We’re all taught not to perseverate on the past. You can’t change it. However, in this article, I’d like to argue for the fact that you should at least reflect and find the lessons to be learned from the past. Many lessons come from bad experiences. No one wants to actually remember all the bad things that have happened to them. But each experience you have had has shaped you into who you are today, the good and even the bad ones.
We need to face those negative experiences head-on, acknowledge that it happened, go through the emotional journey of dealing with it, then look at it objectively. Once you identify those lessons, you can turn around and move forward better than you were before. Then, hopefully, you can make a conscious decision to do things differently (if you think it’s necessary) in the future.
So think about everything you’ve been through in life. And ask yourself:
- What have I learned from these experiences?
- Am I making the same mistakes? or the same choices that got me into those situations?
- What was my thought process back then? and how is it now? Has it changed? Do I need to change it?
If you are in a cycle, then reflect on those past experiences and ask yourself: What can I do differently to break the cycle?
I read a quote once that goes something like:
If you want something different than what you’ve got, then you’ve got to do something different than what you’ve always done.
Often we continue to make the same mistakes or get into the same situations over and over again because we don’t recognize what those mistakes are. For instance, with dating, we may continue to date and pursue people who for whatever reason don’t want commitment. Yet, we’re drawn to them anyway with the idea that “we can change them” or “it’ll be different with me”. Once you reflect and realize what you were trying to accomplish in the past, then you can decide to change your approach and accept what people show you about themselves. Instead of trying to change someone, you will be able to walk away and look for an individual that’s already on the same page as you are.
How Can You Reflect on the Past?
I personally think the best way to reflect on your past experiences, especially if they included bad times, is to talk about them in a safe environment. Get it out in the open. Find a friend, mentor, or therapist who’s able to listen, give you feedback, ask questions, and encourage you to dig down and find the lessons that need to be learned.
Another method is journaling. Write it down. Get the words on paper; not just the facts of the events that occurred that affected you, but also your role and your feelings about it all. I think that this would not only be therapeutic but also help you to go back and re-read it objectively. Sometimes seeing it spelled out can help you identify patterns, your weaknesses, your strengths and maybe even help you identify where change needs to occur.
A more difficult, but also a helpful approach, is to confront the people involved in those bad experiences (if possible). Having your questions directly answered or talking it out with those involved can help you gain clarity or closure.
Be Prepared for What Comes with Change
Trust me I know how hard it is to deal with the past and make moves towards something different. Any time you go for major change you will lose friends and you will potentially alienate family. It can be lonely and scary to take the steps you need to for yourself. But these steps are oh so necessary to get yourself out of the bad of the past and into the good of the future.
The Biggest Lesson of All
No matter what, understanding your past goes hand in hand with understanding and knowing yourself today. Sometimes I find myself getting so angry or so sad in certain situations and when I think about how I got to these emotions today, I realize that they are rooted in the events of my past.
What better way to empower yourself than by understanding every aspect, and know the why, behind what you do and how you react?