A great way to stay stuck exactly where you are is to keep thinking the same thing
over and over and over.
Processing events via repetitive loops in your head increases tension and stuckness.
How do you get relief?
If you've ever made a mistake in life I'm sure you realized that there comes a point where you just have to face up to it. No matter how bad it gets, you'll never be able to wake up one day and ask yourself for a divorce. No matter what you do or fail to do, you'll still always be looking at yourself in the mirror.
For some of us, that's a bit of a problem. I'm sure it's been the reason behind many personal change programs and innumerable self-help books.
But if you are going to live with you for the rest of your life, for better or for worse, isn't it time to make peace and get on with it? I'd certainly prefer to. Especially since the alternative is to be stuck on an endless track of regret or anger with no exit ramp.
So how do we live with our mistakes without letting them consume us with regret and rumination?
How do we let go of our thought ruts?
I've seen and practiced many methods for releasing the past, most all of them very helpful. Then recently something more profound occurred to me as I thought, "What am I actually trying to let go of?"
If you have ever wanted very much to forgive someone for something they did to you, or if you've done something you desperately regret, this is a very important question.
What gets "let go of?"
What gets "forgiven?"
If you are willing to take a closer look, you may make an amazing discovery. The only thing that remains once an event is over, is the thinking about it. There is no more event. There are memories of course. But these are, as Sydney Banks
said so well, "thoughts carried through time." And they are nothing more than that.
This is not to say that events have not happened. This planet most certainly has a history of wars, arguments, strife and ill-deeds. But in the aftermath of the deed, only one thing remains: the human being with their life stretched out ahead of them. What then? To continue to be hurt by an event, you must pack it up in your mental suitcase and take it with you. If you didn't the past would be completely gone. Nowhere to be found.
Now that is going to sound extremely difficult if you are trying to move on from something that was big or traumatic. But if you'd like to at least consider the possibility that these bigger events are no different from smaller ones and that the way we move on from our Goliath battles is exactly the same way we let go of our mosquito bites, you may see something new.
Nothing forces you to keep thinking about something over and over.
The past has no power to assert itself through time.
For example, I know that I absolutely cannot recall all the exams I did badly on in school. I know I didn't get straight A's. But I don't have a vivid recollection of each exam and each result. I know I had a great deal of stress and effort and in some cases trauma around exams. I remember vaguely I used to have nightmares during my university days. But after those exams where done I left them in the past. They didn't matter. I didn't take them forward as things to be sorry, sad or angry about. Interestingly, I don't remember trying to let go of them either. In fact, I don't recall doing anything in particular except just getting on with my life.
I don't think there is anything intrinsic in any event that would force you to take it forward with you in time. In fact, we are letting go all the time. Because we just don't think about it or if we do, we don't really take the thoughts that seriously. We shrug, "oh well," and order lunch. We see that we are only having a passing thought.
Here's another example to consider. When we first are getting to know a romantic partner, they look great to us. Once a few things have happened between us, they seem changed; they've become the clump of grievances we hold against them. How is it that someone we love becomes someone we despise? Let's face it, if you have ever been in a serious relationship, did you or did you not spend time rehearsing what you would say, how you would respond to something, or what someone did or said to you? Maybe you were driving, or sitting at your desk, or talking to a friend.
In these moments you were bringing the past into the future through your thinking. They become what you think about.
Anyone in a successful relationship, whether a romantic partner or a parent, knows that you must let go of the rehearsing the past in your head before you can see the person for who they truly are. We also call this forgiveness.
The past has no power to assert itself into the present. Not all on its own. It needs your help. It needs your power of thought to do that.
On the radio March 2nd, I cover one of the chief mechanisms by which we keep ourselves from letting go of what's happened and moving forward in life: obsessive thinking. Mental rumination keeps the past alive in the present and, as I talk about in my book, 101 New Pairs of Glasses
"robs you of your now."
Joining me is Gabriela Maldonado who I work with at the Center for Sustainable Change.