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For me, even though I know it’s the best way to live, one of the hardest things to do is live fully in the present—accepting and appreciating the person I am in the here and now, and not being distracted from that by mistakes I’ve made (and hopefully learned from) in the past.
Many of us carry around distorted and negative ideas about who we are, all too often given to us by the people who were supposed to be nurturing and protecting us as children. This is one time when the human gift of learning turns against us, because we absorb and remember those messages about ourselves and what we can expect from the world.
These negative perspectives get “stuck” in our neural pathways and are as difficult to shake off as a candy wrapper stuck to our fingers—even when we’re given a mountain of evidence proving that we’re not the stupid or bad person our parents told us we were.
I’ve found one of the best antidotes to being held back by feelings of self-doubt from the past is to become more consciously aware of them—even though that can be painful—and remind myself where they came from and that they’re not “true.” I’ve never managed to make them go away by ignoring or burying them, so I try to balance reflecting on the past and the effect it’s had on me, with putting my attention into the present and getting a more balanced sense of myself.
Another approach that works well for me is choosing to act in a way that “contradicts” whatever ideas from the past are holding me back. I consciously choose to behave like the strong and wise person I know I can be, even when I don’t feel that way. It feels weird and not quite “real” at first because I’m so used to being the limited version of myself, but when I “fake it till I make it,” that “ideal me” slowly but surely becomes who I am.
There are times when I slip back or feel overwhelmed by painful memories, but in time, a combination of reflection and action has set me free from most of the effects of any past pain.
This approach has worked in my relationship too. My partner and I had been getting caught up in a repetitive cycle of arguing about the same sorts of things without really getting anything resolved, so we decided to focus at least three quarters of our time on being loving and having fun together—acting “as if” everything was good between us, and no more than the remaining quarter on figuring out what’s been getting in the way of that and why. By paying more attention to what’s positive between us, we’ve been able to steer our relationship back to the way we’d like it to be.
It’s all about finding a sweet spot between refusing to bury any of the painful feelings that come up in our relationship—because anything buried always gains in power and sooner or later, like steam in a closed container, explodes!—and spending so much time analyzing and ruminating that we lose touch with what it is that we enjoy about being together.
We spend less time talking about our relationship and more time just enjoying being together—dealing with any problems in an open and trusting way when they come up.
It’s a reassuring reminder that though we can’t control what anyone else feels or does, we can all take charge of how we respond.
And as the saying goes—energy flows where attention goes!