How To Use Your Past Thoughts To Your Advantage

Have you ever felt like you were in a loop? It is as if your past thoughts are on repeat, and your life is an ongoing GIF as you repeatedly play out the same situations in different contexts. Not only is it incredibly frustrating, but it can also be damaging to your overall goals.


Our brain reads stories like a computer reads code. We have systematized our thoughts to use past experiences to guide future success. But, unfortunately, our brains often work in overdrive and keep us safe from even the slightest bit of discomfort. 


This leads to having our past thoughts impede our progress. But we can use our past thoughts to our advantage and build confidence to achieve what we never thought we could achieve. When you feel like a thought is holding you back, there are three things to consider to transform those fears into fuel.


#1 Clean It Up

Sometimes an old story lingers with us because we never resolved the situation in a way that closed the loop on dangling and nagging thoughts and emotions. When faced with what might appear to be a self-sabotaging thought, holding back on taking action on your goal because of an experience, consider “cleaning up” the incident. 


“Cleaning it up” is a mindset we can use when we feel held back. Just like a messy room or a cluttered garage, we need to invest some time in re-organizing and reorienting ourselves to our space. To clean up a situation from your past, consider the following:


  1. Who can you talk to clean it up? Is there a conversation that you have been avoiding? Perhaps it is just a conversation to explore your experiences in contrast with theirs. So often, we create stories in our heads about a situation or about a person without genuinely having clarity behind that situation. This option is not always appropriate nor available, depending on the context. And this option is not always comfortable. But it is always worth cleaning up the space with someone to move forward in your progress. 
  2. Did you fall short of expectations? Did you make mistakes? Cleaning it up also implies that you get to make amends for whatever mess you have in your past. Again, this looks different for different situations and different people, but there is always an opportunity to make a situation better. 
  3. Was the situation real, or are you projecting your past fears into it? Again, sometimes we create conflict where conflict is not present. If there is no one to clear with and nothing to make amends to, what is an interpretation of the event that serves you best? Reframing that story for yourself allows you to clean up the space and move forward. 


#2 Focus on being, not doing.


Often, our past thoughts are self-sabotaging because we are so focused on what we DID wrong. We feel that because we made a mistake or did something wrong, we ARE a mistake and that we ARE wrong. 


In other words, we beat ourselves up about it. 


While it certainly does not help us at the moment, it is essential to understand that all humans make mistakes. We don’t think they do because most of our communication is highly controlled, edited, and customized. We don’t always see others making mistakes, so we believe that when we make one, we are unique. 


Instead of focusing on the doing, focus on the being. What ways of being were missing from you when you made the mistake that you can step into and use to your advantage? 


Ways of being can also be described as our values. The best list I have ever found was Brene Brown’s list which you can see here: 


Explore that list and become familiar with ways of being you want to embody. Then, when we shift from doing to being, we have easier access to success and a better interpretation of the past event.


#3 Be open to a new moment. 

Choosing a new moment is the most challenging strategy to use our past thoughts to our advantage. Being open to a new moment, whether with someone else or with yourself, means giving them a clean slate. 


I know. It is much easier said than done. 


When someone hurts us and lets us down (including ourselves), it is not always easy to release the negative emotions associated with that event. However, choosing a new moment and giving someone a blank slate requires you to give grace – undeserved forgiveness for past actions. 


What you are doing is opening up space in your brain for possibility. So instead of being inundated with fearful and self-sabotaging thoughts and emotions as to why it won’t work in the future to trust this person, you have a clear mind and an openness that builds trust and confidence. 


All of these strategies are designed to make your day lighter. We all carry mental and emotional energy from our past experiences that hold us back. But if we can put these in motion, we will not only release those burdens, but we will be using our previous thoughts to our advantage. 


We break the loop. We stop the GIF. And we breakthrough to our next level of leadership and confidence. 


To see more on this topic, check out my Youtube video on this topic. 


#confidence #emotionalintelligence #communication #storytelling