Stuck: The Danger Of Living In The Past
September 16, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
It is said that, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is clearly merit to this statement, particularly when the past is being used as an empowerment tool to ameliorate the future. However, what happens when all we remember, and are focused on, is the past? I contend that, when this occurs, we wind up getting stuck in the past and we forfeit the opportunity to create greater success in our future.
Living exclusively in the past can be downright dangerous. Whether we are perpetually beating ourselves up about mistakes we made; regretting a lost opportunity; lingering in pain about being abused, victimized or dumped; mourning a loss; or even resting on our laurels, these are all very dangerous emotional territories to permanently abide in. Why? Well, waking up every day and choosing to live in the past is somewhat fatalistic. It is akin to telling ourselves that we can never rise above, or experience anything better than, the bad things that might have occurred in the past. Consequently, we become blinded to the options and opportunities in front of us as well as our ability to leverage our potential to achieve great things in the future. In short, an auspicious future essentially becomes nonexistent when we choose not to move forward. How can we avoid letting the past wreck our future? Here are three things to remember so that we can circumvent getting stuck in the past and missing out on the vast potential of our future.
- The past is only data. Oftentimes, we treat the past like it is a powerful, living, breathing entity that has dominion over us. The reality is that the past is merely data. Data cannot be more powerful than the data reader. As readers of the data from our past, we fully have the power to use that data wisely or discard the data if it is not empowering. When we treat the past as though it is superior to us, then it will haunt us and taunt us ad infinitum. Moreover, it is important to remember that the past is entirely filled with outdated data. As such, we should avoid putting a premium on the past while discounting the present, which is where all the opportunities to maximize our future potential lie. Also, since the past is just stale data, whichever portion of it that is not useful or empowering to us we must file it away in a box and send it to permanent offsite storage in our cerebral Iron Mountain. The point is that, in order to evolve, we must focus on the power of the present. I know this is easier said than done. However, if we want to have a future that is not being dominated by our past, then we must find the courage to stand up to the past and let it know who is in charge. No matter how painful or traumatizing the past might have been, we have the ability to get unstuck from it. Remember, there is greater strength in the future than weakness in the past. Hence, it does not matter how frail, weak or victimized we were in the past because the future has the nourishment that will give us the strength to survive. To find that nourishment we must surround ourselves with the right people and put in the work that is required to strengthen our survival muscle.
- The past is finite but the future is infinite. The past is a finite story book with all the chapters already completed. We cannot make the past better than it was or worse than it was. It really is what it is. However, the future is boundless and brimming with potential. In many ways, the past is like a tiny, old, musty library full of dusty, cobweb-covered books. In contrast, the future is an expansive, modern library with cutting edge technology and many yet to be written books. Why get stuck in the dilapidated library of the past when we can revel in the sprawling modernized library filled with infinite potential? The great thing about life is that we have choices and with the passage of time we can evolve if we choose wisely. We all make mistakes and have had bad things happen to us. That said, in order for us to tap into this unbridled potential of the future, we must choose to be more intentional about not making our future identical to our past. Hence, we must be willing to embrace change. We have the power to change our path with the choices we make each day. We do not have to sit back and watch our abrasive past keep renewing the lease to our lives so that it can muck up our promising future. We can deny the rental application and evict the past from our future lives. When we do this we open up our lives to new and better tenants – namely new hope, new mindset, new friends, new places, new experiences, new hobbies, new challenges and new successes. We have to find the courage to clean house because we simply cannot change our future if the past is still the biggest and most vociferous tenant in our lives.
- If we do not get rid of our past then our past will get rid of us. Sometimes our past is wired to wreck our future and we have to fight tooth and nail to avoid the carnage. But can we really get rid of our past? The answer is, “Yes”. We get rid of the past not by attempting to rewrite it but by silencing it with newer and better experiences in the present. Hence, for everything in the past that left us disenfranchised, we should do something today that will empower us tomorrow. The other thing we can do to get rid of the past is to stop giving it so much attention and power. Oftentimes we treat the past like a celebrity by constantly talking about it and shining the spotlight on it. All this does is give the past more leverage. Sometimes we mistakenly give the past a mike and it gladly uses it to berate us. Other times we give the past various weapons of mass destruction that it ruthlessly uses against us. When we give the past all this power and attention it will dominate and destroy our lives. As mentioned above, we have to make the first move in destroying our past by creating new experiences that overshadow it until it becomes relegated to its rightful place. True, we cannot rewrite our past but we can avoid constantly re- reading its history book, particularly if it is laced with negativity. Ultimately, the goal is to insulate our self-esteem from the destruction that a terroristic past can inflict.
My challenge for you is to ask yourself whether you have been unwittingly allowing your past to damage your future by giving it a mike and dangerous weapons. If the answer is, “Yes”, then you have to take the requisite steps to overthrow the past and regain the rightful control of your life. Only then, can your future soar to its full potential.
Questions & Answers
Question: What about nightmares and the container of buried emotions that are released presently due to childhood trauma?
Answer: That's a great and heartfelt question. While it is important to not live in the past, we simply cannot ignore the past. And, we should never feel bad when we feel like the past is stuck on our back and we cannot shake it. Please know that nothing that happened in your childhood is your fault. It takes time, professional help and the love and support from friends and family as well as others who have been in your situation, to help you heal. Simply put, do not carry this trauma and burden alone. There is a lot for you to unpack and it will be difficult to do so alone. Hopefully, there are others you trust to be your support and you have access to a professional you can talk to. For me, I've been able to talk with a professional for over 15 years and it really helps me to put things in perspective and to "eat my mountains bite by bite", as Iyanla Vanzant would say. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you find the peace of mind and energy you need to thrive.