Whether we look back on it with a wide smile, a grimace or a semi-enthused shrug, all of us have a past. Our yesterdays play a major role in who we are now and who we will become in the future. Yet, while it’s healthy to look back every once and again and reflect on where you’ve been, it’s also important to keep a forward perspective in life, realizing that what’s done is done and we can only move ahead one step at a time.
You know this, but you often find yourself stuck in a daydream from years ago. You find it difficult to concentrate on new tasks at hand because you’re poring over a tiny detail from a quick conversation that happened when you were a completely different version of yourself. You find yourself suddenly nostalgic at random times of the day, wishing it could be the way it once was. Does this sound like you? If so, you may be living in the past without even realizing it. Still unsure? Here are six definite signs it’s time to let some things go and turn your back to the wind.
1. Your thoughts are stuck on your childhood.
You have an adult career, a marriage and maybe even children of your own. Yet, you can’t stop thinking about what things were like when you were a child. Maybe these are fantastic memories, and you can’t stop replaying them in a happy loop. Or, maybe they’re not-so-pleasant ones that you can’t seem to move past. Regardless, spending too much time fixing your mind on the events of your youth is not healthy.
Why? To do so is to deny reality. We are living in the present, no matter what it was like in your formative years. Your childhood might have been idyllic or it might have been traumatic. If it was the latter, you may consider counseling or therapy to help you move past the unsettling events. It’s natural to reflect every now and again on the people, places, and memories that raised us, but all the while, understand that those things happened long ago and you can chart your next course.
2. You find yourself always bitter.
Bitterness is an emotion that stems from feeling like someone else is being treated more fairly than you are. In other words, it is a form of resentment, and of self-pity. This kind of reaction stems directly from past experiences. For instance, if you have failures, setbacks, hurts or negative emotions that were never resolved, you could be holding onto that feeling of doubt even years down the road. When this happens and you see someone else achieving a dream you also held dear, it only exacerbates that pit of anger.
Consider, for example, if you had a falling out with your best elementary school friend. Until the spat that ended it all, you may have been attached at the hip. Yet, at recess one day she chose to play with someone else and after that, nothing was the same. Years pass, you grow up and you grow apart. Two decades down the road, you see on social media that she’s a successful lawyer with a beautiful family and gorgeous home in the country. You look around at the life you’ve built and immediately begin to compare. You feel jealous, full of contempt and yes, bitter. Yet, this bitterness has nothing to do with the present. Rather, it’s rooted in the emotions you felt that fateful day on the playground when your friend first put you down. It’s time to move on, accept that kids mature and people change and that she may be a new friend for this season of your life now.
3. You compare your present to how it once was.
Was there once a time when you had it really well? Do you still have that setup, or has it shifted just a bit? The truth is, we all go through times in our lives when we feel on top of the world. Then there are some days when we feel like shoe scum. Finding the way to balance those ups and downs is the key to long-term happiness and contentment.
If you find yourself looking back on “better days” very often, you could be stuck in the past. For instance, maybe you’re a divorcee who can’t stop driving by the house you once shared with your husband as newlyweds. You think about crossing the threshold together that first night, making newlywed memories there and possibly even bringing home babies. Yet, your present looks vastly different and that’s OK.
In this case, it’s important to look at every change as an opportunity to grow. No, things may never be like they once were. But, have you ever considered the idea that maybe they could be even better?
4. Change horrifies you.
When you cling tightly to the past, you often do so because you’re in need of the security that it provides. You already know what happens. You’ve already lived that story. Even if it is one you look back on unhappily, the reality is that there are no surprises around the corner.
Conversely, the present is full of surprises. Around every turn and with every new day, we never know what opportunities might arise, who we might meet, what may happen and where we may go.
Some people thrive on this type of spontaneity while others shun it entirely. Consider those who win the lottery and immediately change everything about their existing conditions. They leave their job, sell their home, and trade it all up for the best that life has to offer.
Then, there are those who win the same game, watch the numbers in their bank account go up, but stick to doing everything the way they once did. They keep their job, their car and their house and go about as if nothing ever happened. It could be because they’re inherently modest, or it might be that their past was ideal the way it was, so why mess with a good thing?
That might be an extreme example, but if you find yourself becoming a creature of habit and stuck to the same routine, you may be living in the past, unable to face what lies ahead. When you do so, you miss out on incredible chances to grow, learn and meet new people along the way.
5. You seek retribution.
Another signal that someone is living in the past is the need to “get even” with someone over a former hurt. If you find yourself thinking about an event in the past with increasingly negative emotion, you might eventually turn vengeful, out to “set right a past wrong” by inflicting more harm.
While this might alleviate some of those crushing feelings for a brief second, understand that doing so can wreak even more havoc. You can quickly find yourself in a downward spiral of vindication and retribution that is impossible to step out of, where you despise yourself even more for seeking revenge, no matter how petty.
This is where forgiveness comes in. The healthiest way to step out of the past and into the present reality is to learn how to forgive. That’s right, there really is a right and wrong way to do it. The wrong way involves just going through the motions and saying the words but not really meaning them. If you are only forgiving someone to check a note off your to-do list, the effects will never be felt. To be effective, forgiveness has to be initiated and started within your heart.
6. Your self-confidence needs a major boost.
When your self-esteem is low, it could be that way because, for years, you’ve felt unwanted, unpretty or unappreciated. This is a belief that isn’t formed overnight. Rather, it takes years for someone to move from the unabashed confidence of a child to a shy wallflower at the school prom.
If you find yourself saying “sorry” when you didn’t do anything wrong, finding it hard to look someone in the eye when speaking, and looking in the mirror every night unsatisfied with what you see, ask yourself where these thoughts are coming from. Are they really self-created, or are they a response to what society is telling you? Are you comparing your own unique features to that of someone else? If so, why?
You may find that the answer is to step back and stop comparing, once and for all. If your low confidence can be attributed to mockery or bullying in your school years, shift your mental focus toward forgiving those parties, realize that immaturity played a role in the conversation, and determine to focus on all of the positive features you love about yourself. Chances are, there are plenty!
Moving Forward and Looking Ahead with Confidence
Ultimately, you decide how to spend and structure your days. Will you pour yourself a cup of coffee, look out the window and think back on yesteryear? Will you mourn for the days of your youth, when the days were wild and carefree and you weren’t saddled with adult responsibilities? Will you continue to look back in pain as you remember in vivid detail how much your past hurt?
Or, will you take that cup of coffee onto the front porch and face the sunrise, ready to take on the new day? Things will look differently from here and the journey in front of you may be laborious. Yet, you’re not completely abandoning the one behind you. It’s still there and always will be. After all, it’s the major part of your life story that led you to exactly where you are today.