Many people do not discover or live to their full potential because they carry a painful past around with them. How can we start living in the present, so that we can enjoy a more meaningful and creative life?
Here are a few strategies you might find useful.
Practice mindful living:
Mindful living entails consistently and deliberately focusing attention on the present moment without making judgements about the experience. Through moment-to-moment mindfulness many people become aware that they spend much of the time ruminating on or thinking of the past or future. The present moment rarely holds our attention for long, since the thinking ego always wants to take centre stage in our attention. Every moment of mindful awareness of the present contributes to letting go of some of the past, and gaining some new-found freedom from it.
There are various mindful practices individuals can deliberately use to strengthen the experience, and learn to effectively let go of the past. Focusing non-judgemental attention on your breathing for any period of time on a regular basis, or switching attention to sensations from outside or from within the body are all daily practices that are useful. The mind will try to interrupt such experiences with irrelevant thoughts, but when this happens, it’s then a matter of gently directing attention back to your breathing, the sounds you hear, or whatever emotional state you are in at any moment. Learning to observe your stream of thoughts dispassionately is another effective mindfulness strategy that helps to loosen the grip the past can have on you.
A non-judgemental attitude helps to cultivate acceptance of whatever experiences or memories come into awareness. It’s then a matter of learning to welcome and acknowledge the experience instead of labelling it as good or bad; you can then let it go.
Stop making ‘personal myths:’
We all have a tendency to create personal mind stories about events to help us make sense of what happened. In this way we constitute identities for ourselves as victors or victims, based on subjective and sometimes highly exaggerated interpretations about others, ourselves and the world around us. Part of the problem is that the myth-making never stops, and helps to inform current impressions of people and events which we believe as irrevocable truths. When we stop weaving these fictional tales, we become curious, alive and open to new opportunities, situations and perspectives.
Learn to practice mental strategies:
Learn to make new positive associations to past events that tend to push you into negative states. In other words, learn to use the imagination to overcome old unhelpful thinking patterns that keep you stuck in the past. There are a host of mental tactics you can practice that are designed to replace old reactions with new ones.
For example, let’s say a thoughtless teacher once belittled you in front of the class because of poor pronunciation, and to this day you dread speaking in front of groups. When alone at home, replay the memory, but this time imagine everyone as cartoon characters, playing out the scene to incongruent background music with parts speeded up and slowed down. The more humorous and outrageous the image, the better. After a few practice sessions, you will burst out laughing or smiling when thinking about what happened. The idea is to interrupt the old association between the original event and its emotional meaning. If you have difficulty doing this, a few hypnosis sessions with a professional might help break the old pattern and replace it with a new empowering one.
The strategies outlined in this blog will take practice and perseverance before any positives effects will be evident, so don’t rush yourself or the process – instead focus on the hear and now, not an end point; enjoy the process without being too focused on the destination.