After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery.
It’s better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe.
Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.
– Sophia Loren
One of the biggest hurdles to achieving what we want in life is the ability to move on from the past. We all allow our past successes and failures to define who we are (“I am a failure because I did X or did not do Y”). We hang on to a past success like a banner declaring how great we are; or carry the weight of a past failure like a ball and chain. One of these days I’ll do a post listing 100 times I’ve failed. It will be a beauty!
But allow me to offer you a different way to see the past. You are not what you did. Those are actions, they had consequences, and they are part of your life experience, but they do not define you.
- Sometime in the past couple of years, you enjoyed a success.
- Sometime in the past week, maybe you did the dishes but left the bathroom messy.
- Sometime in the past couple of years, you may have messed up, big time.
- Sometime in the past year, you spoke in anger.
I’m using these examples to get you to think about your past as a series of experiences, not as “this is what I am”. These are things you did, but they should live in your personal history book as memories, not as pedestals or crutches.
We learn from our successes, but our greatest teachers are the failures. Congratulate yourself on your successes. Take full ownership of your mistakes, learn from them, and forgive yourself for them. And then, give yourself permission to move on.
Your exercise for today is to write what you perceive to be your past successes, and on a separate sheet of paper, your past failures. Keep it short and simple. Just the facts. It’s important you don’t judge yourself – just state the raw data about the event. For example, “I did not run the ½ marathon.”
Then, for each success and each failure, write down what you were thinking and doing that created that result. For example, “Training was hard in the beginning. It hurt! I was sore all the time. I didn’t believe I could run that far so I stopped training after 3 weeks.” Again, just the facts, not judgments.
The next step is cathartic. You know how your mind loves to rehash the dramas of the past? Oh yes! We all spend tons of time and mental energy wishing we could turn back the clock and fix things. Of course you cannot relive the past, but for all the mental energy spent back there, you may as well be – at the expense of what is going on in your life right now! Here’s your chance to put that to rest, forever!
For each failure, write down what you wish you could do again. Make it a formal declaration of what you would have done differently. Get it out of your head onto a piece of paper. You might write something like, “I would have stuck to my training plan instead of taking the easy way out, because I would have seen progress and it would have inspired me to keep going. I would not have given in to laziness. I would have been tougher with myself and seen it through to the end.” Write it down, really take in the meaning of what you just wrote, and LET IT GO. Shred or burn that paper! That is the last time you need to think about that event. Let the act of processing the event “formally” like this, be the closure. Say to yourself, “now I know exactly what to do if this situation comes up again.”
By creating something positive out of that experience, and “solving” it, you can LET IT GO. Your mind has processed the event, come up with a great solution, and now, you have given your mind the command to move on!
Do you see the immense power in this? Do you see how you can immediately turn every single failure into a valuable learning experience?
Don’t let the past dictate your future. Your goals don’t have to have any conditions attached to them. Just because you couldn’t achieve something in the past, that does NOT mean you can’t do it now. Every single past experience has been a stepping-stone for your success, if you learn from it!