Memories are something else, aren’t they? They can really take you back to both amazing times and moments of trauma.
I want you to stop and think for a moment though, how wonderful it is that our brains work that way. We can associate the sight of something, a certain smell, or a song that comes on the radio and think, “remember that time…?”
And we can either think of it fondly or we can cringe and quickly change the channel.
Memories fascinate me. Perhaps that’s why I use them from time to time on this podcast.
Now, because we are hard-wired for drama (yes, that’s a factory default), we often find ourselves dwelling on past experiences that we have catalogued as negative and wishing that we could have a do-over.
Ah, but in the spirit of “everything happens as it’s supposed to,” we know that isn’t possible. There is no way back time machine to rewind and change the circumstances that have crossed our path in this life.
What we CAN do, is change our experience of it.
Yes. You can change your past by changing your perception, and you can do that any time you want to, by simply making the choice.
To do this, we have to first understand how to separate neutral circumstances from your thoughts about them. If you’ve been checking in with my work for a time, I hope you have been practicing and that you’re having more awareness of how you process things that happen in the world around you.
I will give you a brief refresher, which may also help first time listeners. Probably the episode to check out is #2 – I think I go most in depth in that one, in terms of separating circumstances from your thoughts. It certainly isn’t the only one, and I think that if you are new to this concept, the more repetition, the better.
Because thoughts can be tricky. Perceptions and memories can support our own confirmation bias, which I’ll also get into a little bit today.
First, let’s remind ourselves what a circumstance is.
It is neutral. It is 100% factual. A jury of strangers would unanimously agree with you. Not your friends and family, but complete strangers.
So, when we are trying to find the circumstance, we need to keep it to one sentence that is nothing but fact.
When you first try this, you’re going to want to include your thoughts and opinions, but you need to keep those separate. Write it out if you have to. Create a line to represent The Model, which is a format used by The Life Coach School.
When you write it out, it should be in this order.
C – Circumstance
T – Your thought about it (just pick one; the most pervasive one that’s spinning around in your brain when you think about the C.)
F – How do you feel when you think that thought? One word to name your emotion.
A – What do you do when you feel that way? Do you laugh, cry, recoil, retreat? This doesn’t have to be one word, just describe what you do.
R – What result do you get from taking that action?
So, this is my brief recap of The Model. I go through a couple of these in more detail in E3 if you want to revisit or check it out for the first time.
Let’s add confirmation bias to the mix.
Confirmation bias is your brain’s tendency to only seek information that confirms what you already believe.
We see all kinds of examples of this in the world around us today, thanks to all of the media available to us. Let’s take social media. The things that your friends share, the stories, the articles, are usually one-sided to support what they already believe.
You do it too. You may or may not share memes or stories on your timeline, but you’re doing it in your mind, and you’re definitely doing when you think of your past.
Let’s say a circumstance has happened in your past and your thoughts about it are that you were victimized. This leads you to feel insecure or powerless or insert your emotion.
Your brain is like, “Okay, this is the story we’re going with – allow me to demonstrate my efficiency and show you further evidence that this is true. Remember this other time? And that time too?”
You will continue to interpret new situations based on past experiences to further support what you already believe. That is confirmation bias.
For example: I am a victim of circumstance. I knew this would happen because these things always happen to me.
Those are the thoughts that confirm what you already believe.
And what is a belief? It’s starts with a thought and becomes a belief when you think that thought over and over.
Separate circumstances from thoughts, understand confirmation bias and beliefs.
I want you to get really good and recognizing these things, because they are going to be key to taking on new perceptions of yourself, how you have been living your life, and what you want your experiences to be going forward.
Now, let’s take these concepts and view your past experiences through a new lens.
THIS is how you go about changing your past. You change your perception of it.
Let’s try a scenario.
Let’s say you went to the company Christmas party (pre-COVID, of course). It was open bar. You got really drunk and made a complete ass of yourself on the dance floor. The parts that you can remember, lead you to feel ashamed of yourself. You do your best to avoid your co-workers for a while, hoping they will forget about you, and you feel like an asshole. You’re filled with regret and you keep dwelling on it.
Can you pull the circumstance, the thought, feeling, action, and result from that scenario?
If you’re in a place where you can pause, sit down, and write it out, I’d love for you practice this. Or plug in your own scenario. One that’s really been bothering you.
