Reframe, Move On and Grow: Releasing The Past

Whereas people can clearly see the control freak in you (if any), there’s an invisible system inside your mind that others cannot detect— a realm where each of us (psychopaths excluded) struggles greatly with the emotions of guilt, shame, regret, worry and anxiety. This mind-space keeps us in a trance, preventing us from practicing mindfulness and accomplishing our goals, for while we’re caught in the system, we’re not living in the present.

Guilt, shame and regret in particular align as examples of living in the past, whereas worry and anxiety keep us preoccupied with the future. This presents us with the predicament of toggling between three life tenses, as we continue to work through the present— not a healthy state of mind, especially for the business professional.

It’s alarming how much of our time and attention these pesky emotions consume right under our noses, as we seldom recognize when we’re affected by our past or future. But when you muster the courage to begin recognizing these undercurrents, you’ll spend more of your life and career in the present— where your best self prospers. That’s why, throughout this month, I’ll explore with you how to release impressions of the past and re-lease your life in the present. Then in August, we’ll explore how to rid ourselves of the wasted energy thinking of the future.

Next and Over

I love legendary TV producer Norman Lear’s words of wisdom when asked at age 94 if he had any advice for an audience about living a full life:

“What occurred to me first is two simple words…: “over” and “next”. When something is over, it is over, and we are on to next. And if there were to be a hammock in the middle, between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment.”

These words helped me understand and sink into that hammock of the present. Lear’s vivid illustration also helped me recognize how the powerful emotions of the past not only intrude on our present, but can poison our future. And often these emotions are merely based on memories as remembered. Keep in mind that what we remember is very real to us, but not necessarily accurate. Our inclination is to distort our past, and since the emotions associated with the past (guilt, regret, embarrassment, shame, blame) all reside in the most primitive part of the brain, we tend to defer to that altered past quite often.

Dwell Not!

Timmy Shaw was one of the more colorful fixtures at my restaurant’s bar years ago. He was also a philosopher of sorts. His wisest advice was “Guilt and shame are two wasted emotions”. His point was that, since these events we’re feeling shameful about have already happened, it makes no sense to dwell, especially because we’re not serving ourselves. He framed it in a joking manner, but there was a generous pinch of truth to his wisdom.

Because we hold onto regretful experiences, we don’t give ourselves the chance to reach our potential. In remaining under the spell of the past, we forfeit the present. Meanwhile, these dwellings tug on the amygdala, disallowing the prefrontal cortex to fully engage, thereby stifling our creativity and productivity. The feeling that we’ve been burned by the past prompts us to hold back in the present to avoid embarrassment and feelings of being “other” and “less than”.

Velcro vs Teflon

We tend to remember negative incidents a bit too well! They stick to the brain like Velcro, and we can’t seem to pry them loose. However, when we do things well, like totally ROCKING a presentation, the memory and the oxytocin-filled feelings it produced tend to dissipate and slip off the brain like fried eggs off Teflon. This is because the effects of oxytocin remain in the body for only 4 hours, while the remnants of cortisol stick around for more than 24 hours. Here are the familiar inner scenarios that can result:

The Lose/Lose of Shame & Guilt: Shame equals “I am bad” while Guilt equals “I’ve done something bad”. How can we realistically take on career challenges with true confidence and clarity of mind when we carry around these unneeded and unhealthy emotions?

We Simply Remember Incorrectly: This is a wild trick our brain plays. Every time we recall a past event, we remember it in a way that’s more convenient to the point of our story. Food for thought!

The Battle of Real vs True: We hold onto so much guilt and regret from the mind of our younger self, but often what we experience as “real” turns out to be anything but. For example, I may feel guilty because I backed out at the last minute from going to an event, assuming I disappointed the host. It’s a very real feeling in my brain and heart, but it’s almost never the truth.

Real vs True As a Factor in Shame & Embarrassment: A fiasco on the day of my recent webinar delivery demonstrated a crucial point. I woke up to a Wi-Fi malfunction. I then found a new place from which to deliver the session but would be using an unfamiliar computer, a temperamental mouse, and a cell phone with an uncomfortable headset instead of a laptop mic. To add insult to injury, I’d printed the wrong version of my script before I left the office and had to get creative with a tablet to access the correct version. I was flustered right up to and throughout the webinar and was deeply embarrassed by the delivery. Afterward, the feedback I received demonstrated that the participants came away having learned a few good tips and were pleased overall. What I had felt was real turned out not to be true at all.

We have such potential in our careers, but we’re held back by shame, embarrassment, lack of confidence and a fear of failing. While it’s true we’ve all done silly things in the past, it’s wisest to reframe and leveraged these regrets to inspire ourselves to live our best lives, take chances and GROW, instead of living in the past. Stick with me on this journey, and get ready to home in on the dynamics of Guilt & Regret in my follow-up article.

If you enjoy what you’re reading and are considering living life more fully, schedule a complimentary consultative session with DRIVEN HERE.