The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.
Whenever I find myself stuck on the past, I think of this quote. While I’m not spending every moment living in the past, but I do have times where I harbor there. For me, it is not so much wishing I could go back and relive moments. I absolutely love my life now, but I always find a way to think, “Imagine if I had done this back then/ I wish I wouldn’t have done that/ I was so much ______ back then/ I wish I would have started sooner” and so on. I think back and regret spending $5 on Wawa that random time in September or waiting so long to tell someone how I felt. Sometimes it is silly and the feeling passes, other times it gnaws on my mind until the late hours of the night.
I can’t always control looking back, but I do try to not linger there too long. Being stuck in the past can be detrimental to your mental health. When I find myself looking back, I like to use the techniques below to help get myself back on track. Take what you need and see if you can implement it in your life. If you can’t, that is cool too. I developed these through my own trial and error . We are all different so while these work for me, you might need to do a little more searching to find what works for you, which is okay too. As long as you are working on it, you’re already one step ahead!
1. Use the past as a point of reference
The best thing we can do with the past is learn from it. Dwelling doesn’t help much because we can’t go back and change what has happened. We also can’t relive those good times that have passed. If you’re stuck on a year where you felt life was better for you, think of the “why.” What was going on in your life that made you so happy or feel so accomplished? Did you have different habits back then? You can’t go back but you can use that information to make your present situation and future better.
If you’re stuck on something negative that has happened, think of why that happened or what led to that. Use that information now, to know what you need and don’t need in your life. For examples, if you are like me and you’re stuck on a time where you “let yourself go,” whether physically or mentally, think back to what led to that. “That month I planned poorly, which led to me eating out every day for lunch for two weeks straight.” Sometimes in the moment you can’t see exactly what went wrong, but looking back, you can better assess the situation and use the knowledge to your advantage.
2. Think of the “chain of events”
This is a big one for me because it really does help me put things in perspective. Sometimes we focus so much on a bad event, we forget the good that came out of it. So what I do is when I’m thinking of something bad, (or it can be good but usually this happens when I’m thinking of a bad moment) I think of all that occurred as a result of that. I do this mentally, but if you’re a visual person you can write this down in a list form or draw a chart. Here is an example of one of mine:
- Got in a car accident
- People reached out to me and made me feel valued and cared for during this bad time
- Got a new car that I love
- New car has allowed me to travel and explore
It may seem a little cheesy, but looking at it like this really helps me calm down and realize that although a certain moment was bad, without it occurring, other events would not have transpired and put me where I am now.
3. Trust Yourself
Personally, when I look back and think of something that didn’t go as planned due to my actions, I tend to get down on myself. Sometimes I have to take a step back and remember that back then I did what I felt like what was best. They always say, “hindsight is 20/20.” Looking back, it is easy to get down on yourself because NOW you know better, but that doesn’t mean that back then you acted carelessly or dumb. We can’t be all-knowing all the time. We can’t know how something will turn out until it happens. If you trusted your gut instinct and it didn’t work out, then that is okay! Don’t be so hard on yourself.
4. Let Go
It seems simple saying it, but sometimes it isn’t all that easy to let go of something in the past. Whether its your “old body,” a person you no longer communicate with, or an event that transpired, letting go of weight is necessary for your well-being. So how do you let go? That depends on you. It may require figuring out why you’re stuck, talking to a friend, or seeking professional help. You may read a book that will aid you in this process, you may need to journal it out, cry it out, or something else. It may also require you to understand that you won’t also receive “closure” from someone or a situation and that you may need to make the closure yourself. While this process can happen overnight, it is more likely that it won’t. It may take days, weeks, months, maybe even years, but working through it will be the best solution.
5. Look Forward
The only way you can arrive at your destination is to drive forward. If you are unsure of what the future holds, start building it! You don’t need to have it as a mystery. If you know what you want, start working towards it today. As I said in number three, every action adds up and what you do today will definitely make a difference tomorrow. As with everything in life, it won’t be easy. Some days you will want to sit a mope about yesterday, and there is nothing wrong with that! Just remember that tomorrow will always come and that is a constant in life. You can never change what happened in the past, that is final. You can, however, work towards making a tomorrow you’ll be proud of.