I will tell you this much. Your result is that you feel like an asshole, you’re filled with regret, and you keep dwelling on it. You can have more than one result. I often find that I do. A nice little grouping of complementary results.
And that result can be traced right back to the thought which was, “I made a complete ass of myself on the dance floor.”
See how that works?
It’s not a very nice memory to hold on to.
What I have found when I want to change my perception of things that cannot be undone, is that I shift to a lens of compassion for myself.
Because, with this scenario, it’s not about anything anyone else did TO you, it’s all about what you did and the regret that you have.
Please don’t hold on to regret for very long. It rarely serves you. The only way that I find regret to be a useful emotion is to bring to light the parts of yourself that you need to explore.
I do believe that every emotion that we have serves a purpose. What I don’t believe is that we should dwell there for days, weeks, months or years. A lot of us do that. We dwell.
We think there’s some kind of penance that we need to pay for making a mistake. That would be a belief, actually. If we’ve done something wrong, we need to pay for it.
Yeah, and at what expense?
How far do you want to go in punishing yourself?
Will you never again attend a company Christmas party?
Will you never again make eye contact with your co-workers?
Let’s be reasonable, here. This happened. It’s done. It’s in the past.
There are no do overs. Regret is here for a visit, so acknowledge regret, sit with it for a minute or two, then send it on its way right back out the door.
Now, put on that lens of compassion and explore an alternative plot line for this movie script of your life experience.
For this singular experience. How can this be rewritten?
Let’s try an alternate ending.
You went to the party, it was open bar, and you had several drinks. You ended up on the dance floor with LOTS of other people in the company who were having a crazy, good time. It felt great not to worry about what anyone else was thinking in those moments. You were happy. The next time you show up at work, you share with your co-workers what a great time you had, and they say, “I didn’t even know you liked to dance – we had fun too.”
Now, please be assured that I am not glorifying over-drinking with this scenario. Not at all. The reason that I chose this one is because over-drinking is often laced with morning after regrets, and I want you to see that it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s your choice.
You may well regret having drank so much because of the raging hangover and foggy memories. However, beating yourself up, calling yourself an asshole, and avoiding your co-workers because you’re worried about what they think of you is not the answer.
You can simply acknowledge internally that you drank too much and get to work on creating a plan the next time, so you don’t repeat it, while still holding compassion for yourself. It doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. I think that’s crucial to keep in mind.
You can also acknowledge that you used alcohol to release your inhibitions and the numb away the nervousness you had about getting on the dance floor. You can do this with awareness, understanding, and above all, compassion. Then you can get to the work of exploring alternative ways to show up authentically without drinking too much.
A big part of this lies in letting go of what everyone else thinks.
Remember, you have no control of their thoughts about you. Even if you had stayed away from the bar completely, that doesn’t mean people wouldn’t have still formed their own thoughts and opinions. They did. They have, and they always will.
Think about all of the memories you have stored up to this point under the label of “bad”.
How can you change your perception of those events today? How can you rewrite the script? We have so many options! We don’t recognize the power that we have.
And by the way, the people who were watching you may have perceived the first scenario where you made an ass of yourself or the second scenario where you were having an absolute blast, or any number of options in between. Those are their thoughts. Stop trying to manipulate them, because that’s outside of the scope of your power. Way beyond, in fact.
It’s important to keep that in mind as you do this work. YOUR thoughts are the ones that matter. YOUR self-talk will either free you or imprison you. Which way do you want to go?
When your memories come to the surface (and memories are thoughts and perceptions) that elicit emotional pain, you can treat this an exploration along the path of freedom.
What is it that you keep coming back to? Is it a lost relationship? The death of a loved one? Words that were spoken? Words that were unspoken? A missed opportunity? The loss of a job? A betrayal? Yours or someone else’s?
Redirect your focus and your perspective to what you have learned from that moment in time that is now behind you. Perhaps there’s a lesson that you still need to address and that’s why you keep ruminating on that particular event. Be open to the idea that maybe it keeps coming back to you because you haven’t closed the loop. There is unfinished business to attend to.
Attend to that business and move on.
Forgive yourself. Forgive the other person. Whatever it is that needs to be done.
How do you get to the root of it? You explore your thoughts, of course.
