Does Your Past Get In The Way?


I'm sure you've heard the phrase "in the zone". We have seen some of the players in the Rugby World Cup 2011 demonstrate this in action with some brilliant passing of the ball or a drop goal as we saw All Blacks player Dan Carter kick successfully last Saturday. That is 'being in the moment'. The focus of this article is on not letting the past get in the way of the future. You can't change it - so why let it spoil the 'Now'?

Everyone has a past. Some people will tell you their life as a child was idyllic. Easy, loved and cared for, and that they literally sailed through growing up. Others will share every sad, frightening and awful moment of their childhood and explain that is why the way they are today. And there are others who have had a troubled life as a child and adult but seem to be full of optimism and only focus on the good parts of their life. Is your story one of the above or a combination of all of them? The beauty of being a human being is that people can, and do change the way they think about life. Some people say they found God while others have had an epiphany, or an insight, that changed their mind about how they view their life and the world.

Several years ago my former business partner and I used to do a particular exercise in our transformational leadership trainings. We would ask participants to tell the story of their life from ‘birth until now' looking through ‘rose-tinted spectacles'. They had a lot of fun and everyone was able to do this brilliantly. We then asked them to change partners and tell the story of their life from birth until now through a ‘dark place of fear and sadness'. Not surprisingly to us everyone was brilliant at that too. They told the same story from a different perspective. They were literally making it up and their thinking was an illusion in time.

You Can't Change the Past

The question is why do we let the past get in the way of life today? Maybe you do, and maybe you don't. In my early twenties I was told by the Dean of the Medical School, where my father worked, that I really wasn't like my mother or my father. The Dean seemed surprised, as he shared this with me, and so was I, as I thought I was just like my Father. Apart from the genes I was born with, both parents influenced me, but I had a different way of thinking about life, and it was a relief when he told me this. From the day we are born we are strongly influenced by parents, siblings, friends, teachers, peers, bosses etc. There are many positive aspects of this and most people can name someone who they looked to for guidance and mentor. What has largely been ignored is the innate wisdom we were all born with and that is what I believe we need to listen to.

There is a wonderful saying that goes; "Out of the mouths of babes come the most incredible wisdom and common sense". So why don't human beings use this wonderful asset? When we were born our minds were like the water that comes from deep under the ground. I recall walking in the woods near home and finding such a spring. When I drank from it the water tasted fresh, pure and almost sweet - just like the mind of a newborn baby. Then the water starts to run down the hillside and gradually becomes contaminated by the things that both flow into it and are dumped by humans. In New Zealand it is sometimes called the ‘run-off'. The water becomes tainted, dangerous to drink, with a bad taste. The same happens to our minds. Parents tell us ‘don't do this, you can't do that etc. Teachers may say we will never succeed. Peers at school, and later in the workplace, find ways of putting people down. Our minds become contaminated with negative thoughts which lead to inapproriate behaviours. If you think this doesn't apply to you that is wonderful; however, how much time do YOU spend thinking about the past?

Dwelling on the Past

Last week or month when that client or employee did or said something that annoyed or upset you, did you forget about it, or have you spent time thinking and ruminating about it since then? When you meet them again, are you back in the last meeting with them, or have you moved on?

How many times do you beat yourself up when you have made a mistake or failed at something? The other day, a friend said to me that she is always analysing why she does what she does, and that she is ‘a work in progress'. She happens to be a huge achiever and has had many successes in her life. She has been willing to take risks and of course, there have been failures. She also said that she realised that when things didn't work out it was probably because she had rationalized why she should go ahead. She had forgotten to listen to her innate wisdom.

The wise old man or woman talks from a place of experience and knowledge. That is one kind of wisdom. The other is the intuitive wisdom that is innate. Think about a time when you followed your gut feeling, and it worked for you? Listening to your intuition is uncontaminated by your personal thinking.

Recipe for Disaster

A few years ago I decided to bring a colleague to New Zealand to run some workshops. My busy mind rationialized why I was doing this and made the decision to go ahead. Flights were booked and paid for and yet I kept having a niggly feeling. I didn't listen to it, and I also didn't listen to my colleague who gave me an out and said we could cancel. My ego got the better of me and I was too proud to cancel and let people down, especially my clients. Also it was a major financial loss as I didn't listen to my innate wisdom. The message is to learn from such a mistake and move on and I also recommend my colleague and friend George Pransky's CDs which can be ordered online from

Creating the Future

The other day a colleague and I had a discussion about preparation and rehearsal before working with our clients. Of course this is so important, whether delivering a presentation or facilitating a workshop; however, the most important preparation is of ourselves. Our ability to do what we need to do in the moment is imperative, especially if something unexpected happens. Our intuition is our guide and inspiration, especially in difficult situations whether it be with employees, clients or a relationship in your personal life.

When I was presenting to a large group of sales managers and their sales people recently, I asked them how much time they spend thinking about the past, or worrying about the future. The attendees said they spend about 90% of the time with thoughts about the past or future. That leaves only 10% in the present! All creativity and innovation occurs from being in the present. If you're not happy, or satisfied, with the way your life is right now, then maybe it's time to say goodbye to those thoughts that are past their ‘use by date' and benefit from having some fresh ones.

Gilly Chater - The Breakthrough Catalyst



Gilly helps people achieve insight powered breakthroughs for themselves and their businesses. She is an inspirational speaker who presents keynotes and breakouts at conferences and writes about the key ingredients for success in today’s world.

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