I was chatting with a truly genuine, happy co-worker this week. I remarked that I could always tell when a woman was from her country (she immigrated to Canada) as everyone I have met from there seems so darn unhappy (unlike her). I always feel for them as I can only imagine the life they have lived that has left them so depressed and seemingly worn down. She agreed, telling me that we (Canadians) cannot understand just how bad it was in her country and still is. But they are not there now, they are here, I said. She said that the reason they are still unhappy is that they cannot leave the past behind.
And then she said the most remarkable thing. She said that when she came here, she said to herself “Now I start at zero” The past is done and no longer counts.
Have you ever wondered how much your past is affecting the outcome of your activities today or your outlook on life? I know I have. Have you been struggling to lose weight, make more money, change your job or just be happier? Perhaps your past is holding you back and how you succeed may not just be about your choices or your sense of discipline. If you have had issues of any kind that has affected your outlook on life, you may be fighting with the past in your attempts to move forward.
There are several reasons for this. Emotional memories are coded in more areas of brain than neutral ones. In other words, your brain works much harder to hold onto emotional memories, good or bad.
If these emotional memories are negative, it can further complicate the issue as this may be a factor in the development of depression. Studies have found that people with depression tend to set generic abstract goals instead of specific step-driven goals which are essential to achieving. Failure to achieve goals further complicates the feelings of depression.
And then there is the subconscious mind. If things were not complicated enough, apparently we have to worry about what our subconscious minds are thinking as this plays a role in our outlook and how we make changes. In one study, participants were more likely to succeed when both their conscious and subconscious mind were primed to achieve a specific goal.
So what we can do?
It is not easy to change our subconscious mind, which is like a recording that plays the same message over and over. First, it is important, that if you are holding anger and hurt towards anyone or anything in the past, you must forgive. Researchers have found that those who forgive can forget more easily and emotionally forgetting is an important step. You may still remember intellectually, but it won’t have a hold on you anymore. Please note that forgiveness does necessarily mean giving approval to someone’s bad behaviour. It just means you are severing the emotional attachment to the event. This is even more important if the person you need to forgive is yourself.
Forgiving and forgetting does not erase the subconscious mind but it does allow the conscious mind to start programming it with new messages. New belief systems are created from new thoughts and patterns of behaviour. So the second thing to do is to keep the conscious mind focused on the new goals. Write them down, create steps and make the steps very specific.
Studies have found that it is not enough to, for example, to decide to lose a certain amount of weight in three months. That is too generic. You have to set specific goals. How are you going to do it? Are you going to skip snacks? Go or a walk every day? Follow a specific menu plan? Once you have you specific steps, then focus on taking it a day at a time and set daily goals which are easier to achieve than a goal that takes three months. A three month goal cannot be measure for three months but a daily goal achieved can be measured immediately and re-enforce motivation. Also, if each day’s goals are met, then in three month you will have to have achieved your three month goal, right? If you miss a day of achieving your daily goals, then so what? It is just one day. Start again fresh the next day.
Remember, no matter what has happened in the past, it is done. I think a lot of the time we stay focused on the past as if, by doing so, it will somehow play out differently. Time to realise that it cannot be changed so let it go. Start by saying “today I start at zero”. This is a great mantra for reprogramming the subconscious, letting go of the past and just focusing on today and what is ahead. It is something to say every day, when old thoughts creep in, until they are gone. And it really does say, in a simple manner, how pointless it is to focus on the past as much as we do. I know I have been guilty of this for many years. I can only imagine what the heck is playing in my subconscious. However, I realize, and we should all realize, since we cannot change the past, the only influence we have is on today and the future. So I am adopting this as my new mantra. Today I start at zero…
- A First Examination of the Relationships Between Primed Subconscious Goals, Assigned Conscious Goals, and Task Performance,Alexander D. Stajkovic, Journal of Applied Psychology © 2006 American Psychological Association, September 2006, Vol. 91, No. 5, p 1172-1180
- Forgiving You Is Hard, but Forgetting Seems Easy Can Forgiveness Facilitate Forgetting? Saima Noreen et al, University of St Andrews, Psychological Science May 9, 2014 0956797614531602
- Forgetting of Emotional Information Is Hard: An fMRI Study of Directed Forgetting, Anna Nowicka1,et al, Cereb. Cortex (2011) 21(3):539-549