The past is data. No more; no less.
The past cannot predict the future.
I know, it may SEEM as if the past can predict the future sometimes. Many behavioral scientists are even fond of repeating the statement that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
(The research on this question is actually not nearly that straightforward, as it turns out. I find that this is something a subset of people tend to say in order to sound smart. And— who knew?— there is no shortage of people, even in the behavioral sciences, who really, really want to sound smart.)
The past can highlight patterns.
It can help us understand why we made choices we did or experienced feelings we felt.
The past can provide us with both positive and negative examples of our motivations, needs, and coping skills.
But the past is simply not an unfailing guide to what will happen next.
Why is it important to be super clear on this?
Because there really is a subset of people who will look at the past— at either their failures OR their successes— and assume they “know” what’s coming next.
Imagining that the past perfectly predicts the future can lead many people into hopelessness or complacence.
Because you’ve failed in the past does not mean you will continue to fail in the future.
Because you’ve succeeded in the past does not necessarily mean you’ll continue to succeed in the future.
Life turns on a dime.
History is full of examples of people who confidently thought they “knew” what was coming next— only to be completely shocked by what life was ACTUALLY about to throw at them.
Life, as John Lennon once reminded us in song, is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Everybody reading this has experienced this at least once or twice.
We need to remember that, no matter what has happened in the past, this is a new day.
We do carry baggage from the past— but that baggage is less important than the choices we make right here, right now, today.
You don’t have to live out old programming.
You don’t have to live out an old script.
No matter how many times a pattern has played out in your life, it can be interrupted.
The fact that the past is not necessarily the future is very much the good news.
It means we can literally become someone different if we don’t like who we’ve been.
It means we always have the opportunity to start over.
It means that we don’t need to be defined by our failures or losses.
It means we don’t even have to be held prisoner by our successes if we don’t want to.
Resist the temptation to assume the past is nothing but a preview of coming attractions.
It’s data. No more; no less.
But also remember: data is only as useful as what we do with it.
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