Which Past Do You LIVE With?

Chapter four of the Un-Stuck book (and week five of the CLC Un-Stuck series) references a quote from one of my mentors Dr. Richard Dobbins: “None of us live with our past, we live with what we tell ourselves about our past.”

Those are some pretty wise words, and they take only a few honest moments of reflection to ring true in our souls.  The reality is, consciously, unconsciously or unintentionally, we choose our recollections and interpretations of what has happened in our lives.

The big question is, “What recollections and interpretations are you choosing about your past?” The answer to this question is important because you may not be telling yourself the most helpful version or interpretation of your past.

Let me suggest an uncommon thought to you. You may not be recollecting your past in such a way that is best for you. Likewise, you may be interpreting your past in ways that create more pain or struggle for you than is necessary. While this suggestion might make some people defensive (e.g. “What do you mean you don’t think I’m remembering my own past the right way?”), I’m personally open to sustaining as little pain or struggle from my past as is necessary.

In light of last week’s focus on breaking bad habits, and in regards to your past, start to cultivate a new habit. Start looking back and asking yourself, “Is there any other way to interpret what happened that might lessen my long term pain, resentment, grief, shame, etc. and offer me a healthier way forward?”

For instance, I recall struggling with some decisions in my youth that had long term consequences in my life. I shared this with a counselor. He did not dismiss my decisions or judgments. He did not help me rationalize it away. He simply said: Most of us don’t make the best decisions in life when we’re 21; what matters is what will you do about it now that you are an older, better decision-making adult.

That slight change of perspective helped me get “Un-stuck” from “look-back-and-beat-myself-up” mode, and encouraged me to take control of my “now.” My thoughts became proactive, and I took control of my emotions and reactions instead of letting them reside at the mercy of my past.

To get started on cultivating a new habit, take time to re-think what you tell yourself about your past. Choose a small event that you’d like to get a “do-over,” and you know one is not coming: maybe you lost your temper with your kids or your spouse; maybe you missed a deadline on a project at work (again); instead of telling yourself, “I’m just a lousy parent/spouse/employee,” tell yourself something constructive.

With your kids, maybe you should tell yourself, “Well, one of the things I need to model for my children is having the humility to apologize when I am wrong…and this is a great time to do exactly that.” Then apologize without beating yourself up, so your kids learn confident, sincere humility. You may want to do the same exercise with your spouse.

When it comes to your work scenario, instead of feeling like a perpetual failure, or constantly blaming unrealistic expectations, look for ways to better manage your time. Tell yourself, “I’m a capable employee, and I will find better ways to approach projects like this one, so I won’t miss the deadline next time.”

Next week at CLC, we’ll continue this discussion. Join us for week six of Un-Stuck as we consider past issues that go “way deeper,” and how we can find “redemptive” interpretations for them. You CAN learn to live with a more hope-giving perspective on your past. Start today.

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