Are You Using Outdated Programs?
I was taking this self-development seminar once, and the guy was saying that thinking about your future is like driving a car. At least when it comes to comparing how much time you should focus on the future, versus how much time you should focus on the path. His analogy was the size of your windshield compared to the size of your rear view mirror.
It’s important to glance behind you from time to time, but it’s much more important to keep a keen eye on where you are going. You should dwell on past mistakes, or worry too much about things from your past that you can’t change. Accept it and move on. Even if others have treated you like crap, it never does any good to hold a grudge. I believe it was Mandela who said holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy dies.
OK, that makes sense. It also reminds me of another metaphor by Wayne Dyer when he said that the wake doesn’t drive the boat. The wake being the waves of water left behind a boat as it goes across the water. The wake is purely an after the fact effect, and has no bearing whatsoever on the future direction of the boat. OK, sounds simple enough. The past is the past, and should stay in the past.
But is it really that simple? Humans have some really powerful, and really deep hard wiring in our brains to learn and improve. That is one of the reasons we have become the dominant animals on the planet over that last couple million years. We have instincts, just like many other creatures (some say many many more instincts) but we also have the capability to learn. And many times, that learning is automatic, unconscious and completely outside of our awareness.
Just ask a little kid who performed the unfortunate, but necessary experiment of sticking his finger on a hot stove. He or she will learn in about half a second that stove with fire equals danger, and should avoided at all costs. In that particular example, the wake indeed does drive the boat. The wake I this case being the memory of pain the child will remember whenever he goes near as stove. His memory of the event, or the wake, will definitely mold his choices and thinking in the future.
If humans didn’t have the capability to learn from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others, we’d have been extinct hundreds of thousands of years. When Zog and Bog were out hiking around, and Bog got eaten by a tiger, Zog didn’t was any time remembering every single thing about the event, and committing it to memory for future reference. The location, time of day, appearance and sound of a tiger were all burned into his brain. Because of the magic of language, he was able communicate all of these things to his buddies back at the cave, so they wouldn’t make the same mistake as poor Bog.
So it seems that our history and experience really can have a powerful and profound effect on our behaviors, thoughts and actions as we move toward the future. It’s not quite as simple as the two metaphors described above.
But there is some good news. While it’s true that our brains will automatically remember things that caused us pain in the past, and remind us of those memories as we move close to experiencing those things again (usually in the form of vague anxiety), there is a solution.
Whenever we label something as dangerous, our brains remember the label we give to the “thing” as much as the thing itself. When the kid touched the stove, and Zog saw Bog get eaten by a tiger, the events themselves caused an automatic reaction. But in today’s modern world, our interpretation of events is what causes the emotional pain in many cases.
Things like public speaking, asking a pretty girl or guy out on a date, or asking your boss for a raise bring up feelings of anxiety and fear not because they are inherently dangerous situations (unless of course you actually have an experience of giving a speech at toastmasters, and were beaten within an inch of your life due to your lackluster performance) but because we labeled them as such.
Many times this label is as automatic as Zog’s was while watching his friend being eaten. But there is a cool trick.
There is so much in your personal history; you can re program your brain to “access” different memories whenever you go into a potentially worrisome situation. If you let your brain choose, it will go for the most safety, so it will find the scariest memories. Your brain operates on a “better safe than sorry” strategy, so it picks out the most scary and painful memories in order to keep you the safest.
But when you realize that you have billions and billions of memories to choose from to use as a reference when you go into any particular situation, you can train your brain to use more positive and enhancing memories rather than scary ones. This takes some time and some conscious work, but the rewards are enormous.
Imagine having to give a speech. Scenario one is relying on your brains automatic factory installed programs, which find the most horrifying experiences of your life regarding public speaking. You’ll likely get sweaty palms, heart palpitations, and feel as if you are about to vomit.
Scenario two is instead of automatically recalling all those horrifying memories, you consciously choose to remember all the times you’ve expressed yourself in public and gotten good results. Like I said, this can take some practice, but after a few times you’ll feel excited and happy, as if you are about to do something really fun and exciting, rather than dreading it.
And you can do all this purely through your imagination. Just imagine yourself giving as speech, and then quickly and consciously recall as many positive experiences and memories as possible. Keep switching back and forth in your mind, imagining a future speech, and then going back into your past and thinking of all those good memories.
And here is a bonus tip. If you can’t find any positive memories in your history, you can make them up. Your brain won’t know the difference. Find some memories that are kind of close, and then change them around so you can remember them differently. This will have be jus as powerful.
The choice is yours. You can either leave your mental programming the way it came from the factory, designed to be used by cavemen and cavewomen to survive from saber tooth tigers, or you can upgrade to the modern version, and consciously go in reprogram your thoughts and memories to serve you in exactly the way you want.