“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one
day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx
How often have you thought, “If I’d only done…differently,” or, “If only I could do that over again,” “If I’d only studied harder in high school, I could have…”
The memories of past events and acts are powerful. They can, and frequently do, crowd into our lives, overshadowing the accomplishments we’ve made and causing us regret and self-doubt. If we allow them, they can derail our best intentions to move beyond our current circumstances and reach the level of success we want, to grow into the person we want to be.
Simply saying, “Forget the past, it can’t be changed. Move on,” is nonsense. Ignoring or forgetting our past is impossible. Especially since where we are now is the result of what’s happened and what we’ve done, or not done, in our past.
It’s not actually the past that’s creating the problems though; it’s our memories of the events in our past. Because memories occur in the present, it’s not the past we need to forget. We need to learn how to deal with the memories, because no matter how hard we try to avoid them, they’re going to happen. The past is the past and there’s nothing you can do to change it, no matter how hard you wish you could have done something different. But, the memories of what happened in the past mustn’t dictate your future. By acknowledging your past mistakes and instead of allowing them to create guilt or self-doubt, you can then forgive yourself.
Descartes said, “As my certainty increases, my doubt decreases; conversely, as my doubt increases, my certainty decreases.”
We all go through times when we find ourselves focusing on the mistakes we’ve made or have negative thoughts running through our heads, the self-doubts and negative self-talk. “I can’t believe I thought I could do this.” “What was I thinking, I’m not good enough to do that.” This kind of thinking can be incredibly self-defeating, affecting your behaviour at a subconscious level and thereby creating external behaviours that will seriously limit your ability to take the steps you need to take in order to reach your goals. Self-defeating thoughts create self-destructive and self-limiting behaviours.
Overcoming negative thoughts requires that you recognize that by changing your own internal perception of yourself and your capabilities you can change your behaviour. You’ll always have negative thoughts and self-talk, they’re inevitable and there’s no point in trying to prevent them. Stop trying to manage your thoughts. Instead, choose to feel something positive when they arise.
As I was writing “Foundations for Success,” my second book, there were many times when I sat at my desk and looked at what I’d written and thought, “Why would anyone want to read this? Nobody knows who I am. What kind of credibility do I have to make someone want to read it?” Had I continued with that thought pattern instead of recognizing that, whether anyone read it or not, it was something I needed to do for myself, it would never have been written. Overcoming those negative thoughts and refocusing on the task of writing enabled me to complete it and have it published.
The first step is to recognize when your self talk is creating an impediment to your forward progress. Are those thoughts stopping you from doing the things you need, or want, to do? Take some time and focus on what’s happening in your mind. Then instead of focusing on the negative, refocus on the positives. Spend a few minutes reviewing the list of strengths you possess and recognize that you have the skills and abilities to do the thing your thoughts are telling you that you don’t.
The next step in successfully overcoming negative thoughts is to try to determine the source. What is it that’s causing you to have them?
Many of these thoughts are caused by what are known as triggers, an experience that sets off a memory or a thought, drawing us back into the past and causing old feelings and behaviours to arise. It may be a person, a phrase, an action you take, a sight, sound, touch, smell or taste that causes you to react in a specific pattern. They’re very personal; different things trigger different emotions for different people and can be extremely intense.
Keeping a journal and monitoring your behaviour is one of the best ways to track your triggers and how you react to them. Since some triggers are situational or social, recording your thoughts and emotions, the people who were there and the situation you were in when the behaviour took place will help you spot patterns in both the situations and your reaction to them.
When you understand and can recognize what triggers your negative thoughts, you’ll have an easier time either avoiding them or recognizing when they occur, helping you better withstand them. The negative thoughts may never go away, but if you can quickly identify when they’re triggered, you can work through them. It becomes your choice to engage in the negativity or to shift your focus to more positive and inspiring thoughts.
When you stop worrying about the uncertainties of tomorrow and allowing the mistakes of your past to hold you back, when you start focusing on success, and learn to deal with those negative thoughts, you free yourself to live in the here and now and can live life to its fullest potential, free of fears about what might be.