When I revisit the past I often feel disappointed – in myself and in others. I fixate on ways I didn’t measure up to expectations or how I felt let down by those I trusted. The past, or more precisely stated – our relationship with the past – can provide a mountain of wisdom or can trap us in a valley of remorse. Here are four lenses I’ve learned to use when I’m mired in difficult aspects of my past.

I’ll start with the lenses that can sap our productivity when we get stuck on them:

Regret (Where did I go wrong?)
There’s a certain kind of regret that is resolved through apology and forgiveness. But, I’m talking about regret that is fueled by enduring shame – a voice in our heads that scolds: “You should have…” This is the inner critic – a judgmental voice convincing us our mistakes make us less worthy as human beings. Regret combined with this echoing voice of shame shakes our confidence to ever try again.

Resentment (Who can I blame?)
The unhealthy lens of resentment fuels our impulse to blame self and others when things don’t go as expected. When we view our past mistakes through this lens, we experience emotions that range from minor annoyance to outright rage. As leaders, we run the risk of projecting these emotions onto our people which may make them feel less safe to speak truthfully or try something new in the workplace

Navigating away from regret and resentment, the following lenses help us get “unstuck”:

Reflection (What can I learn?)
Reflection is informed by two primary qualities – curiosity and compassion. Curiosity enables us to overrule the inner critic, who wants to boil the past down to “good” or “bad” – and allows us to ask instead, “What might I learn from this event?” This open-minded perspective, coupled with the quality of compassion, enables us to separate temporal moments of disappointment from our self-worth as a human. Reflection is the lens that reminds us we tried our best.

Release (What must I accept?)
When we grasp tightly onto what we label as “failures” or “disappointments” and refuse to let go, this “personal baggage” can really weigh us down. Releasing the past does not mean forgetting all that you’ve experienced. It means you get to lighten your load. You can accept what happened, embrace the consequences, and use the lessons you’ve learned to inform your choices in the future.

Here’s a poem I wrote to help get unstuck from past disappointments:

That happened and here we stand.
Hands in the air. Fingers searching for where to point.
Despite best efforts things didn’t work out as we hoped they would.
So, I’m feeling what I need to feel and accepting the facts on the ground.
I’m taking the leap toward acceptance, forgiveness, learning, and gratitude.
That happened. It made us smarter.
That happened, and we keep going.

How do you turn things around when you find yourself stuck dwelling on past disappointments?

Image credit: Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

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