Don’t Be Defined By Your Past

One of our greatest strength and also our greatest issue is the ability to remember the past. Children and mammals have this to a much lesser degree and, interestingly, it serves them better for it. So, let us look at their way of remembering the past first.

While I strongly push not punishing, if done with young children and, in the animal kingdom let’s use, dogs it is imperative to punishment immediately after their transgression. The reason is they are so in the present moment, they have moved on mentally within minutes and do not actually remember that transgression.

I am sure some of you are thinking, “that’s not correct,” but that is the problem with punishing. Sure, if you punish a young child or dog, they do remember, but they remember the punishment, not the reason why. They may or may not associate the punishment with the issue.

There was a joke I heard many years ago which, while funny, also illustrates this. A dog messed in the house, so the owner grabs it, sticks its nose in the mess, shakes it while yelling, and then throws the dog out the window. This punishment happens a few times, and then the owner comes home to find a mess and the dog immediately stick its nose in it, shakes, and jumps out the window. That is why no current day trainer uses punishment to train any animal, so why do we continue to punish children?

I would add that, even in this story, the dog will run into the house and will have moved on from the incident. Every new moment is another adventure, and they do not lie around thinking, “Oh, I was a bad dog! I’ve done this so many times; I will never get it right! I must be worthless and doomed to failure!” But how many of us do this?

Remembering the past is a wonderful way to insure that we learn from our mistakes and help our lives to become ever more productive and easier to navigate life. Such as to better fit into our family, our “tribe,” our religion, our business, or with whatever group we choose or need to associate. Unfortunately, it can also be a way to keep us or others tied to the past.

I knew an estate attorney once that was the baby of his family of seven. He worked at a prestigious law firm and was on their partner track, so hard working and smart. He told me about having to go home because his dad had died and the family expected him to handle the probate, but then continued to treat him as if he was the baby, not competent, and needing their constant input. Unfortunately, while this upset him, he was unable to break out of the family system that kept him subservient.

Everything in the past, whether we label it “good” or “bad” has made us what we are today. There is no “If only that had not happened to me!” If it hadn’t, we would not be who we are today, and there is no guarantee that the alternate path would have been better or easier.

Use the past, but do not live there; live your life in the present moment! An analogy I use is your life is like a motorboat; you can continue to look out the back and bemoan every log, sand bar, and wrong turn you have ever made, or you can turn around and grab the wheel. Use the lessons and knowledge of the past, but apply it today. Just like the advertisements for stock brokerages, past performance (in this case, missteps) does not guarantee future failures, but only if you quit beating up on yourself and learn! Lament the ill-conceived choices you have made, celebrate your successful choices, and utilize the lessons learned from both without identifying with the old you. She or he is long gone.

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