How Your Past Influences Your Future

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…and what you can do about it!

The past is in the past. Perhaps that is a familiar concept to some of you. After all, dwelling on something that happened ten years ago seems inimical. Yet, somehow, past experiences tend to creep in our subconscious and play a powerful role in influencing our future. A bad experience, several bad experiences of the same nature, have the ability to wreak havoc on similar future experiences.

A trail of toxic romantic relationships results in swearing off love for good. Sound familiar? Since humans are social beings, we, inevitably, find the urge to date again. However, past romantic fails result in anxiety about future attempts at love. If allowed, the flawed perception that we are doomed, in terms of love, will creep in and influence future relationships.

Not just relationships, though. The idea that history will repeat itself and the anxiety about what could be that stems from unfortunate past experiences is prevalent in a variety of life contexts. A rough childhood may lead to distrust in others as an adult. A run of financial distress may result in the mindset that there is no way out of debt, ever. A string of losses during the football season may cause doubt and worry before every single game, because another loss seems inevitable. You know… those fairweather fans… who only love the Detroit Lions when they win, but talk crap about them any other time (which may be a lot)? Are you with me? Again, negative past events or experiences, especially multiple instances, can easily result in losing hope for future events or experiences of the same kind.

Adults rarely anticipate anything. Maybe that’s because we’ve been disappointed too many times and are afraid to get our hopes up.

Dr. David McDonald, The Adventure of Happiness, 33.

Think about something you have anticipated and truly looked forward to. I look forward to going to Florida next spring break. Why? Because, I have experienced Florida before and had a FABULOUS experience. It is much easier to anticipate and look forward to experiences that either a) are new; therefore, are exciting/thrilling, or b) have been great experiences in the past; therefore, there is no negativity attached.

So, what can we do about bad experiences trying to consume our perception of future experiences?

  • Take back control. To do this, you must tweak your mindset. Step back and notice how much credit you are giving the negative experiences. Do your negative experiences stick out like a sore thumb? Quit giving the negative undue credit. Misery loves company– so allowing the negative experiences to remain in the spotlight is a surefire way to attract future negative experiences.
  • Minimize the weight of a bad past. The past does NOT define you. I didn’t have the perfect childhood. The crud from my childhood has definitely crept in on my adult life, causing me to have some ugly symptoms of trauma. However, by refusing to let the unpleasant monsters from my child hood define me, I minimize their weight. What I experienced as a child is just that: long gone childhood experiences. They are not my life, they are not me, as a being. It is much easier to happily and excitedly anticipate your future when you minimize the weight of a bad past or bad past experiences. Why? Because, the negative is no longer on a pedestal in the spotlight.
  • Give yourself permission. It’s ok, friend, I promise! Allow yourself to freely and fully enjoy life. I don’t consider myself the risk-taking type, per say, but I do believe that every day I wake up, I take a positive risk. I risk my delicate emotions, my flaws, or other pent up issues to being exposed. I risk being vulnerable in a moment between my husband and I. I risk my littles pushing my buttons and taking advantage of my weak spots. AND THAT’S OKAY! Those are risks worth taking. No, not every day is 100% perfect, but giving myself permission to freely anticipate life each day is SO powerfully satisfying and makes it all worth it!

It’s difficult to tell others how to live. I don’t know what you have been through and I have never walked in your shoes. But, I know that everyone can relate to having some type of negative experience in their life. Life can’t always be perfect, right? What we can do about the negative experiences is take back control, minimize their weight and give ourselves permission to live. 

These steps will allow you to anticipate future events with a positive outlook, rather than a flawed perception of how things could potentially go based on negative past experiences. Replace anxiety with enthusiastic anticipation for what each new day might bring! Seriously! Instead of putting so much energy into sulking about negative past experiences, shift that energy towards employing a positive enthusiasm for future experiences!