Leave the Past in the Past: What Matters Most Is Who You Are Now
“Focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t.” ~Unknown
When I was in rehab for alcohol addiction, one of the most difficult things for any of us to overcome was the fact that we thought we were beyond redemption.
Why? Because during the depths of our addiction, we had done some things we weren’t too proud of. Unhealthy behaviors that included drinking while driving, calling in sick when we weren’t because we were too hung over to go to work, or neglecting our children for the lure of spending the evening with a bottle of wine instead. None of this sounds like anything you could feel good about it, does it?
The biggest thing I had to learn through this was that who I am now is what matters most.
My unhealthy past behaviors don’t make me the person I am now. And the first step in becoming the person you are now—the one where your kindness can shine, your love for your children takes center stage, your choices with others are healthy, your self-abuse is nonexistent (or, at least dormant)—is to leave the past where it is.
Instead, focus on the future and building the person you want to become. If you are struggling with being stuck in a place where you don’t feel like you’re being your best person, where you might be berating yourself for your behaviors you aren’t proud of, where you might not know how to turn your life into something that more positively reflects the better parts of you, then read on!
“It doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that matters is where you are going.” ~Brian Tracy
First, we need to understand a very fundamental thing: the past does not define us. Often, we believe that the past does define us and, therefore, there is no escaping it. This is simply not true.
We are the ones that decide whether or not the past holds us hostage. Your past may have shaped you, but it does not define who you are now. What defines you is what you do now, your actions now, and what you have become since the past you left behind.
The second thing in becoming the person you are now is to stop doing the behaviors you don’t like, those ones that make you feel like shit about yourself. You know the ones. But, changing bad habits or unhealthy behaviors doesn’t happen overnight.
I couldn’t change everything I disliked about myself all in one night. It was a process. You need to learn that things take time and this is just part of the journey. And, most importantly, that this is okay.
“Every positive change in your life begins with a clear, unequivocal decision that you are either going to do something or stop doing something.” ~Unknown
It starts with first changing your behaviors one at a time. If you could slow down just a little and ask a simple question “Will this make me feel lousy about myself if I do it?” and the voice said yes, you might be able to pause long enough to say to I don’t want to do things anymore that make me feel lousy about myself.
You could then decide I am going to choose to not commit this behavior this time. And, that is precisely what it is—a conscious decision to thwart one unhealthy behavior at a time from coming to fruition and sending you down that ugly road of self-loathing and condemnation.
“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” ~Max de Pree
If you ask yourself the opposite question “Will I feel good about myself if I do this?” sometimes it is even easier to follow through on the action.
It was a long road for me to turn my life around from where I was, but I did it. I started by building better and more positive behaviors one at a time, until I started to have more of those than the unhealthy ones. And slowly, but steadily, I built myself into a different person—one I could be proud of and one I liked being.
For example, if I asked myself, “Will I feel good if I go into work despite being hung over and at least show up?” And the answer was yes, then I did it.
“Will I feel good if I don’t drink tonight and instead hang out with my children?” And the answer was yes and I did it, I actually did feel better about myself!
The more actions you can collect that make you feel good about yourself, the further along you get to leaving actions behind that you don’t feel good about. It’s a process of collecting more “I feel good about myself” actions than “I feel bad about myself” actions. This is what you need to do.
Even more importantly, each time you do an “I good about myself” action, you need to give yourself some credit for it. This is important, even if you slip up and commit an “I feel bad about myself” action the very next minute.
If you don’t give yourself encouragement for the small victories, then you’re doomed to not have the courage to keep going. So self-reward, recognition, and credit are all very important things to give yourself.
Every small act in the right direction needs to be recognized as something good and valuable, so give yourself a pat on the back, a verbal good job, a kudos, or a gold star sticker. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it is some kind of recognition that works for you.
Make sure to give yourself recognition in whatever way makes you feel good about it. These will add up over time until you begin to start feeling good about yourself in general, at least a little bit, then more, then finally much more.
“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” ~Buddha
What about the moments when you fail, or commit the “I feel lousy about myself action?”
You must forgive yourself these, practice some self-compassion, and let it go. Just say to yourself, “I messed up, I forgive myself, I will try again.” Otherwise, you will stay stuck in the “I feel lousy about myself” behavior by beating yourself up for it, making yourself feel bad, and then dangerously looking for a way out of that bad feeling by committing some other unhealthy behavior.
For example, here’s what usually happened to me. I’d feel bad about drinking, so I’d drink so I could forget about this horrible feeling I couldn’t stand being in.
Guess what always happened in that scenario? It became a vicious cycle and a whirlpool that just kept sucking me down further and further. And that is exactly, what it is like—a whirlpool.
Your job is to stay out of the whirlpool, by focusing on doing actions that you feel good about, building your self-confidence that you are a good person, acknowledging your accomplishments, and creating a sense of strength for yourself that you can continue to build on this foundation.
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ~Buddha
So, when you commit an unhealthy behavior, forgive your wounded self. This does not mean you accept it as okay or that you shouldn’t take accountability for your actions. It simply means you don’t demean yourself over it, or punish yourself for it, or otherwise stay stuck in it. You forgive, move on, and try to focus more on doing actions that make you feel good about yourself.
By focusing on actions that make you feel good about yourself, you begin to build up a new sense of self. Because, this is exactly what you are doing. You are building a new you. You are creating a new version of you—a stronger version, a version you are proud of, a version that reflects your true values and true self.