Stop focusing on the past

Stop focusing on the past

I came across a great quotation the other day by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

He said, “Live out of your imagination, not your history.”

Those are powerful words. If we learned just that one thing, our lives would change completely.

Think about how much time we spend looking—and living—in the rear view mirror, frequently glancing over our shoulders at the past, wringing our hands over days gone by. In many cases, there are many years between the events and where we find ourselves today. And yet, we continue to cling to them as if they have power over us.

And they do have power over us—because we gave them the power.

We hang on to slights and insults, blame and criticism. We punish ourselves over lost opportunities and pine over lost loves. We determine our today based on things that no one remembers except us.

We play the tape in our minds over and over to make sure we don’t forget who wronged us or how stupid we were.

Over time, the message on that tape becomes warped, misunderstood, altered to the point of inaccuracy and unrecognizability. But we continue to play the tape because it’s what we have to hang on to, it’s how we’ve defined ourselves.

And now we’re not quite sure who we might be without that tape.

Many years ago, I came across another quotation, one said in the same vein, that really struck me, peeled my eyes open, and forced me to reconsider my tape. It was said by author Wayne Dyer:

“The past is a trail you leave behind, much like the wake of a speedboat. That is, it’s a vanishing trail temporarily showing you where you were. The wake of a boat doesn’t affect its course—obviously it can’t since it appears behind the boat. So consider this image when you exclaim that your past is the reason you aren’t moving forward.”


The wake of the boat doesn’t affect its course. And yet, we’ve convinced ourselves that we are the way we are because of what happened in the past and that is our inescapable path today and for the future.

When we live this way, we give in to the fear we’ve become accustomed to, we give our power and energy over to the people “who did this to us,” we turn our lives over to everyone and anyone other than ourselves.

Which way are you facing—firmly toward the past or imaginatively toward the future? What stories, what wakes from your boat do you need to let vanish, to free yourself to live your life?


About Joe Serio

Dr. Joe Serio is a keynote speaker, trainer, and author who helps the people in your organization navigate resistance to change so they can move forward successfully.

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