You Are Not Your Past

The place where the troops camp

thistles and thorns grow.– Lao Tzu

You are not the choices you’ve made.

You are not the child you once were.

You are not your failed marriage.

You are not the setbacks of yesterday.

You are not the bad things that have happened to you.

You are not your past.

The Past Guides Our Choices – It Doesn’t Make Our Choices For Us

Your thoughts or feelings about the past don’t change it. That’s what makes it the past.

Your future is not your past. Your future, right now, is a nest of possibilities. It looks like your past only if your present choices continue the inertia of the past.

The past guides our choices; we have real constraints, opportunities, and experiences based on the past. Right now, though, those constraints, opportunities, and experiences are what they are – wishing they were different doesn’t make them different.

Whatever happened, you are here. But being here doesn’t mean that you have to stay here or that you will stay here.

Life is but an endless chain of presents and choices. You have never been your past.

What If You Stopped Attacking Yourself?

What if you stopped beating yourself up about what you did or didn’t do? Perhaps you’d see what you can do.

What if you stopped wishing that things were different from the way they are? Perhaps you’d see how to move toward the future you want by using the bounty of the present.

What if you didn’t assume that past failures are who you are? Perhaps you’d believe, just for a second, that you could be successful.

What if you chose to let the past be the past? Perhaps you’d see the ripe possibilities of the future.

Every ounce of energy that you spend attacking yourself is an ounce of energy that’s diverted from your growth. We are finite beings; use your resources wisely.

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  1. says

    This is an excellent post, and a wonderful reminder.

    There is only one comment I have to make, and it’s a personal one. For the last six years I tried to just drop my past and move forward.

    And it seemed my past was attached by elastic to me. Eventually, it caught up with me.

    Because there’s letting go, and then there’s Letting Go. If you try to fake it, a really bad early past comes back and attacks you when you least expect it.

    Painful though it is to say it, I’ve had to spend the last three months making peace with my past, before I can leave it behind. I’ve had to accept that though those things are in the past, they had a physiological and psychological effect on me that takes time to heal.

    I used to read posts like these and I’d crush down the pain and pretend it wasn’t there anymore. Until, of course, it refused to be crushed down and I had to start looking at the way it was still hurting me, even when I told everybody I’d moved on.

    Some things take time to heal, and I’m not saying you’re wrong. But as a psychiatrist told me in conversation, that pasts have to be resolved and accepted before you can let them go.

  2. says

    Forgiveness of the past is a complicated topic, and sometime you don’t need help, but most of the times at leas I do. I have found that while I have the tools to do the work sometimes i dont have the topic to actually work on. When that is true it takes another soul on the journey to point me in the right direction and them like magic ( even though it is not) I am able to tackle that thing that I knew was there but could not reach. I thank all the souls in my life who have provided a bridge for me to get to the place where i needed to work the most, especially when i could not reach it myself. I also thank myself for doing the work. I have spent a lot of time gathering the tools to do the work and for that I am truly thankful.
    .-= Jonathan David Goins´s last blog ..How do you heal =-.

  3. Charlie says

    @Joely: I agree with you 100%. There are aspects of the past that are truly in the past. Other parts are part of the present, and there’s were “right now, though, those constrains, opportunities, and experiences are what they are.”

    Accepting and resolving the present for what it is is incredibly powerful. Trying to deny your present feelings is a band-aid that prevents healing.

    @Jonathan: You’re right. Sometimes it takes someone else to show you the mirror or to help you get outside of your head and heart to get some perspective.

    People ask me sometimes: “What’s the point of hiring a coach when you’re still going to have to do all the work yourself?” Because it’s hard to work on something you can’t or won’t see.

  4. Randy says

    I have just recently started following your blog. This post was particularly poignant for me today. Keep up the great work and best of luck to you on your future endeavors!

  5. says

    I’ve been alternating between reliving and beating myself up over the past. And I get to moments like last night, feeling badly, when I sit with my boyfriend in our studio in the middle of the night and say, “I’m tired of feeling this way.” Seeing this post in print, even on the web, caught my attention and made me think that this is what I need to see/hear. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if the past hadn’t happened, but the things I’ve done in the past do not define the person I am right now.

    Thank you for writing this.
    .-= Misty´s last blog ..Picture of the Day – Vas and the scarf =-.

  6. says

    Charlie, this was fantastic. Especially liked “Whatever happened, you are here. But being here doesn’t mean you have to stay here or that you will stay here” and “Every ounce of energy that you spend attacking yourself is an ounce of energy that’s diverted from your growth.” Living in the past can be incredibly detrimental. Of course, as Joely stated, sometimes letting go isn’t as simple as just thinking about letting go.

    .-= Karol Gajda´s last blog ..Get Fit In Just 1 Minute or “Am I Gonna Die From Heat Exhaustion?” =-.

  7. says

    I was coaching a historian the other day and she said “We remember the future.” and then went on to talk about how maybe we should try not to do that. Your post resonated with that.

    What she meant by that statement is that we use what we know from the past to paint a picture of the future. But that picture isn’t the real picture. It is our past projected onto the future. Hence “remembering” the future.

  8. says

    Charlie – what an insightful post and one that I should probably print out and put on my refrigerator. I often get too caught up in the past that must define my life now (using the scripts I have created and have, at one point, served me). I’m starting to realize – with your amazing coaching – that I have the power to create my life to be what I want. How lucky are we to be able to do this? Even if I just start with what I eat for breakfast, I have a choice now, even if I didn’t have that same choice in the past. It’s truly amazing what we can accomplish with just this small shift in perspective. Not easy work, but definitely achievable. Thank you!
    .-= Laura – Journal of Cultural Conversation´s last blog ..Traveling Abroad: A Lesson In Humanity =-.

