F word; forgiveness. Forgiveness is rarely easy but always worth it. There are 3 significant things to note when you think about forgiveness.
One: it does not mean injustice didn’t occur; it did but holding on to it makes the power of the offense stronger, leaving you a victim.
Two: remember that forgiveness is a verb; it is a choice, not a feeling. While forgiveness is a onetime act, dealing with the feelings of unforgiveness takes some work. Once you forgive, you need to remind yourself that you forgave and speak to your feelings when they creep in and constantly remind you of the injustice.
Three: you must forgive yourself. Here is where I see so many people, myself included, struggle. Sometimes it’s so much easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves.
Doing these 3 things will help you forgive yourself easier:
- Take 100% responsibility for your mistakes and decisions; this is empowering.
- Stop playing the tape in your mind over and over; replace it with a new one.
- Develop empathy; learn to be kind to yourself.
Once you embrace forgiveness, you will not only have healthier relationships and experience less stress and anxiety, you will also be able to finally move forward.
Projecting Fear into the Future
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. It empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom
As you can easily see, living in the past has some pretty destructive consequences. However, constantly worrying about the future is an equally dangerous place to live.
A chronic consuming obsession with the future serves no purpose and has been proven to be detrimental to your health and well-being. Those who are constantly projecting fear and anxiety into future events lose today’s joy and risk missing great opportunities because they can’t see beyond their fears.
Excessive worrying about future events negatively impacts your brain, causes undue stress, saps your energy, and adversely affects your decision making. Needless to say, in addition to those harmful consequences, worrying about the future impedes resilience.
So what can you do to stop projecting worry into the future?
1. Throw Away the Crystal Ball
It’s time to stop thinking you can tell the future and throw away your crystal ball. Those who excessively worry about the future falsely think they have the ability to see into it and we all know you can’t.
Planning and setting goals for the future is healthy and productive; worrying about it and being consumed with trying to govern it is not. This mindset is rooted in fear and the need to be in control.
2. Unleash the Power of Your Imagination
Your imagination is such a powerful force; it is one of the greatest assets you possess. However, when you misuse your imagination and conjure up worse case scenarios, your brain believes it and it is actually worse than reality.
Being afraid of the unknown and agonizing about the future not only harms your health and well-being; it also keeps you from enjoying what is right in front of you.
Thankfully, there is an antidote to this situation; use the unimaginable power of your imagination to create and inspire your future; not bring dread and gloom to it.
In other words, worry less and imagine more.
By doing so, you are not only designing a healthy, successful life for yourself; research also suggests that imagination can actually improve your performance.
3. Design an Awareness Plan
Developing and cultivating self-awareness is a skill that can be learned and is the open door to increasing emotional intelligence, resilience, and learning to respond to your situations versus reacting to them. In actuality, building self-awareness skills is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
Cultivating awareness starts with being mindful of yourself and your surroundings. Most of us sleepwalk through life. If you are sleepwalking through life, it’s time to wake up.
The first thing to do is to stop and slow down enough to take note of what’s going on around you; what are you thinking, what are you feeling? It is also helpful to try to connect to as many of your 5 senses as you can; sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
Once you are aware of being present, ask yourself what you want to be thinking or feeling. Use your power of choice. Choose healthy and beneficial thoughts.
Including mindfulness practices such as tempo breathing, journaling, and meditation will help you create more and more awareness.
Hopefully, you are ready to bury the corpse(s) you have been keeping alive and to use the power of your imagination for what it was intended for; to give you joy, inspiration, and a healthy perspective for the future.
Knowing that your past does not define you and your future is not intended to be a place where you live in a constant state of anxiety and dread should give you hope to live in the present and defeat these two dangerous mindset traps.
Make it a CLUTCH day,
Always remember – Nothing is Impossible