Living in the past could stunt your future

Back in the day: living in the past could stunt your future

Tanisha A. Sykes

Were you the star athlete in high school and college and maybe you even made it to the pros? Or perhaps you were always the smartest kid in the classroom, received all the accolades, and were the envy of all of your peers? Now you’re all grown up and life didn’t exactly turn out the way you planned. If you constantly reminisce about the good ol’ days, you might be still living in the past instead of in the present.

“If you are doing that, then you have to ask yourself how it is serving you. Typically, there’s an advantage to living in the past that usually involves self-protection. We hang on to our past hurts so as to not get hurt again. The problem is, we also block out our joy too,” says John Kuypers, president of W.I.N. Leadership, an executive coaching and leadership development firm in Burlington, Ontario. Kuypers says letting go of the past “involves accepting what life gives us. This is painful because we desperately want to believe that we can control our destiny.” Living in the present is a process of awareness that will make you look at yourself and think twice about your current situation rather than what used to be. Here are some ways to get you there:

Look at the worst-case scenario. Ask yourself: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” says Kuypers. That means facing fears, feeling pain, and letting it pass through your system. “These situations beg the question, what’s important now?” says Kuypers. Otherwise, our past and future fears will paralyze us from doing what’s important now. When you focus on the present, you find the courage to trust yourself to do what you know in your gut is right and real, without letting fear of failure and disapproval hold you back.

Understand that life is not fair. It’s like going to the right school, knowing the right people, and landing a great job. But then the economy went south and so did your job. “A huge part of being present-moment focused is to accept what we cannot change. You can’t undo the last 20 years, but you can stop smoking today,” says Kuypers. “It’s a way to depersonalize it. There’s nothing wrong with you. In light of the cards you’ve been dealt, ask what should I do now?” The process is really about having resets, learning to face them, and moving on from there, says Hamilton Beazley, author of No Regrets: A Ten-Step Program for Living in the Present and Leaving the Past Behind (Wiley; $14.95). “You should first list the regret because if you can’t see it, you can’t resolve it. Look at how holding on to it is affecting you.” Are you feeling angry, impatient, or out of sorts every time you think of it? Then it’s time to come to terms with the fact that you won’t win all of the time and that internal healing is necessary.

Grieve your losses. “One of the problems with early success,” says Beazley, “is that it sets the person up to believe that they will get what they want with greater ease [in the future].” If you’ve had this mind-set, then the obstacles, challenges, and failures hold even more weight in your life. Therefore, you bury the disappointment. And as a result, you start to build up these thick walls that deaden you. It’s the same effect as alcohol. It numbs you to the future. “The problem is if you don’t deal with it, you become emotionally dead, resulting in burnout [or] mental breakdown,” says Kuypers. You grieve the loss by finding a quiet place to cry, a journal to write in, meditate, or pray. That way, when you feel the pain, you’ll be able to overcome your feelings and move on without regret.

Be grateful. Gratitude is a simple technique, though it requires humility. Most people spend a lot of time looking at the glass as half empty. “By looking at it half full, it means ‘I have food, I have people who love me,'” says Kuypers. “It also means that in the present moment, we are just fine 99.9% of the time. Dwelling on the past is our way of convincing ourselves that somehow we are missing out. [Instead.] we [should] start each day with a fresh slate, free from burdensome expectations, and ready to respond to life’s challenges deftly and confidently.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group