Many of us waste our time and emotional energy dwelling on our past mistakes and misfortunes; we “If only” ourselves. “If only” I had done things differently… “If only” my Parent’s did this or didn’t do that…”If only” he or she had not done what they did… “If only” this tragedy did not happen to me… the list goes on and on; this line of thinking leads to nowhere because we cannot change the past. It is important that we learn from our mistakes (that’s how we learn and grow), but to continually mentally and emotionally beat ourselves over the head about our past mistakes not only robs us of happiness in the present but also saps our energy and obstructs us from moving towards goals that bring us happiness and fulfillment.

Have you ever known someone that was negative on a regular basis? Did you have more energy or less energy after having been around them? Chances are you probably had less energy. Many negative people have had many disappointments in their life and do not know how to re-frame those experiences in a way they can actually learn and grow from them. Instead, they have conditioned themselves to automatically assume the worst in all situations because at least then they will not have the disappointment of getting their hopes up and being disappointed if things don’t work out the way they think things should. In effect, their negative expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If it is possible for us to make ourselves feel bad and keep ourselves stuck by dwelling on our past mistakes, then isn’t it possible to think back on the good experiences we’ve had in life to make us feel good? Most of us have at least some memories in our past we can think about that brings a smile to our face. Could these memories and resources from our past actually help us in the present? You bet they can. For example, close your eyes and remember a place you have been in the past where you felt relaxed and peaceful; perhaps it was out in the woods or maybe it was at the beach; just let your mind drift to that place. Now, vividly imagine the scenery, what do you see? Imagine the smells and sounds. What is the temperature at your place of relaxation? What does it feel like? Are you lying down, standing, sitting, or perhaps drifting? As you begin to imagine your peaceful place in the theater of your imagination, how are you feeling in your body now? Chances are you are much more relaxed, calm, and your mind is free from worrisome and negative thoughts. What would it be like for you to take 5-10 min. “mental vacation” a day to spend some quiet time going to this special place?

How would your life be different if when you caught yourself thinking negatively instead of thinking about your past failures you think back to one of your specific past accomplishments? What did you do then that enabled you to overcome that challenge? What mindset did you have then that enabled you to achieve that accomplishment, and what elements can you use from that experience to help you overcome your present challenge?

I realize for some of us, we may be clearer on what we don’t want than what it is we actually desire. If you fall into this category, do not worry, here is an exercise to help you get more clarity:

1.Take out a piece of paper and a pencil
2.Draw a vertical line down the middle of the paper, making two columns
3.Title the first column “What I don’t want” and title the second column “What I do want”
4.Now, write out the first thing on your list that you don’t want in your life, then in the second column write out what it is specifically that you do want. Example, in column one I write, “I don’t want to be out of shape and sick all the time.” Now, in column two I write specifically what I do want; “I desire to, take herbal supplements every morning, go to kickboxing class three times a week, take walks on my break at work, reduce my caffeine intake, and drink 7 glasses of water a day.

I would then continue down the list writing out what I do not want and then the opposite of it in the second column until it was completed. I then transfer just the second column (the things I do want in my life) onto a new piece of paper and keep it in a place where I can see it and review it often.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you focus on specifically on what is you want by first focusing on what you don’t want, then writing out the opposite, which ends up becoming what it is you ultimately want to achieve. Please note, write out in detail what it is you desire and come up with a specific plan of action to achieve it.

Our subconscious mind is what the self-development pioneer, Maxwell Maltz, called a “Goal Striving Mechanism,” much like a computer. The computer will do what is programmed into it. This is not to say that we are just like a “computer” but that our sub-conscious acts like a computer. It is always moving toward a goal based upon the set of instructions we program into it be it for our good or ill.

Instead of continually “programming” ourselves with messages of failure and things we fear, why not give it a set of specific instructions on the things that bring us health and happiness? It all comes down to what we focus our mind on. If we put our focus on what we do not want in life, we then have little energy to focus on what it is that we do want! Spend a lot of your time dredging up hurts from the past, and then we feel even more hurt. Instead, focus your mind on what it is that you do want to achieve; use positive resources and experiences of your past and your resources in the present to help you move towards what it is you want, and imagine what your life is like having reached your goal.

If you continually hold this image in your mind, your sub-conscious will draw you towards your desired outcome and filter out the things that keep you stuck.

“Live in the present. The past is gone; the future is unknown -- but the present is real, and your opportunities are now. You must see these opportunities; they must be real for you. The catch is that they can't seem real if your mind is buried in past failures, if you keep reliving old mistakes, old guilts, old tragedies. Fight your way above the many inevitable Traumatizations of your ego, escape damnation by the past, and look to the opportunities of the present. I don't mean some vague moment in the present -- next week or next month, perhaps. I mean today, this minute.”
― Maxwell Maltz

Author's Bio: 

I am a certified life coach, clinical hypnotherapist, master level practitioner of NLP, and hold a Bachelor of Science degree in human development. I specialize in helping people control chronic pain. Having firsthand experience dealing with chronic pain, I have found hypnosis to be an excellent method of pain control. Other areas I assist clients with include: stop smoking, weight release, sports enhancement, increasing self-confidence, motivation, stress management, and improving study habits.