“The way you remember your past is the way you will create your future.” - Erwin McManus
When I heard this statement in a talk given by Erwin McManus, I paused the video immediately. I wrote it down on a post-it note, which I promptly stuck in my day planner (yes, I have a day planner). Right before I sat down to write this first blog, the note literally fell out of my journal. I took it as a sign. Today, I want to dig in to what this means in a practical way that will help us all become stronger human beings.
The underlying theme guiding my next several blogs is “Questioning Our View of Reality”, and I can think of no better way to start this conversation than by first looking to the past. Why? Our past experience and memory forms the basis for constructing our current view of life. Our past experience includes our childhood upbringing, family dynamics, early sense of belonging (or not) and what we were taught by our intimate friends and family. If you had a beautiful, picturesque childhood and young adulthood, you might have a positive and hopeful view of the future. If you are like most of us, it was more of a mixed-bag experience. We remember some positive things, some miserable things and some in-between moments. It is from these experiences that we create meaning and narratives that guide future encounters. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is a great survival strategy. If you grew up in an abusive, volatile household, becoming more closed-off and wary of people is an excellent strategy that keeps you safe and healthy. If you grew up never having enough money, always scared of where your next meal was coming from, you might feel that money is the most important thing to the detriment of all else. These really are great strategies, really. So what’s the problem?
When we allow these autopilot behaviors to guide our life, unaware of the underlying beliefs causing them, we unintentionally recreate those same experiences. We create narratives and beliefs that protect us, but don’t allow us to thrive. One of my biggest struggles during young adulthood was feeling that I was fundamentally flawed and unlovable. This belief colored every encounter and relationship, both old and new. I became socially withdrawn because of a deep fear that no one would ever want to talk to me. This same belief led me to make less-than-scrupulous choices in my choice of friends and romantic partners for far too long. I believed that if other people treated me poorly or thoughtlessly, I must have deserved it since I was unlovable. This created a vicious cycle where my experience further reinforced what I already believed, and I continued to show up and tolerate bad behavior from myself and others because of my belief about my worthiness.
I wish I could say this belief magically went away without a trace, but unfortunately I hear from it more than I like. A nagging feeling of being unlovable and very lonely haunts me from time to time, triggered by both real and perceived failure and personal disappointment. The difference now is that I can recognize it for what it is: an old story triggered by pain. The way I view life now colors my songwriting and how I think of music. I want to create a dualistic palette to reflect my emotional experience. Thankfully, I now know how to cultivate the presence of love in my own life in ways both large and small. Over time, this has expanded and transformed my capacity to both give and experience love. In my daily life, this looks like learning how to accept when my husband compliments me or says he loves me. It looks like being present when playing with my dogs, because what might be a time inconvenience for me when I get home is also the highlight of their day. It looks like reflecting on the goodness and fun times of my upbringing and childhood more than I reflect on the sadness. It looks like cultivating the relationships where there is an even give and take, and letting go of the relationships where I find I am the only one making plans and reaching out. It’s a learning process, but over the last few years it’s improved so substantially I can barely recognize how much more joyful and less angst-filled my life is.
If your past is filled with sad memories, what then? I’m inviting you to choose to deliberately reflect on the good and the beautiful no matter how small it was. Your future depends on your ability to train your mind to actively remember experiences that you enjoyed instead of terrorizing your brain with past pain. Having a more joyful life depends greatly on having the internal fortitude to redirect your own mind. This goes far beyond merely “being positive” and requires real creativity and ingenuity. It takes no creativity to simply recreate your past and react to everything happening around you - it takes courage to ask yourself the important questions and create your life anew.
Take five minutes to journal about an area you feel stuck in life - what do you believe about yourself in this area? How is that affecting your actions (or lack thereof)?
Actively remember at least three amazing experiences from your past and use those experiences to reinforce positive beliefs you already have.
Decide the kind-of person you want to be and then ask yourself, “what kind of beliefs does this person have?”
Taking this rethinking process seriously will transform your mind, your work, your art and your relationships. I promise. It’s certainly transforming mine.
In love & light,