Ordinarily I am a big proponent of the saying, “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” Nine times out of ten I think it is vitally important to leave the past behind us and focus on the present moment, as well as toward the future, especially if the time we’re in right now is particularly difficult. However, I do believe that looking back at our past selves can actually be helpful, if we do it thoughtfully and purposefully.
So when is that? It’s when looking back at our accomplishments and happy times can remind us of what we are capable of and what therefore can be possible for us again.
One way to do this is to look at your resume. A few years ago I was interviewing for a job and I needed to update my resume. I pulled it up and instead of just jumping right in to see what was missing, I took a minute to really look at it. I read through all of my skills, the positions I’ve held, my work accomplishments…and not to toot my own horn or sound egotistical, but I was kind of impressed with what I had done over the years, and I had forgotten about some things for which I had won awards and made a real difference in people’s lives. So often I think we get mired down in focusing on what we haven’t done yet, or the mistakes we’ve made along the way, so it can be great to see all of the good things we HAVE done, and how we used our talents and knowledge in different ways throughout our careers/lives.
A resume doesn’t have to be work-related. If your work resume doesn’t inspire you then compile your own personal resume, filled with the things you have done as a parent, a friend, a family member, a volunteer, as an athlete or an artist - you can put anything on there that you’ve accomplished and that makes you feel good about yourself and showcases your your incredible worthiness and importance as a person. Then stand back and take a good long look at it and realize that the person who did all of those things can certainly create and manifest any dream or goal that she or he chooses. The proof is right there in front of you.
Another way to prompt this confidence is to consciously pull up reminders of times when we felt particularly strong, powerful, and in charge of things. Music can be a very potent tool for this, as it can evoke dynamic emotions in us and transport us back to a time when we felt like we were unstoppable. Just today a song came on the radio that always instantly takes me back to a time in in my life when my two main emotions were aspirational and effervescently joyful. As I turned the volume up and immersed myself in the music, I could actually summon up those feelings within me. I viscerally felt confident, hopeful, self-assured, and excited - which was exactly how I felt back then. Anything was possible, the world was my proverbial oyster, and I had the talent and fortitude to tackle it ALL. When I got out of the car my head was a little higher on my neck, my shoulders were squared and ready for action, and I could feel an optimistic and expectant flutter beginning to build inside my core - one that I am ready to hold onto and not let slip away too easily as it has in the past.
Looking at photos is another way to kindle a spark within us when perhaps we’ve lost our mojo along the way. Seeing ourselves tangibly in other seasons of our lives when we felt self-assured and invincible, or even just in a happy and contented period, can remind us that if those times happened before they can surely happen again, and it’s up to us to do what we need to do to create that atmosphere and environment where those feelings can enter our daily existence again.
It’s important to note that when we look back in this way we’re not focusing on the “whats” of the situation - as in, the people we’re with, the job we had, the place we lived, etc. Because sometimes the people in these memories are gone, that job has become an impossibility, and we can never expect the same things to happen in the same place - that’s just not how the world works. In these strolls down mental memory lane we’re honing in on the feelings we were having, paying special attention to those of courage, perseverance, strength, confidence, and joy. The external stuff doesn’t matter, what matters is how we felt about ourselves and how we viewed the world and our part in it.
Sometimes it can be hard to not slip into bad memories, especially when for some of us, the unhappy memories far outweigh the good ones in our minds. So I would encourage you to hold fast to the positive thoughts, and immediately discard the negative ones, since they are just thoughts, and we have 100% control over what we choose to think about.
So while I don’t believe it’s healthy to live our lives looking backward, every now and then, when it can be beneficial to us, it can be a great reminder of what we’ve achieved, what we’ve conquered, and what stumbling blocks were turned into stepping-stones. From these we can then turn our focus forward, to the next great memory we can create, and the next awesome thing we can add to our resume.