Skimming through my notebook I tend to re-read my spread of philosophical quotes. This harsh but fair quote from W. James kinda slaps the face of anybody who is indulging themselves on thinking about their past:
If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different reality system.
I’m a child full of woe, or so it says according to the infamous poem “Monday’s Child”. I also inherited my mother’s worry, and suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety. I know how to make myself feel bad.
A particularly easy way to do this is think about my regrets. I can dive down 10+ years of the past and become consumed by the things I wish I had never done, hating myself because of them. That hate makes one think that they deserve nothing good, and that can lead to a dark spiral of self-sabotage and self-harm, both emotionally and physically.
I’ve hated myself for some of the things I chose to do or chose to let happen. I’ve even hated myself for things that somebody else has done to me. But there is nothing I can do about those things. I have a choice of either regretting them forever, always getting upset when remembering, or I can accept the bits of my past that I don’t like, and feel proud about where I am now.
Obviously that is way harder said than done. There’s a unattainable desire to completely delete our past mistakes or regrets, and solely focus on the future. We can plan our lives away but don’t dare look back.
But what if there was actually a way of using the past as a way to create a better future? A better now even?
Of course, I don’t mean that we should fixate on our past – one bad decision or even twenty bad decisions don’t determine what will happen later on in our lives. If we could instead accept what happened in our past and accept our regrets instead of well, regretting them, we could take a weight off of our shoulders, out of our minds, and even out of our hearts.
By accepting our past, we won’t need to wish that these things had never happened, getting rid of the negative feeling that is regret. Forgetting is impossible – your past can’t be deleted, but you can move forward from it.
I can’t imagine myself ever feeling grateful for some of my past or my regrets, but I can see myself being okay with it. Accepting that it happened, and not letting it bring me down for the rest of my life – that’s the dream life right there.
Use the past as the important back story that it is. Even though it brought pain (and maybe still does), those experiences can be used to propel us forward as wiser and stronger versions of ourselves. It can enable us to be proud of where we are now, like ourselves a little or a lot more, and move towards that lovely future that we deserve.