Can we put the past in the past?

Can we put the past in the past?

Each of us knows how the consequences of negative events in our childhood persist throughout life. We may even use our history as a prop for when things go wrong for which we do not wish to take the blame. We hopefully forgive but we never forget.

Countries, too, can be haunted by their past. The current spectre of racism in the US, fuelled by Donald Trump’s excessive politics, the apparent fear in Britain that somehow Europe is the same as the Vatican, and India’s persistent suspicion that any overseas investor is about to re-colonise the country, all point to a past that lingers beyond its time.

“Getting over it” is an art of the mind, an acceptance that the water that has gone under the bridge has gone forever, a commitment to see the challenge of tomorrow as more useful and rewarding than the challenge of yesterday. “Old habits die hard” may be a fact of life but the operative word is ‘die’ not ‘hard’. There are many things you can do to make this a reality.

Chief among them is to have a plan. Not a vast, algorithmically calculated plan. A simple quo vadis showing your intended destination and when you expect to arrive there will do. I once helped the CEO of a growing SME to write a plan on his boardroom table in ten minutes. He never believed in them before. Now he is never without the plan on his desk.

Equally valuable is the lesson book. Don’t have one? You don’t know what you are missing. We all talk about learning from our mistakes but very few of us actually do. Keep your Learnt Lessons in a folder on your laptop and when you screw up jot down why you think it happened and what you have learnt about avoiding that trap in the future. So passionately do I believe in this that I used to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate commercial mistakes in the businesses I built and make everyone raise a glass to the perpetrator who then told us all what had happened and why. Often the mistakes were mine.

The mind-set of childhood never changes fully. Impressions made in your first seven years affect your personality forever. The battles you engage in during your teens leave scars that will never completely heal. It is called life, it isn’t fair and training and certifying parents before they are allowed to reproduce would make things a lot worse, believe me. The life menu you are handed is a mystery and the knowledge that others have a much worse one seldom achieves more than recurring irritation. Grateful we should be, mindful of others we must be, forward seeing we have got to be if we are not to atrophy and wither.

If your past is hanging around too much buy the Binoculars of Bravery and go where you have not dared to go so far. It doesn’t guarantee success but it does guarantee renewal.

And renewal is the first step in putting the past to rest to allow space for the future.