There are so, so many reasons for people to get caught up living in their past. Doesn’t matter if it’s good times or bad times, at some point in a person’s life, they start lingering on things that have already happened. I’m definitely guilty of it. Thinking back on my teens/early-20s, I feel like I just squandered away all of that glowing potential I had…and for what? To pursue boys. My God, where were my priorities at?
Now? I’m the same girl, just older and I know a bit more. It would be unrealistic to say that I don’t reminisce about the past (sometimes it can be helpful sharing stories with others), but the difference between me-now and me-before is that I’ve learned to be more mindful about over-indulging this behavior.
What’s mindfulness? Simply put, it’s the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. This sounds pretty straightforward, but boy oh boy, it’s actually a pretty difficult habit to get into. Why is mindfulness important for me? So I can catch myself from becoming that annoying person who’s always talking about what happened before, and what I should have done, and what it was like during the good ole days.
There’s a saying I keep hearing. “Depression is always about the past, and anxiety is always about the future.” For the most part, I agree. Trying to re-live your glory days, or constantly talking about that ‘one who got away’ reveals a lot about the person you are at the moment. Your happiness is coming from the past, and at the moment, you’re not living in the present.
When I first noticed my obsession with the past, of course, I wanted to change it. I would talk about the worst times of my life, the struggles I’ve gone through, the accomplishments I made, and for what? It would make me feel good at first, but as the day went on, it would make me feel vulnerable and unfulfilled. I know my experience, but did I really have to share that with others? Sometimes, I’d even spill my past to complete strangers. It was ridiculous.
So I practiced mindfulness and stopped whenever I caught myself going into past-talk. I tried to focus on my present and aimed to become a more future-oriented individual. I would set all these goals for myself and worry about how much money it would take to get there, how much time I’d need to set aside to get there, and whether or not I was even good enough. My insecurities came pouring out. Unfortunately, it seemed I had an issue with the future as well.
My issue with making plans for the future was that I would skip the present, and that’s when my anxiety came. Fear of my future and what’s to come. Lack of control.
To be honest, I’m not sure if I ever really dealt with my anxiety. I guess I’m still a work in progress. However, after setting up all these ambitious goals for my future, I eventually began recognizing that in order to actually achieve these dreams for myself… I needed to put in hard work, without complaining about the past or being overly optimistic about the future. You know how to do that? By practicing control.
Yes, I was scared of my lack of control about the future, so I did what I could by controlling my present, learning from the mistakes I’ve made in the past, changing, and working on moving forward. I needed to accept change, little by little every day, and then eventually one day, I will be there living in my present. I needed to let go of the past. Accept that the past has shaped me into the person I am today, and move forward from that.
Many people forget that their present self is constantly subject to change based on whatever current experience comes their way. It’s up to you if you want to change for the better by living in the present, or don’t change at all, and stay stuck in your past. OK now, I’m just rambling. I feel like I was really close to getting to my point though.
The quote that I mentioned above was actually from the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. The full saying is, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
There you go, people! Start living in the present and be at peace. How you get there is up to you.