We can’t leave the past behind by focusing on it.
I know, I know. It’s tempting.
We WANT to revisit our past, for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes our brains even MAKE us revisit the past against our will, in flashbacks, dreams, or intrusive memories.
The ways we try to revisit the past are almost endless. We think about it. We reread old texts and emails. We physically go to places we once lived or worked. We contact people who were once in our lives.
We replay old interactions with people in our heads, again and again and again…as if we can somehow alter the sequence of events.
We cannot alter the sequence of events that actually played out.
We can never have a better or a different past.
Accepting this is essential to building a life that we actually value and enjoy living in the present and future…and it’s also incredibly difficult.
Revisiting the past can be similar to an addiction or a compulsion.
We find ourselves drawn to it like an addict is drawn to their substance or behavior of choice.
We find our brains running that pattern, and we may not even consciously know why.
You’re not crazy if you do this.
Almost everybody does this.
And it almost always leads to pain.
How can we let the past go?
We need to start by reminding ourselves, again and again and again— as many times as it takes— that focusing on the past is never going to change it.
When we find ourselves drawn down that path, either voluntarily or involuntarily, we have to be prepared with a new, different pattern of focus to switch to.
We need to practice switching to that new pattern of focus BEFORE we have to in the heat of the moment.
We need to get good at shifting our focus— developing the skills of flexibility and perseverance in switching our focus.
I know, I know. That’s not an appealing answer. I, too, wish there was a way that we could revisit the past and “process” all of its traumatic overtones, such that we simply can’t feel it anymore.
I, too, wish we could just forget it and be done with it.
But we cannot.
It doesn’t matter HOW we revisit the past in our minds.
It doesn’t matter WHY we revisit the past.
It doesn’t matter how determined or confident we feel in approaching the past.
Immersing ourselves in the past is simply never going to be a strategy for moving on.
Revisiting the past reinforces it. it strengthens old feelings, old associations, old meanings.
When we revisit the past, we train ourselves to revisit the past.
Train yourself to shift your focus to the future.
To your goals and values now.
To what makes you tick now.
Resist the temptation to try to “fix” the past by revisiting it, in your head or otherwise.
You can no more “fix” the past by revisiting it than an alcoholic can “fix” their addiction by hanging out in a liquor store.
When in doubt: focus forward.
Also when not in doubt.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free weekly email newsletter and never miss a blog or social media post!