How Do I Move Forward After Having a Difficult Past? By Thom Rutledge

QUESTION
I want to become a better person than I was yesterday. I am 17 and have a very difficult past. Everything is fine now but I don’t know how to move forward and stop thinking about it. It’s depressing.

RESPONSE
First of all, just asking this particular question does a lot to move you forward. You are choosing to live your life by decision, rather than default. A lot of people get around to that eventually but at 17, you are getting a head start, even though it probably does not feel like that. Progress does not always feel like progress. Forward movement seldom happens as fast as we want it to. The good news is that learning to practice patience is something that will make you a better person.

You are responding to your difficult past with what I have come to think of as Positive Opportunism,” which is living each day according to the question, “How can I use my circumstances – past and present – to become a better person?” This is the opposite of living as a victim. By asking yourself each day, “How can I be the best version of myself today?” you are living proactively.

Here are a few more pointers from my experience:

1) Don’t even try to forget your past. Trying to be rid of any experience or feeling or thought is a waste of time and energy. Don’t think of the color blue. Don’t think of your left hand, especially not your left thumb. See how that works? Our brains don’t encode negatives, so the more we tell ourselves not to think of something, the more we do. Instead, keep your focus on your forward movement. Develop questions that help you with that. How can I use what I have learned in the past to be better? How can I use what I have experienced to be of service to others. Remember that as long as you are learning from experience, you are making progress. Learn from the past then get the hell out of there. Move forward with what you have learned.

2) Beware of the big bad bully that lives inside most of our heads. This is the message (inner should-monster) that tells us that whatever we are doing is not good enough – or just not enough, period. We don’t get rid of that guy either but it is important that you learn to think of that message, that bully, as separate from you. Instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough,” you translate it to the bully saying to you, “YOU are not good enough.” From there, you will be able to learn to disagree with the message. People who love and support you can help you learn to disagree. This may sound strange at first, but you will see that to think in these terms actually makes more sense. I have a sign on my office wall that reads: Always reserve the right to disagree with yourself.

3) What matters most in living a conscious life with your intent to be a better person – the best version of yourself on any given day – is establishing a daily practice. The idea of being better is just a concept. Your mission is to break that down into specific things that you remind yourself of every day, specific things that you do each day to keep you focused. It is a good idea to begin and keep a list of “What Works.” What goes on that list are any of the things that you know help you to remain focused, anything at all that has helped you feel and/or be better, even just one time. Keep the list handy and you will be amazed at how long it will become over time.

I hope some of this will be useful to you. There is, of course, much more. There is always more. But maybe this will help you make a good start. You have already made a good start though, just by asking about this.

Let us know if this is helpful.

Thom RutledgeAbout the Author: Thom RUTLEDGE is one of Your Monthly Mentors, a psychotherapist & author of several books, including Embracing Fear: How to Turn What Scares Us into Our Greatest Gift and The Greater Possibilities. His website is located at www.thomrutledge.com. Thom blends his personal recovery from depression, addiction and excessive self-criticism with 30 years of professional experience to guide his clients, readers, and audiences from self-judgment and perfectionism toward genuine self-compassion. Thom’s trademark sense of humor, a down-to-earth practicality, and his own compassion are the common threads that run throughout his unique brand of self-help psychology. (INTRApersonal Therapy). Read More…

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