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How to Stop Being Stuck in the Past

Last week's blog post discussed how change is easier than you think! We also discussed how to apply the important messages of change and transformation found in ‘A Christmas Carol' into our own lives. Many of us feel stuck in the past, feeling 'haunted' by past hurts or actions, much like Scrooge. Have you ever had your foot stuck in mud? What did you do? Chances are you took a moment and pulled your foot out of the mud. If you were really stuck, you called on someone to help you. But you didn't stay stuck in the mud.

Thinking of being stuck, we’re going to examine Scrooge’s experience when he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. The ghost takes Scrooge on a trip back through time, showing how Scrooge isolated himself and missed opportunities to connect with family and friends. Scrooge even lost his wife-to-be to another man because he prioritized money over love. Scrooge was caught up in himself, his life and his business. (Interesting how we blame social media for this type of thinking or behavior today!) This part of the journey was very painful for Scrooge and he begged the ghost to stop showing him things that had happened in the past. The ghost refused, telling Scrooge “These are the shadows of things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me!” 

Our brains are designed and wired to protect us. This means that it's easier for our brains to remember negative things - so that we're protected from ever doing them again - rather than positive ones. As you reflect on the past year, or things that have happened to you in the past, you may get caught up in a cycle of thinking about what you haven't done, haven't accomplished, or things you feel you shouldn't have done. 

These types of negative thoughts can strengthen feelings of sadness, shame or anger and makes it harder to break the cycle of negative thinking. It keeps you mentally stuck and prevents you from moving forward.


We can learn from the Ghost of Christmas Past: 

1. Scrooge begged the ghost to release him from the pain of his past, but Scrooge always had the power to release himself from the pain of the past. During his interaction with the Ghost of Christmas past, Scrooge felt like he was reliving the pain of the past from watching it, but we can choose to separate feelings from facts when viewing past experiences. It was painful for Scrooge to watch how his actions affected other people; however the ghost was there to remind Scrooge that he was not, in fact, re-living what happened. Scrooge could make the decision to remain calm, centered and view the montage as a curious observer and consider the lessons he could learn.


2. We can’t change the past. The Ghost of Christmas Past clarified that Scrooge was unable to change anything and couldn’t blame the past. The ghost was there to show Scrooge the lessons to be learned from the past, and that regret wouldn’t change anything.


3. Remember that the Ghost of Christmas Past said “…they are what they are, do not blame me!”. Do you ever find yourself thinking about past hurts, oversights and resentments, blaming yourself and others for what happened? You might feel anger as a hot burning sensation in your chest. You may have feelings of worry manifest as a tight, clenched stomach. Maybe you lie in bed at night, thinking about past wrongs, unable to sleep. Remember that our brain is designed to protect us, but sometimes it gets stuck in a self-protective mechanism that doesn’t help us move on.

Here are three things you can do if you’re being ‘haunted’ by a ghost from the past. 

1. Be aware and mindful of your thoughts. This doesn’t mean you have to be obsessive about them 100% of the time, but try and catch yourself the next time you start playing a ‘story’ in your head and re-experiencing a past hurt. Can you watch it like you would watch a movie, and from a place of curious, compassionate detachment, determine if there are any lessons that you could learn?

2. If you are thinking about something you regret this past year, write it down. It could help if it’s the same ‘story’ from the first exercise.  Write down what happened, what you said/did and why you regret it. Ask if you’re being too hard on yourself – can you show yourself compassion? Can you forgive yourself? Write it all down and see if your perspective shifts.  

3. Once you’ve completed the first 2 exercises, check if there’s a pattern there. For example, if you were playing a ‘story’ about how you yelled at your kids and then regretted it, what was behind the yelling? Were you trying to do too many things at once and feeling overwhelmed? Were you not taking any time for yourself and feeling resentful because you weren’t meeting your own needs? 

What could you do to change this pattern in the future? For example, on Sunday night, you could review your schedule and carve out time for yourself. You could take one weeknight to go to a yoga class instead, arranging for childcare and/or meal delivery as needed and advising your family of your plans. 

What changes are you planning to implement this week? Let me know in the comments. 

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