Human beings possess a unique capacity: they can think about anything other than the task at hand. Animals, on the other hand, are superbly focused on ‘now’. But human beings are notoriously in love with ‘then’ and ‘later.’ It’s the side effect of evolved consciousness: the ability to imagine several possibilities at once.
Research indicates that over 47% of people actually spend more than 50% of their time thinking about an unhappy event from their past. So that means about 50% of people are unhappy 50% of the time, due to their past.
Now that’s a lot of unhappiness.
I’ve seen this happen in my coaching sessions. Most of my clients begin with childhood stories:
‘I was born in a small village in a remote part of…’
‘I had a middle class upbringing…’
‘I wanted to become a doctor, but I did not get admission…’
This story then takes a few turns, some positive, some negative. But what is consistent in everyone’s story is a clear articulation of what is fundamentally not working in their life, the recurring negative theme, with almost little or no focus on the things in the present that are in fact, quite good.
As I listen to these people, I always think: their stories are neither happy nor sad; it’s all in their heads.
The fundamental negative story of a person’s life is their tragedy (or impending tragedy if you like). Like a storm cloud, it taints present happiness with doubt and/or regret. The person may actually be far more blessed than he thinks he is. But the fundamental negative story of their life becomes their default lens on the world.
But the present is the only thing we have power over. Focusing entirely on the present is the only way to keep unhappy feelings at bay.
Now what would it take for a person to let go of the past and live in the present?
I’ve practiced these 3 things and they’ve usually worked for me:
Accept the past: Quite often the past continues to exert pressure over us not because it happened but because we have not accepted it. Stop resisting. Accept that sh** happened. That is the law of the universe. Now your burden reduces, and it’s easier to move on.
Focus: The way to tackle doubts and worry is to focus all your energies on the task at hand. This sounds easy but it’s not. It takes a lot of practice. But well begun is half-won in my experience. Push yourself to start. Then try and savour the process without worrying about the results. If you’re making a presentation, stop thinking about whether it’s going to be a success or a failure. Enjoy the process of formulating your thoughts and putting it persuasively and succinctly on the slide. And always surround yourself with people who think this way. Let go of energy vampires.
Stop worrying about your future and things that are not in your control: Again this sounds easy but it’s not. Too many times we find ourselves dwelling in problems that have no solution. This is the mind’s way of absolving the self of responsibility and favouring inertia over action. But ask yourself, ‘Can I do something about it?’ If the answer is yes, do it. You will stop worrying because action is the enemy of thought. And if the answer is no, then let it go.
Letting go is easy on paper and harder in practice. But what is not? Practice, practice, practice. It is practice (and nothing else!) that creates the permanent groove in the brain into which these concepts stick so they start to become second nature.
Start right away. Think of something painful that’s happened in the last 3 months. Now let it go. Just do it. Promise not to rehash it tomorrow. When you find yourself rehashing it, tell yourself, ‘That’s over.’ Say it again and again and again.
‘The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.’ – Marcel Pagnol
About the Author:
Sandhya Reddy is an Executive coach, Leadership and Business coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents and entrepreneurs to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.
Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, personality development, leadership coaching, business coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals.
Starting your own business can be exciting and daunting. It means coming face to face with hidden beliefs and behaviours that may be coming in the way of success. If you are an entrepreneur, Business Coaching helps you craft a vision, take responsibility, prioritize strategic thinking, and complement the best-laid plans with systematic action. Entrepreneurship involves a significant mind-set change but the right positive self-talk is the first start point.
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