In personal development, we often hear about “letting go of the past.” That’s because many of us view the past in a negative context for a myriad of reasons. However, there are also numerous treasures from our past that we can embrace.
As we move through life, there are people, circumstances, and tragedies that leave behind deep wounds and scars. There is no denying that each of us has painful memories that shaped the way we think, react, and even deal with the present. Hard times are simply part of life.
The past is the reason why many people seek counseling, whether to deal with a particular trauma or overcome the anxiety that stemmed from a difficult childhood. And while negative past experiences are valid and need to be processed for us to heal, it's worth considering the good that came out of our past too.
There are usually at least some healthy beliefs, happy memories, and admirable values that we gained from the past. Just as painful past events teach and mold us, so positive past events influence our every day, whether we realize it or not.
Our past can even be the key to our future progress!
There might have been a grandparent, teacher, friend, or achievement that gave us confidence, inspired us to go after our dreams, or encouraged us to pursue a career we never thought we could.
How Positive Past Experiences Influence Us
Good experiences, beliefs, memories, and values from the past can affect us, either consciously or unconsciously. These impact various areas of our lives, including our:
- Coping mechanisms
Someone from your past might have inspired you to become more open and approachable. Likewise, a role model might have demonstrated the healthy habits you've adopted as an adult. Perhaps a parent or caregiver coped with stressful situations by going for a long walk or reacting calmly to provoking situations. A happy memory about a picnic with friends could have helped you prioritize friendships and made you more committed to regular catch-ups.
Rediscovering Past Treasures
As time goes by, it's easy to forget the people and circumstances that had a profoundly positive impact on who we are today. Let's take some time to delve into our pasts to identify those things.
Our families are our primary reference groups, and how they function influences many areas of our lives.
Did you grow up in a tight-knit family? Perhaps your parents or grandparents instilled in you the value of familial connection. Close families stick with and look out for one another regardless of circumstances.
Were there certain family traditions that you still remember to this day? Think about a holidays, playing board games together on weekends, celebrating birthdays, weekly family dinners, or supporting your favorite sports teams together. What has your family taught you, and how does it impact your own family values today?
Even if your family is non-traditional (families come in all shapes and sizes), perhaps another person or family inspired you to develop healthy relationships.
Our health is arguably our most important asset since, without good health, we can hardly enjoy anything else. Who in your life encouraged you to have good health habits? Perhaps you had a friend who prioritized fitness and who cooked healthy meals or a sports coach in school who encouraged you to get fit.
The women in our lives can play an important role in the formation of our body image. Who were the women who taught you to love and embrace your body?
If you play volleyball or golf to this day, it could be because someone pointed out your potential. Who shaped your mindset around physical activity, health, and wellness? What did they do to make a lasting impression on you?
Some of us get our spirituality from our parents and families, whereas others find a path of their own. However you view your spiritual life, there must have been a person, book, or philosophy that set you on that path.
Think back about a camp or retreat where you may have connected with your spiritual side or started pursuing your daily meditation and mindfulness practices.
Consider the people or ideas that inspired you to explore your spirituality: was it a life coach, minister, family member, or friend? What about their lives made such an impression that you desired to follow a similar spiritual path?
Our mindsets about money often stem from our upbringing and past experiences. Perhaps your grandfather was a self-made, successful businessman who managed to lift his entire family out of poverty. Maybe there was a teacher who taught you to budget, save, and steward your finances.
Do you have an abundance rather than scarcity mindset regarding money and wealth? Who do you have to thank for that?
If you grew up in an environment where financial generosity was valued, you likely adopted the same value. Who taught you the joy of giving?
Also, remember the times when you donated to charity or gave money to someone in need. How do those memories make you feel?
Most of us can recall our favorite teachers: the ones who miraculously got us to enjoy math, made us fall in love with Shakespeare, or got us excited about the periodic table of elements. Which classes sparked your interest in a particular field? Perhaps drama club was where you shined or maybe it was 4-H.
Was there a college professor who pushed you to work harder or take up an extra course?
Consider your academic achievements. Did you receive an art award or a prize for the most innovative design? Perhaps you overcame a learning disability with the help of a caring parent or occupational therapist. Who played the biggest role in your chosen career path?
Do you allow yourself to enjoy the pleasures in life? Can you savor a piece of chocolate cake or a good book? The secret to happiness is in enjoying the small things. Perhaps someone demonstrated to you the importance of self-care or maybe you just figured that out on your own.
Think back about a pleasurable moment or experience. Have you traveled to a foreign country or discovered a charming market? What was the best meal you ever had, and who was with you?
Seeing the Big Picture
Our past involves positive and negative experiences. Although we must work through painful memories, we can and should also celebrate the positive beliefs, memories, and values that stem from our past. Consider the whole picture, and as you let go of the experiences that don't serve you, grab hold of and extend gratitude toward those that do.
When you write your gratitude journal, be sure to meditate on and write down those treasures from the past that serve you so well today.
Take a moment to thank those who instilled positive beliefs and values in your life. If possible, let them know that they played a crucial role in your positive perspectives on family, health, spirituality, money, education, or pleasure.
Better yet, pay it forward by lending a hand, being an example, or showing up for others in a spectacularly positive way.
Live Your Life With Style, Flare, and Elegance
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