Many of us are convinced that we are hopelessly linked to our past.
We say to ourselves, “After all, doesn’t my upbringing as a kid, or what I did or did not do remain a part of me all my life?”
It is the idea that your past remains all-important, that because something once strongly influenced your life, it must keep determining the feelings you have about yourself and what you do today.
We tell ourselves we couldn’t possibly be more active at this or that because we’ve never done it before. We say to ourselves “I couldn’t possibly return to school” or “starting a new relationship is too scary” or “I have always failed at losing that weight and keeping it off” or “trying a new venture has always been scary to me” or “I’ve always had a bad temper” or “I have always had trouble doing this or that” or “I know I’ll fail again because I have failed before.”
Many of us think the damage we have done in the past means we can’t change today.
Rubbish! Cognitive psychologists actually call this an irrational belief.
There is now incontrovertible evidence (“A Guide to Rational Living, Albert Ellis, Ph.D.,” “The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge, M.D,” “Get Out of Your Own Way, Robert Cooper, Ph.D.,” “Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman, Ph.D.,” “My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.,” etc.) which indicates we are connected to our past only because we choose to be.
The influences you experienced as a child do not linger into who you are today just because you experienced them. No, they linger because you “still believe the stuff and nonsense which you were originally taught” (Dr. Ellis, Page 188).
In other words, they are influencing you because you are choosing to believe they do.
Don’t feel bad. You are not alone with this. Most of us believe because something once badly affected our lives, we must remain that way throughout our lives. Cognitive psychologists call these irrational beliefs.
Here are four ways they can be quite damaging:
• 1. We are overgeneralizing: Just because something happened in the past hardly proves that it must continue in the present.
• 2. We cease to look for alternative solutions: By allowing ourselves to remain locked to our past, we forget there are other solutions out there.
• 3. Behaviors which may have been healthy at one time may be decidedly unhealthy today: What you did in the past does not often work in the present.
• 4. Transference effects: This simply means we transfer our feelings about people or things in our past life to people and things in our present. We rebel against our boss today because he or she reminds you of our parents’ high-handed order of 40 years ago.
The wonderful news
So, how do you get the influences of your past out of your system? The same way you get them into your system. Let me explain. I never passed elementary school math because I
always drew dinosaurs in class rather than pay attention to my teachers. Why? Because I
believed I could never understand all those numbers, especially when they began teaching the “new math” in 1956. While my past math teachers influenced me then, the greatest influence by far was my own belief that I could not understand math. I chose to believe that I was horrible at math. And because our brain believes everything we tell it, my brain believed it to.
However, when I was 42, I decided to change that belief about me and math, and ended up writing two college textbooks on computer software, and math.
So here are two ways to put our past aside:
1. Accept the fact your past does influence you in some ways: However, also accept the fact your present life is your past of tomorrow. Think of this, dear reader. Do you know when your past ended? One second ago! So when did your new life begin? One second ago! Now do the math. If there are 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour and 24 hours per day, in one day, you have 86,400 new opportunities for a new life by changing what you are saying to yourself and about yourself starting now. Your past is a gift to you.
Use mistakes you have made in your past as a tutor for your future. Instead of unthinkingly repeating mistakes because you once made them, think of them as a gift you have been given to learn from.
• 2. Remember that your past has passed: It has no magical automatic effect on the present, unless you choose to believe it does. Your past does make it harder, but harder does not mean impossible. Work, time, practice and more practice, thinking, imagining and doing – all of these are effective keys to unlock almost any chest of past defeats, and help fill it with present successes and enjoyments.
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent” and conducts “The Winners Circle” every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. Contact Steven at 480-5007 or go his website at stevenrcampbell.com to ask about his one-day free monthly seminar.