Write it all down. Examine it with fresh eyes. Let go of your confirmation bias that wants to tell you what an asshole loser that you are, and really take on the role of coaching yourself through this.
What would you tell your best friend? What would you tell the love of your life? If he or she was in pain, how would you bring your compassionate heart to the conversation, and what would you say?
Most likely, you would say something along the lines of, “I know this was painful and it’s still going to be okay. Because life if filled with highs and lows. You are strong, and you will I know you can put this behind you.”
I’m sure I’ve said things like this to others, though rarely to myself until recent years.
It is true that our brains love a good drama, and it’s also true that an unmanaged mind is like a toddler with a knife. It needs supervision! You can’t just leave it to its own devices and hope for the best.
Forgiveness is the gift that we give to ourselves in order to be free from the past. Whether it’s forgiving yourself or another person, you are the one that benefits from the act of forgiveness. I’m telling you; it will set you free.
Once you enter into the realm of forgiveness, it becomes much easier to let go of the story that you have created about a past event. Not only to let go, but even to create an alternate narrative.
Yes, this happened. I didn’t die. I’m still here, and I have learned and grown from this experience. You can even extend gratitude for the life lesson. Gratitude and forgiveness can be your salvation. Trust me on this. Those feelings work wonders. Summon the new thoughts to think that will generate these emotions.
I’ve done a few episodes up to this point about future thinking; how we tend to catastrophize about the things that could happen – usually negative. There’s a time for thinking about the future, and that’s when you are goal setting and planning what YOU will do on your path to create a better life for yourself. It’s rarely helpful to think of the scary scenarios that could happen in the world that are beyond your control.
We tend to do the same thing with our past in terms of focusing on the negative. Revisiting that same sad and tired playlist over and over, instead of recognizing that it’s time to create a new one. Something fresh and full of light. Pick some new tunes to sing along with. Leave the angsty ones behind.
We spend very little time in the here and now. Yet being in the present moment is the best place of all to be. It’s where we are meant to live.
What is going on right now that you can find something positive to focus on? What thoughts can you think?
I am safe. I am healthy. I am grateful for all that I have. I am grateful for all that I have learned and that I’m still learning. I am whole and complete in this moment. I am.
“How can I know anything about the past or future, when the light of the Beloved shines only now?“– Jelaluddin Rumi
Indeed. The past exists only in our minds and the extent that we allow it to consume us is a choice. In every day, in every moment, you have the choice.
Whether you believe in God, The Great Spirit, Universe, or Source, any of these concepts will teach you that part of a higher power also lives in you. So if you believe that a higher power is directing your movie, you could also choose to believe that you are a part of directing your movie too.
Also, be aware that your past is getting a constant refresh with every minute that goes by. You started listening to the episode in the past. Yesterday is in the past the same way that ten years ago is in the past. How long you carry it with you, and the ways in which you carry it with you, are entirely up to you. On behalf of God, Spirit, Universe, or Source, you have been created with the ability to travel this life in the way that serves you best. When you do that, everything else will fall into place.
Try it out. Do it right now. Try living in the now, and you’ll be amazed at how much better that feels. Trust me. I know all about the dwelling, and now is a much better place to be.
There’s an ages-old saying that we are either now here or nowhere. The only difference is the space between. That is my truth. See if you can make it yours. Embrace the space that is now.
Yes, it will take some practice. Yes, you will need to be patient with yourself as you learn how to supervise your own mind…your inner knife-wielding toddler.
The rewards are worth it. You will eventually transform into the very light you’ve been searching for.
This post is a partial transcript of my podcast, What Lights You Up – Episode 44. I invite you to enjoy the full episode and subscribe on Spotify or Apple!
2 Replies to “Stop Dwelling on the Past and Change It”
This was nicely written. I believe a lot of us have had the drinking and dancing experience and hopefully those watching were doing so with empathy and understanding. People can be pretty understanding when you open up to them and give them the opportunity by your direct communication. Self-isolation due to regret or shame can lead to bigger problems so it is better to just communicate. I struggle with this as well as everyone else. Thanks for the post. Makes me think about changing my own perspective/perception on some things.
Thank you! YES, exactly this. It took me so many years to figure it out. Our reality in fact does come from our perception about ourselves and the way we think everyone else sees us. Bringing compassion to the table is a game changer. At times, it seems easier to give it to others than to ourselves…when we should be first in line for it.
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