How often do things from our past come back to wreak havoc on our minds out of nowhere? There you are, playing at a high level one moment, only to be hijacked by the recollection of some negative moment from your past, the next.
Who knows why or how it was triggered, but there it is all the same.
It could be a past failure, or a time when you hurt someone, or they hurt you. It could be a time when you did or said something ill advised that resulted in a negative consequence. Whatever it was, it knocks you out of your flow and holds you down.
And how often have those same memories blindsided us time and time again…
I’ve found that far too often these negative events continue to resurface in my life no matter how much I may think they don’t matter, or how hard I try to bury it.
So rather than trying to keep those events buried and tell ourselves they don’t matter, let’s remember one thing…
Our past contains an incredible amount of knowledge and potential learning IF we choose to put ourselves in a position to learn.
Deep down, I believe that these events keeps coming back up for us because there is something significant that we can learn for the future.
So let’s put these events behind us for good. But before we do, let’s make it a new practice to LEARN before LETTING GO…
This mental hijacking from past events happens all too often to me. It could be something as recent as a poor meeting or business decision at work, or something from grade school or high school. It always feels completely unprompted, yet there it is.
The worst instances are when I’m feeling good about myself – things are going well, I’m in the zone, playing at a high level and then BAM! That past thought / memory cruises on in, reminds me of a time when I was not my best, lingers for a bit, and then cruises on out.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
It’s a gut punch every time – knocking the breath out of me and wind out of my sails.
However I don’t want that cause and effect to continue. I want to take control of those moments. As the quote above reminds me, perhaps there is something to be learned from the past – especially given what I know now.
So, in an effort to maximize my learning, and rid myself of these confidence busting mental intrusions, I want to repurpose some mindfulness practices to help learn from these past events and then let go of whatever is left.
Learn What You Can, And Put The Rest Behind You
I am never one to advocate for dwelling on the past. I’ve done it enough and it is not something that I believe makes me stronger.
Now learning from the past is something very different. Whether we already know a past event holds a few nuggets of knowledge, or are just constantly revisited by an event over and over, it’s time to do some work and learn.
Now before I dig into some guidance for exploring these past events, I feel it’s wise to include a quick public service announcement…
If upon digging into a topic from your past you realize there is some pretty heavy emotional or psychological findings, then please make sure you take the appropriate steps to seek out a proper medical professional. You don’t need to go that road alone if you discover something significant like that along your journey.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
They key theme I want to promote this week is self-discovery – specifically with regard to our past events. There is always a tremendous place for self-discovery in the here and now, yet for this week, let’s set our sights behind us.
Today I want to walk through 5 tools that can be very beneficial in exploring a past event to see what (if anything) we can learn from it before we put it behind us for good. I do want to highlight the point that after our exploration into a nagging past event, we may find there really isn’t anything there, and that’s OK! We can finally let it go all the same.
Time to dig in…
This is a new tool I’ve come across in my coaching program, and something I am just starting to explore myself. Inquiry is built on the premise of questioning thoughts or ideas in terms of their level of truth and their (real) impact on you. To leverage the inquiry practice, first identify a thought or idea that hijacks you from where you want to be or what you want to be doing. These thoughts are often a result of past experiences too, so they are right in our wheel house today.
After you select the topic, answer the following questions:
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know it’s true?
- How do I react / what happens when I believe that thought?
- Who would I be without that thought?
Answer openly and honestly and see where you land at the end. More often than not, there is a good chance your inquiry thought will turn out to not be true, and you will discover you are a better version of yourself without it. Learn and let go!
Journaling is always a powerful tool when you need to dig into something and don’t know where you will end up. If there is an event or sentiment from the past, pull out a journal or notebook.
Summarize the event or thought, and then really explore what comes up.
Write about why this event was or wasn’t important. What happened or didn’t happen because of this event. Most importantly, write about what you can take away or learn from it, and then write yourself permission to put this event behind you for good. Learn and let go!
5 levels of why
The “5 Why’s” was actually a technique developed by Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Motor Corporation during the creation of their famous manufacturing processes and methods.
The simple thought behind the method is that by asking ‘why’ 5 consecutive times when investigating a problem, there is a high probability you will come up with the root cause answer by the end. Each time an answer is uncovered from one instance of asking ‘why’, ask ‘why’ again! So the next time you feel you have a complex or unclear question from your past that you need to dig into, start asking ‘why’ and go deep. Learn and let go!
Explore with a partner
Sometimes it’s just better to explore with someone else. Have a big hairy past experience or thought you need to explore? Grab a trusted friend, a loved one, or a partner and let them know what you want to explore.
Explain why it’s confusing or important to you and start talking. Ask your partner to challenge you when you think you’ve explored it enough. Additional perspectives can help you uncover more of what you didn’t realize was there and surface some blind spots. There can be more learning in numbers. Learn and let go!
I couldn’t talk about self-exploration without mentioning meditation. If you are setting out to explore something that’s been consuming your mind space for a long period of time, meditation can be a powerful tool.
To use meditation in this way, I’d recommend a non-guided meditation since you will want to laser focus in on the question or issue at hand and explore where your mind goes. Having a prompt of a guided meditation might be distracting given your objective. With that said, use what would work best for you.
Once you select your topic to explore, focus on your breadth. Start with some deep breathing in and out, and then settle on your natural pace. Let your topic come to center stage and begin to look at it from different angles. When ready, start asking questions or picking on specific details. Continue to see what comes up and then dig some more.
Once you start your exploring, the path will begin to unfold for you. Learn and let go!
Let’s Start the Learning Process
I hope some or all of the tools peaked your interest and may be beneficial as you explore the opportunities for learning that are rattling around in your head. Personally, I hope to tease out a few nuggets here and there and my past moments or memories behind me forever as I keep my gaze focused on the future.
Let the learning (and letting go) begin!
Discussion Question: What is one topic , story or belief from the last that continues to show up for you? Decide to learn from it, pick one one of the strategies above, and dig in. Learn what you can, and let go of the rest.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."