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Do You Drag Your Past Into Your Future?

You might be amazed when you read this article how much of the past you are dragging into today's conversations and interfaces. You might cringe to learn how you are losing your present to your past. This old, not-working habit deserves your attention in changing it.

So many of us live in the past. We dwell on old guilts, old hurts, old failures. Going over and over these things in our minds becomes most important to us. We begin to do much of our living there paying for old failures, getting even over old insults or hurts, evening up the score. In all those cases, we're allowing the past to dictate our futures.

The present, the now, the in-the-moment, gets lost. The present is mostly used as a reminder of past injuries or failures. You then take your precious present and frost it with a coating of your reaction to your past stuff. If you're thinking about things "past" in your mind, that past can then dictate your reactions here in the present.

When your thinking is about the past, that is your point of reference, and whoever you're dealing with has a big problem because you're not seeing or hearing him accurately. Instead, you're hearing echoes from the past. Those echoes carry pain in your mind and justify your attacks in the present in return for a past no one else sees and for whom it doesn't exist. Do you see how the past can dictate your future? Think of all the opportunities you could be missing out on.

Here's an example of something that happened to me just a few months ago. My family decided to meet at a small, local Italian restaurant to eat dinner. We went in separate cars and my younger daughter was in my car with me.

Just as each of you has done hundreds of times, we were making small talk, and were pretty much oblivious to everything around us. As we parked the car, a minivan zoomed into the parking space next to mine, slammed on his brakes, got out and started walking toward the restaurant. He parked so close to my car I literally could not get out of the car. Before he got away I asked him if he could move his car because I couldn't get out. I said it nice, honest. (I remember I wanted to be a smart aleck about it, but I held back).

He stalked back to his car, yelled something to me about it wouldn't have been so tight if I had parked in the space correctly then, as he pulled away his side view mirror hit my mirror and he zoomed back into the parking spot. Now I wanted to knock him out. My daughter, sweet little thing that she is, was encouraging me to knock him out. But I'm too old to be fighting. I'm a lover, not a fighter, or at least I hope so. We walked into the restaurant and, of course, we told the rest of the family what happened. Ironically, they knew who we were talking about because they saw him storm into the restaurant and, in their words "He was nasty to his wife."

It's a harmless example, but the point is that he was obviously living in the past. I'm not sure what had caused him to become angry. His past almost dictated an ass whipping. (I am bigger than he is.)

That's just an example to get you to look at your own situation so you don't make mistakes like that. Think of the times when you overreacted because your son left dirty underwear on the floor or your daughter left wet towels on the bathroom floor. You are reacting to something he's done in the past perhaps dozens of times and that something was upsetting to you.

If he had left his underwear on the floor dozens of times before, then you have to improve your parenting skills. You might be yelling at him about it, but there have obviously not been any consequences for it. Kids respond marvelously to consequences.

Let me give you another perspective. There's a company called The Landmark Corporation which does a wonderful job of teaching people different techniques for avoiding problems like this. They will tell you that when you have a conversation with someone, you should come from nothing.

When I first heard them talking about communicating from nothing I thought, "Whoa, I'm paying for this?" Then I started to get it and I hope, in light of the above discussion, it makes sense to you. Come from nothing. In other words, don't assume anything and don't bring past history into this current episode. This is not easy to do, but once you get the hang of it, you'd be amazed at how much you were missing. We usually go into conversations with an agenda or a prejudice - some point we want to make, or information we want to get.

Give up trying to be "most right" when you're talking to someone; give up your old agenda; don't think you know what they truly desire. In the beginning, you won't be able to do this easily, but if you'll just try it in one conversation, you'll sense the difference immediately as something very positive. Then, you'll be able to do it more often, and then it will become a permanent habit. Once you get it, it's the beginning of listening. It's also a big step toward giving up living in the past and living in the present. Once you can let go of perceived insults, when you live in the presentPsychology Articles, you get to create your future. The past is no longer dictating your future.

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Len Stauffenger's parents taught him life's simple wisdom. As a divorced dad, he wanted to share that simple wisdom with his girls. "Getting Over It: Wisdom for Divorced Parents," his book, is the solution. Len is an author, a Success Coach and an Attorney.

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