By Dr. Henry Cloud
Consciously or unconsciously, we are all driven to grow. We see a future that we want to live in, and we are either able to intentionally get there, or we cannot. A major determinant of whether you will get there or not is simply that you actually believe that you can.
We carry around a huge amount of personal baggage from our past experiences that informs our attitudes about the future. In many cases we develop a sense of learned helplessness that causes us to believe that we will never be able to get the future we want. This self-defeating logic is reinforced by our own inaction toward overcoming this baggage from our past. It becomes a pattern.
We get used to not getting what we want. We come to believe that it’s normal. That it’s simply the way things are.
Before we can overcome these issues, we have to understand what they are. This is by no means an all encompassing list of issues that characterize bad past experiences that can prevent you from realizing your own ability to move toward your desired future, but if you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to get to work.
1. You have historically associated closely with, and strongly feel a part of a group of people who are not finding success in love, life or work.
2. You have been so focused on simply getting by that you felt like you were unable to actually learn new ways to be better.
3. You were brought up in a religious tradition or other circumstance that instilled you with strong feelings of guilt and shame, but never focused on positive qualities like love, intimacy, vulnerability and learning.
4. All of your past relationships have caused tremendous pain and ended badly, leading you to believe that is simply an inherent quality of all relationships.
5. You have plateaued when pursuing your goals, and you come to believe that you are simply not the kind of person who is capable of achieving the success you want, incapable of understanding why others are able to reach their goals.
6. You have believed that you are just not trying hard enough when it comes to your goals, and later when you do try to commit stronger to achieving your goals with the same mindset and more effort, you expect things to turn out differently.
7. You associate change primarily with things turning out badly. Therefore change is scary and something to be avoided. You may not be happy with the way things have been, but they could likely be much worse.
What these dilemmas all have in common is that they use the past as a basis for constructing the future. They cause us to forget our own talents and abilities, to undermine our own skillfulness and resourcefulness. They squash our ambitions by prioritizing fear over risk and reward.
The experiences described above are universal. Every successful person has faced some variation or combination of these scenarios, and yet they have managed to get wherever it is that they were aiming at.
Why is that? Is it that others simply have greater abilities, or more potential? No. It is that they have not allowed the past to become a myopic lens for viewing the future. They have distilled experience into wisdom. They have recognized that failure and difficulty are necessary opportunities for stretching our abilities to enable growth.
The essential thing that you must do is to take the lessons you have learned from the past and put those lessons into practice by actually doing something. You will not overcome any one of these by letting the clock run out. There is no way forward in doing nothing. If what you have tried in the past has not worked, try something different. We are often drawn to work harder because we are choosing the more familiar path. That path is our default setting. It is often our first idea, and the one we feel most comfortable setting forward with.
But growing is not about feeling comfortable, it is about moving forward through the thick grass toward foggy vistas and breaking through all of that to discover new territory. The future does not live in the past unless you stay stuck where you are. The future is where you are going, not where you have been.