How Long Will You Be Limited by Your Past?

How long do we have to be limited by our past?

Are we ever safe from our failures?   Is there a shelf-life on our mistakes?  Can we overcome painful memories?

Far too often, we suffer internally because of things we remember that we did wrong or past embarrassments.

Memories shape our lives. If they are negative or painful, they become a prison of self-limitation.  The most interesting thing about memories is that they are unreliable.   The longer we have a memory, the more we embellish and color it with nostalgia.

I occasionally visit a home I lived in over 50 years ago.  I love to go by and see where I played as a boy with brothers and friends.  I am always amused by how small everything is compared to my memory.   A small shed still stands that we used to jump off of as boys.   In my memory it was 20 or more feet high.  In reality, it is only about 5 feet and most people would have to stoop down to walk under its low hanging roof.  The discrepancy in my memory is because I was only about four-feet-tall, when I made my daring leaps off its tin roof.   Everything looks different to me now from my current six-feet height.

We also tend to add details to our memories that were not really there.  The more you tell a story, including the more you tell it to yourself, the easier it is to incrementally add to the tale.   This is why your father’s memory of walking to school when he was a child morphs from a couple of city blocks to a couple of country miles. It’s also why his exploits on the baseball and football field become tales of legendary skill and success, when in reality, they were just stories of an average kid making an average team.

The truth is our memories are flawed.  What you remember so vividly probably did not happen exactly as your picture it.

It is time to take the sting out of your painful memories.  When they show up to limit you or shame you, remember they are being blown out of proportion.  When they give you that familiar unpleasantness, remember that you are remembering from who you were, not who you are today.  You wouldn’t make that mistake today.  You wouldn’t choose that bad decision as the person you are today. Don’t let a flawed and exaggerated remembrance trouble your peace of mind.

Good coaches teach us that though the past is always with us, its ability to hurt is a personal choice. Decide today that your memories from years ago are out of date and toss them into the trash.  Move forward, focused on who you are becoming, not limited by who you were.

Make your personal mantra: I’m not who I ought to be, I’m not who I’m going to be, but thank God, I’m not who I was, and quit allowing yourself to be shamed by an out of date past.

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