We tend to see the past as fixed. It’s over, it’s done, and there is nothing we can do about it. While this might be true in a material sense, by employing our imaginations, we can change our past to make it more uplifting and hopeful. In other words, we can “create backwards” and re-write history so that it is better, happier, and more in line with the wiser people we are today. In doing so, we can ease the pain of past missteps and disappointments and live a freer and more satisfying present. In addition, some scientific research indicates that the same parts of the brain involved in direct experience can also be activated when we imagine an experience. This has been interpreted to mean that to our minds there is no real difference between doing and imagining.* Further coaches of athletes, actors, and public speakers have long employed this technique to help their clients be more successful, so why not try it ourselves? We can craft a “new” foundation for our lives, making our roots healthier and therefore making our current lives more vibrant.
Here are some strategies to re-make your history:
1. Invent a happier childhood
If you did not have an idyllic childhood, or have had something that happened when you were young that still affects you now, paint a new picture for yourself. Mentally create a loving family or a different and much happier event to take the place of the painful one. See yourself enjoying the more caring people and more favorable circumstances; imagine yourself now as actually having grown up this way. Feel the strength that comes from this new past.
2. Re-do a conversation
If there is something you wish you’d said but didn’t or wish you hadn’t said but did, re-do that conversation in your mind. Hear yourself telling that person what he or she needed to know and revel in expressing what was left unspoken. Or, imagine exchanging the words too hastily spoken with kind ones, feeling relief that you chose to be gentle rather than rough. Whether the person with whom you imagine re-doing the conversation is living or dead, you can feel liberated by speaking this new authentic truth.
3. Make your choice the correct choice
Think about a choice you made that you feel was a mistake. Now imagine it was the only choice you could have made and therefore completely correct. How do you feel knowing there was nothing else you could have done? Adopting this point of view can make you feel more at ease, whereas agonizing over the past only keeps you miserable and stuck. Relish the energy you gain by letting go of your regrets.
4. Find the gift hiding in the sorrow
Think of a painful time in your life that still feels tender. What have you or could you learn from this experience? Perhaps you are wiser, more thoughtful or compassionate because of this experience. Perhaps you can now spot danger more readily and avoid it more effectively in the future. Perhaps you are less judgmental. The point is that most challenges offer opportunities for growth and self-discovery. See the good in the difficulty.
Self-Discovery Tool Number 54
Many of us could benefit from a rosier set of memories. Given that our minds may treat our imagined actions and our actual ones in the same way, why not free ourselves from needless suffering and re-envision our past? Just as we use our imaginations to work toward a brighter future, let’s use our imaginations to secure a personal history that better supports us today!
* Watch this TED talk to learn more about the idea that our imaginations and our actions activate similar brain areas: http://www.ted.com/talks/vs_ramachandran_the_neurons_that_shaped_civilization.html
In the US and in many other spots around the world, it seems that each year we have become more obsessed with the material trappings of the holiday season. There is a sense of pressure and urgency to buy, spend, and overdo it. The impact may be more intense for those of us who celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, but it reaches all of us regardless of whether we come from a tradition of exchanging gifts at this time of year or not.
How did we get to this place? We can’t simply blame the marketers, advertisers, and retailers. After all, we staff these organizations and they merely reflect the culture from which they originate. Perhaps we need to examine our motives for following and perpetuating this trend. Perhaps we need to face our personal insecurities telling us that we are not good enough if we don’t buy the latest toy for our children or grandchildren or the latest fashion or gadget for ourselves.
What would happen if we all paused for a moment to ask ourselves what really matters? What might we see if we spent some time contemplating the true nature of giving and receiving? If we did, would we still think we could find meaning and joy at a store or wrapped in a box?
Think about what authentic giving and receiving means to you. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- When interacting with someone you love and who makes you happy is this good feeling generated because you are both wearing the latest fashions while riding together in a brand new luxury car or is it the quality of the conversation?
- When you feel especially close to a friend or family member is this because you have had an expensive dinner at the trendiest restaurant or is it because you have shared something about yourself and encouraged the same intimacy in your companion?
- When thoroughly enjoying an activity with significant others is this because collectively you have an opportunity to impress each or is it because you are appreciating the collaboration that occurs when people feel comfortable being themselves with one another?
We would like to inspire you to throw off the cultural programming that tells you that giving material things is required if you want to be a good friend, parent, lover, spouse, etc. and see that honoring the spirit of the holiday season is more than purchasing things.
Self-Discovery Tool 5/45
Let’s start a revolution that puts gift-giving in the proper perspective: a lovely symbol of caring that neither replaces the caring itself, nor is a requirement to prove anything to yourself or loved ones. Let’s go back to basics and realize anew that love is the true currency of giving and receiving – what could be brighter than this?!