Living in the past is damaging to your future and makes it harder for you to enjoy the present.
What does living in the past mean?
Yes, we think fondly of our childhood years and remember the joyful moments of being a kid and later a teenager.
Our parents were younger, and we got to spend time with our grandparents who fed us lots of sweets, spoiled us rotten and told us wonderful stories. It’s a way to remember our personal history – it’s nostalgia.
It’s normal to feel nostalgic about the good old days.
But when you find yourself sharing old stories with your friends every time you meet over drinks, that’s a sign you should stop and think about it for a minute.
Why am I always talking about the past?
Am I not happy with the present?
The past can’t hurt you anymore, not unless you let it.
Alan Moore, author of V for Vendetta
Stuck between The Golden Past and The Disappointing Present
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Maybe you were more successful in your job; maybe you earned awards for your achievements in sports or academia which made you feel good about yourself, increased your self-confidence and self-worth.
Think about any attachments that are depleting your emotional reserves. Consider letting them go.
Should statements – tools of self-punishment
The past shines brightly and it feels good to return to it over and over again because the present is unsatisfactory or utterly disappointing.
Your present doesn’t match your expectations.
The sign which should tell you that you are disappointed with your current life is thinking or speaking in sentences which start with I should/shouldn’t.
I should have been a successful lawyer…
I should have had a lot of money…
I shouldn’t have turned down that job offer…
Should statements can lead to increased panic, anxiety and even depression. Psychologists say should statements are cognitive distortions.
What are cognitive distortions?
Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.
John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
These shoulds and shouldn’ts are ironclad rules that we use to punish ourselves.
How do we feel when we hear these shoulds in our minds?
We feel guilt and shame. It’s aggression directed towards our own self. It’s punishment and anger. At that particular moment, we hate ourselves. And nothing good comes out of hate.
Suffering is not holding you. You are holding suffering. When you become good at the art of letting sufferings go, then you’ll come to realize how unnecessary it was for you to drag those burdens around with you. You’ll see that no one else other than you was responsible.
Decisions instead of mistakes
To curb this abusive behaviour, practise awareness – it’s healthier and helps you break the emotional barrier of should statements.
Go past your feelings of shame and guilt and allow for your rational judgement to take place.
You may be thinking about your past in term of making mistakes. Only they are not mistakes, they are decisions.
You never set out to make bad decisions, no one does.
You made good decisions. At that particular time, the reasons behind your decisions were correct. It’s what you decided based on the information you had at that moment. Once you realise this, you will feel empowered.
You don’t have a crystal ball to know the future so you couldn’t have possibly known that your decision would turn out to be negative.
You must also realise the future is outside of your control. Taking all this into consideration, why would you punish yourself with your past decisions?
Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.
Make peace with yourself
Make peace with yourself and your past decisions.
Acknowledge your skills and talents.
Get yourself unstuck with the present.
Start imagining your future and begin working towards it.
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