The value of the past


What parts of your past are important to you? Does your past relate to your present or your future?

It is my conclusino that the past only has value when it helps us to live a more functional and productive life now. If it doesn’t somehow improve our current situation, how can the past be of value?

That might sound callous or harsh. However, right now is all we have. The past is gone. It can either haunt or help us. And, the future is yet to be. It will be the extension of the attitude, decisions, and actions we have and take now.

What about our happy memories, aren’t they good? They are if they help us improve our current situation. They can also be a hindrance by keeping us stuck in the past, unwilling to face current challenges.

What about the setbacks and hardships we’ve experienced? Can’t we still have strong emotions about them? Certainly. And they are productive if those emotions help us avoid experiencing similar setbacks or disappointments now. If we use them as an excuse for current poor performance, they harm us. Some people do have deep and troubling memories and emotions from the past. They should seek professional help to deal with them. This will allow each person to learn and grow from those experiences or memories. And, it should allow them to build a strong, balanced present.

What about our past successes? Isn’t it good to remember them? The answer is the same. It depends. If we rest on past accomplishments or harbor longings for the good old days, we’re stuck. We care more about where we have been, than we do about where we are. Using the mindset, abilities and techniques from past successes to help us perform well now strengthens and improves us. Telling the same stories from the past for no purpose is a waste of time.

What about family pictures, videos and keepsakes? Do you enjoy a trip down memory lane with a smile and a “what were we thinking with that outfit” or “I can’t believe they were that little once” then move back to the present? Do they invigorate you to strive for more and better? Or, do they make you pine for what can never be the same again?

The only moment we have to live, is the present one. Many of our memories from the past can help us have a fuller, richer life. We can use them, as stepping stones toward the fulfillment of our highest potential. They can also be an anchor that holds us back from dealing with today. It is our choice.

Tim O’Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management.