Future Mistake #12: Forgetting Your Past

Recently, a friend of mine asked me about a book I had written. He was curious about how I published it, and I told him the steps I took to figure out how to do cover design, editing, layout, and publishing through the Amazon Kindle platform. To be honest, as I was telling him about it, I was impressed with myself! Most people who write books outsource each one of those parts, but I did it all myself. I was still thinking about that conversation later that night when I looked at my set of goals for the coming year and saw this: “Write a Journal-Workbook for students, bound beautifully.” I had been feeling really overwhelmed with the project and kind of stuck. The route I took for publishing my first book wouldn’t work for this new idea. I’ve been feeling discouraged, quite frankly. Then, it hit me—I figured it out the first time. I’ll figure it out again!

Human beings are storytellers by nature. It’s wired in our brains as well as the fabric of our cultures. We understand who we are (identity) through a series of autobiographical memories that we string together. For most people, however, this is an unconscious process. Fortunately, it’s not hard to take a stab at improving our sense of self. Even better, research shows that when we do, the benefits are overwhelmingly positive. 

Previously, I wrote how it’s a mistake to allow your past to restrict your future. But this time, I want to address our memories in a different way. It’s possible that we can intentionally recall positive experiences from our past that strengthen us in the present, deepen our resolve and resilience, and lead us to be both more successful in achieving our goals as well as more deeply satisfied in our lives. 

When planning for your future, it’s a mistake to forget your past. 

Don’t forget to take time to reflect on your previous experiences when you’ve accomplished a goal, persisted in learning a new skill, or overcame a challenging obstacle. In a nerdy research article I recently read, the authors state, “The primary adaptive advantage of remembering your past is to equip an individual to prepare for the future—anticipating future events and preparing for future challenges” (Chua et al. 2021). In their research, they set up three separate studies to better understand how intentional memory recall of positive experiences in goal pursuits yielded benefits compared to those who didn’t or who had negative memories. 

It’s the same process that I shared above—by reflecting on my own story of self-publishing, I felt emboldened to trust in myself and my resourcefulness for the next book. The act of recalling my story and sharing it with my friend had a markable impact on my disposition and commitment to my new goal. 

In summary, if you want to be more successful and happier, take the time to reflect on your past experiences when you felt autonomous, competent, and connected to others. 

This applies to ourselves as well as the kids we care for. Encourage your kid to reflect on their past achievements, no matter how small they may seem. Did they learn to ride a bike after numerous falls? Did they improve in a subject they initially struggled with? These moments, when recognized and celebrated, can instill a sense of accomplishment and the understanding that persistence pays off. Encourage your teen to think about their own past successes and learning moments. Ask them: What challenges have you overcome? What achievements are you proud of?

Our past experiences, with their triumphs and trials, are not just memories but stepping stones to future successes. By reflecting on these moments, we not only gain confidence and resilience but also pave the way for continuous growth and fulfillment. So, as we embark on new challenges, let's remember to draw strength from our past, using it as a beacon to illuminate our path forward.


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