The past is like the “adult” version of a teddy bear.
It gives us comfort. It allows us to remember past victories and bask in the warm remembrance of accomplishment. It gives us that fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. It allows us to keep an identity, one that the ego won’t easily let go of.
Oftentimes, this identity holds us back from progressing into a brighter future. If we do progress, we end up carrying a ton of dead-weight with us, slowing down our progress. Maxwell Maltz calls this the self image. Without a change in our self image, no lasting change on the outside is possible.
Without a change in our self image, no lasting change on the outside is possible Click To Tweet
In order to change this self image, we need to burn the bridges to the past…but in a “diplomatic” and authoritative way.
The best way to do this is through forgiveness.
Forgiveness has a “liberating” quality to it.
It’s like releasing a chained person from their bondage. It is the most effective way to let go of the past so you can start leaping towards the future with full force and gusto. I’ve found that there’s 3 different groups of people you need to forgive if you want any lastng peace of mind. Let’s start with the most obvious one.
You probably have a time in your past when you were bullied, teased, or put down by other people. I had plenty of that in my past as well. It informed my decisions with a noticeable tinge of doubt or revenge. I thought “I’ll show them!”
Unfortunately, this was very misguided. To be honest, most people aren’t thinking about the time when they slighted you. You’re the only one thinking about it and it puts an enormous mental bind on you.
How to do it: One effective forgiveness technique I’ve found is to write down on a piece of paper everyone that you can bring to mind who ever “wronged” you. Think of everyone who ever called you “stupid”, “fat”, “ugly”, betrayed your trust, etc. Just hash it all out on paper. Write super vivid descriptions of what they did to you. Write down how you felt.
Got it all out? Good. Now burn it. I mean it. Take a lighter to the piece of paper. Watch it incinerate into flames with all of the things and people who said that to you. If you take it to heart, it’s VERY powerful. You’re literally burning something!
Note: It’s best to do this outside so you don’t set anything on fire.
The next set of people that need forgiveness are very near and dear to you…
Forgive Your Parents
Most parents will do the best with what they’ve got. Most of the time they mean no harm whatsoever but they’re operating off of the mental framework that they were given.
A lot of people’s parents are shattered to pieces inside, so they directly or indirectly take this out on their kids with verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. This creates another generation of fucked up kids and the cycle continues.
My own family life wasn’t that ideal but I learned to move past it. Both of my parents did the best with what they were given. I knew that I just couldn’t keep clutching at what happened in the past because I was only harming myself.
How to do it: Write down on a piece of paper a letter addressing one of your parents (or both of them). Tell them how certain actions made you feel. Just really let it all out. All of the anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and other pent up emotions go into this letter.
This is the cool part: when you’re finished, seal it in an envelope, and drop it in the mailbox. You can decide whether you’d like to address this to them or not, it’s completely up to you. But…when you do drop it in, you’ll be SO relieved. It’s like a 10 ton weight was taken off of you. This is a super powerful forgiveness technique.
Lots of people have done this and have actually addressed it it to parents they haven’t talked to in a while. When the two parties meet or start speaking to each other, the emotions just flow.
We’ve all done things that “if we only knew what I know now” we wouldn’t have done. I’ve done a ton of stupid things, that’s for certain.
I’ve made decisions where I look back and want to go and yell at myself. I’m pretty sure you have too. That’s all well and good. But here’s the problem…
You look at the past through your current level of development.
You’re thinking that the past could have been different if you could somehow tell the past you to do certain things. Chances are, he wouldn’t listen to you anyway. He would have done what he was going to do.
While I admit that I’ve made some bonehead decisions and mistakes, there’s another side to the coin. If I had a chance to go back and talk to a past version of myself, I wouldn’t do it. All of the aggregates of decisions I’ve made have contributed to my current personal development. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if I didn’t make those mistakes.
I wouldn’t have learned those lessons that give reference experiences for future events.
I wouldn’t have sought out the books that help me learn so I can make better decisions in the future.
How to do it: It all boils down to you. You can decide to stop beating yourself up or you can start making constructive progress and use your past failures as reference experiences.
You need to stop seeing your past faults through the lens of your current self. It’s biased, it’s misinformed, and it’s just plain unfair. You need to be able to just let it go and use it as fuel to inspire you further. This can be very powerful motivation if used and transmuted properly. The best thing you can say is: “I’ll do better next time.”
When you forgive someone, you aren’t letting the fact vanish into thin air. Instead, you’re liberating yourself from mentally holding on to it. Without true forgiveness, no lasting peace of mind is possible. Remember that next time you want to hold on to a grudge.
How to implement today: Pick one of the three areas of forgiveness to get to work on now. What’s the one that’s giving you the biggest bottleneck in your life? Get to work on implementing these strategies and start living a more free life.