Why Focus on the Past
We all talk about “the past,” whether we’re reminiscing about events that happened decades ago or relating an incident that occurred yesterday. I have no quarrel with talking about what has already happened—as long as you know why you’re doing it. Too often, however, I hear discussions about childhoods and personal history that make me wonder what their purpose is. Why do you talk about “the past”?
Sometimes we look to our history to fondly remember people, places, and events, intentionally recalling our graduation from college, a big date, home-coming of a new puppy, a child’s first word, or a visit to Paris. This life-enhancing activity can make you feel warm and fuzzy all over. Other times we consciously turn to memory for information—the name of that guy who was such a great dancer, the date of our last dental appointment, that funny saying of grandma’s. To recall information is also a very good reason to visit “the past.”
Often we look to what happened in childhood to make sense of what’s happening now. We think, “I get it, Dad had alcohol problems, so maybe that’s why I married someone who has them too” or “Maybe the reason I believe I’ll never have enough food is because we were so poor growing up that I often left the table hungry.” Bingo! Understanding the roots of current behavior by exploring “the past” can be highly productive and actually shift present thoughts and behavior in a positive direction.
However, let me be clear: there is no such thing as “the past.” It’s not a container of your history or experiences. It’s a construct, a description of a time that is not now, and doesn’t exist. It isn’t a train gone by that is now somewhere that you can’t see it. “The past” is done, gone, over, finito. How many of you think of it like this?
It’s vital that you have good reasons for trolling “the past” or you’re going to get stuck in your memories and miss life in the here and now. Once you connect the dots between what came before and what’s going on now, you’ve done your due diligence and have no reason to return to the scene of the crime. Every time you rehash painful memories without a bona fide purpose, you’re doing nothing but cementing them into your neural pathways. I know that therapy and therapists encourage delving into “the past” and exploring it to death. That can be all well and good if it’s done with a laser focus solely to improve the present, but to keep thinking and talking about what happened to you ages ago buys you nothing and leaves you with a gaping hole in all you have: now.