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Stop Using the Past to Predict the Future

It makes perfect sense that humans have used the past to predict the future. Consider the maxim that “those who ignore history are bound to repeat it” and that “you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” Although I wouldn’t argue with either adage, I want to warn you about using your past to predict your future.

I was thinking about this subject while talking with a client whose dysfunctional family created a great deal of chaos for her in childhood. She was always on high alert and trying to figure out if Mom was going to blindside her with criticism or if Dad was going to be drinking which meant driving unsafely. It was essential for her physical and emotional survival that she look for connections between what happened last time Mom was in a bad mood and Dad was on a bender and how they subsequently behaved. Mom’s bad moods generally led to her taking anger out on her children and Dad’s drinking led to impulsive behaviors that put his family at risk.

However, now that my client is middle-aged, she enjoys a pleasant life in Sarasota. She’s chosen a fine bunch of friends, owns her own home, and lives alone. Coming and going as she pleases, she has as much control over her life as an adult could wish for. Why then, does she spend time ruminating about the past as if doing so will keep her emotionally safe in the present? Fact is, she’s already safe in the present, but leaves it mentally far too often, slipping into her past. Because she always had to be vigilant and prepared in childhood, she’s continued being so today, but unnecessarily. What is she preparing for now? She doesn’t need to use her history to predict what will happen today because whatever it is, she can handle. Moreover, all her ruminating about the past has made her tremendously anxious in the present which is sad because her current reality is pretty darned good, a point she readily acknowledges.

I wonder how many of you do this, spend time raking over what you just said or did or didn’t say or do to try to gauge someone’s reaction so you’ll be prepared if something “bad” happens. You’re actually preparing for something that was over a long time ago and is highly unlikely to happen now. So, in short, you’re preparing for the past. If this makes no sense, I’m glad. It shouldn’t because it’s a physical impossibility. What happened to you decades ago is a poor predictor of what will happen to you today, tomorrow or a week or a month from now. Who you are in the present is a much better indicator of how you’ll make out in the future, and spending time in yester-world and tomorrow-land only makes you miss out on the precious, fleeting moments of today.