It’s the last day of the year and time to leave the past behind! Aren’t most New Year’s resolutions about change? Doesn’t change mean leaving something behind? So, maybe keeping those resolutions is as simple as focusing on the past rather than the future.
I know that sounds counterintuitive, but paradox reigns king in the world of personal growth. Not to mention, looking toward the future seems to work for less than 10% of us so there can’t be much harm in trying something different. But how does focusing on the past help us leave it behind?
It helps us define what we’re leaving.
Let’s say my resolution is to brush my teeth the full two minutes that are recommended each and every time I brush. If I pay attention to how long that two minutes seems, I’m likely to cut it short. If I think of the gritty teeth, bleeding gums, and pain in the dentist’s office I’m leaving behind, it’s easier to stick out the full amount of time.
Many of us resolve to save money in the coming year. When you see that next cute pair of shoes you don’t need but want to buy, looking back and thinking of that sinking feeling you had last time you looked at your retirement account balance can help you remember why this resolution is important. Leaving behind that sinking feeling may just be more important than another pair of shoes adorable though they may be.
Looking back allows us to honor and appreciate those things that served us well at a previous stage of life.
If you enjoyed your job and colleagues while getting a degree, you may be hesitant to follow your resolution to look for a new job once you graduate. Your coworkers have been partners in preparing you for this next step. Allowing yourself to express appreciation for their contributions can help you realize that you are honoring their efforts by pursuing your dreams.
Perhaps you have gradually recognized that you and your fiancé are no longer a good fit, but you still love him. If you keep looking forward, it will be tempting to only see the regret you have that the relationship didn’t turn out as you had hoped. This places your attention on pain and regret rather than on gratitude and joy. Once you find a way to honor what the relationship has given you, it will be much less difficult to let it go. And you can choose to hold onto good memories.
Looking back lets us reassess.
Sometimes we have wanted something for so long, we fail to recognize that having it now would no longer improve our lives. If we got that national sales job, it would mean weeks away from our newborn son. If we purchased that huge house now that the kids are gone, we’d just have more rooms to clean. If we open a bed and breakfast, we’ll have lots of cleaning and cooking every day at a time when we’d rather play with our grandchildren. We may still be tempted to pursue all of those goals unless we look back to see how our situation and feelings have changed.
Looking back gives us an opportunity to review our attachments.
Attachment to the feeling we had when we ate our grandmother’s cookies may interfere with our resolution to limit cookie consumption. Attachment to the comfort we felt when our mother fed us mac & cheese when Dad had to work late can send us searching for unlimited pasta during lonely or disappointing times. Once we know what we’re looking for is a certain feeling, we can explore different options for generating that feeling. Perhaps the smell of cookies baking is enough. Perhaps painting, drawing, or writing provides a comforting shift.
Looking back with courage can let us see what we already know is true.
If you have resolved to treat yourself better in the New Year, you must first recognize those ways in which you are not kind to yourself. Perhaps you don’t ask for help when you need it. Perhaps you don’t make enough time for rest. Perhaps you never give yourself credit for your accomplishments. When you look back, you may spot patterns of behavior that are so deeply ingrained they feel normal.
Healing the wounds life has delivered is a valuable resolution for any new year. For those of us who grew up in chaos and dysfunction, looking back with a realistic eye can require great courage. It can be much easier to press frenetically forward in avoidance of lingering feelings than to stop, engage, and begin to process what you know on a visceral level. But going back to re-engage with your body, emotions, and spirit is the only pathway to lasting change. You cannot white knuckle a better life for yourself. Your subconscious (the part of you that knows what you refuse to see) will keep you stuck.
Focusing on the past gives us a chance to forgive ourselves, say goodbye, and allow ourselves to be different.
Hopefully you are not currently defining yourself by something that happened in your past you believe is unforgivable, the way someone else views you, or what’s being said on social media. If you are, all things can change! You can learn to forgive yourself, say goodbye to the old, and allow yourself to shift toward becoming your best self. It is never too late!
Whether we make New Year’s resolutions or not, most of us think about how to improve our lives. We seek fun, excitement, security, contentment, and joy to balance the weight of our responsibilities. Taking a moment to focus on the past can be the key to leaving it behind for good. That’s a moment I’m willing to take so I’ll be ready to move joyously into the New Year.
I wish you peace, calm, inspiration, and playfulness in 2019!