  9. says

    I used to engage in all kinds of misapplication of the past to my life in the present – beating myself up, regret, remorse, wishing for what was. Now, about the only time I look behind me is when I’ve got in front of me something that scares the crap out of me. All I have to do to know I can handle it is look behind me at all the times I felt the same way, thought, “Oh, there’s no way!” and realize I am here, I made it through, so I have what it takes to get through whatever’s next. The past is my proof that I am always stronger than I give myself credit for in the moment.
    .-= Suzanne @ vAssistant Services´s last blog ..What’s Keeping You from Blogging? =-.

  10. says

    As I was reading this, I thought, “I think I’ve found my first tattoo…” But then Laura suggested printing it out and putting it on the fridge, which would be way less painful!

    I especially love the phrase “the bounty of the present”. It’s just so cool.

    This is my first visit to your site, thanks to Mark Dykeman’s recommendation. Favouriting it now…
    .-= Barb McMahon´s last blog ..The Last Twelve Drops =-.

  11. says

    You cant just “let go” of your past without actually working though and learning from it.

    Thinking you can just ignore and “move on ” is why many people who grew up in abusive homes become victims of abuse or abusers themselves, for instance. You are not your past, but you cant just leave it at the bus stop and think it wont follow you home either.
    .-= Carla´s last blog ..Brave, Stupid or Both? =-.

  12. Arturo says

    Thank you for the post Charlie.

    I’ve always lived with the cloud of my past hanging over my head telling myself “there you go, making the same mistake again. You’ll never make it”, up until a few months ago when I got to a point in my life where I said to myself that “enough is enough”.

    I decided that I will no longer be just “living to die” and actually “show up” to life. Ain’t been easy, but hey it’s been a heck of a better ride that the one I’ve had for the past 40 years of my life.

    Your posts and friendly style of writing help a lot.

    Thanks my friend and I tip my hat to you for your wisdom and the extraordinary ability you possess to share it with the world. I admire you and respect your talent.

    All the best for 2010,


  13. says

    i read this a couple of months ago, and loved it!

    and i just read it again and i love it even more, every single sentence resonates, and i feel so grateful for finding you online, and getting access to such powerful nuggets of wisdom!

    One reason we dont escape viscious circles is because we tend to “remember the past”, we project our past into the future, then, take baby steps towards the same things we dread.

    i got to a stage after my divorce where i felt i would be better off dead, since my life would definatley end up just like my messed up single parent mother!

    Ive had to do tons of therapy, to get over the past, Now i choose to see the world as a basket of infinite possibilities…i am not my past!

  14. Harun Mwangi says

    Well stated. Indeed your future is not you past! It’s only a reminder of our resilience to accomplish our purpose in life. Thank for a great post

  15. Kay says

    Wanted: A life in which I am not defined by my past, but encouraged to flourish in my future endeavors. I realize that I have, through decisions of my own, had some very devastating and traumatic personal life experiences. However, this does not mean that all of my future decisions are detrimental. I am a growing, living, learning, and thriving Human. I choose, after carefully weighing out all factors, to embrace opportunity that is being presented to me. My wish, is to live the life I choose, to have the happiness I seek, and to be recognized for the person that I am.

  16. marasma says

    God has done his part of the job in our work with him. He suffered, was crucified for our salvation and healing. He now offers victory to anyone who is willing to accept his finished work on the cross. Contrary to the belief we had growing up, waiting for supernatural manifestation of God’s promise without believing and accepting the completed works in our heart is simply an exercise in futility. We no longer have to wait on signs and wonders through laying of hands by some prophet or man of God. Everything required to live a godly life lies deep within us. It takes unshakable faith and revelation of God’s word to grab hold of his promises. The ball is now in your court to play. With that in mind, you can step out in faith knowing fully well that victory is guaranteed. Now the time to reach your destination is solely your own choosing. You can get there at your own pace whether fast or slow. So the question then becomes, how soon do you want to see the fulfillment of God’s promises in your life? Only you can answer that question. How bad do you want it and what are you willing to sacrifice for the attainment of spiritual goals? Are you willing to endure the pain of discipline so you can live without regrets? Are you willing to endure the pain of discomfort to overcome the negative thoughts and habits that hold you captive? Our lives are a sum total of the decisions we make on a daily basis. Each decision can either get you off track or get you a step closer to realizing your dreams. But how can you an informed decision without a dream or goal in mind? Your dreams are goals should be the guiding force in your life. Without them, you’ll find yourself wandering through life with no direction. Take sometime today to think about your life, are you satisfied with who you are and where you are in your life? Are you living life to the fullest or are you letting the pains and disappointment from the past keep you bound? Are you using unfair situations that happened to as an excuse to remain at the same spot? Are you afraid of trying once more at something you repeatedly failed in the past? At the risk of sounding clichéd, you have to try again, and when you are done trying, try some more. You have every right to feel the way you do, but for how long? Assuming you choose to remain angry with God, relative, friends, situation for 10 years (I hope not as 10 years is an awfully long period of time), when those 10 years are up and God willing you happen to be alive, you will have to get over that hurt and move on with your life. The key here is that at some point, you will come to the realization that being angry does not take you a step closer but farther from your dreams. So you will have to move on with your life no matter how excruciating the pain is. So my final to you today is, “when will you get over it?”

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