When a choice you made has affected the course of your life, and you wonder if your choice was right or wrong...
The urge to change something that happened long ago... to go back in time; rewrite your history...
Your most embarrassing, painful, or regrettable moments repeated again and again...
Few but Zen monks keep their minds completely focused on the present. Assuming you're not a Zen monk, repetitive thoughts affect you. Repetitive thinking can be positive when you're savoring past positive moments, or positively anticipating a moment in the future, but more commonly, repetitive thought is like a plague. It's the negative past moments, or the worrisome future moments, that intrude into our experience of the present.
By calling to mind past negative experiences, we relive them. Your thoughts are intangible, yet your body reacts the same way to things that are actually happening as it does to the memories that you are reliving. Think about a heated argument in the past, and your blood pressure rises in the present. Walk your mind through your most embarrassing moment, and your cheeks flush, your heart speeds, your breath comes out in a huff as you shake your head to will it away.
Repeatedly reliving past negative moments causes stress to accumulate in the body as if those experiences were actually happening over and over again. You age yourself when you live the past more than once. And whenever you relive a negative moment, you add to your stored consciousness of negative experiences. This increases your belief that those same negative experiences will repeat in the future, which leads to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression.
So, cut the shit. Here's a secret (that isn't really so secret): there's not a person on Earth who has never put their foot in their mouth, made a difficult decision that they sometimes question, or fallen up the stairs in front of the football team (metaphorically speaking). Life's not perfect, and you're not perfect. There's a reason why they say "shit happens."
Also, shit happens for a reason. Not only in the sense that everything happens to make you who you are and bring you to where you're going. Not being able to let go of a negative memory happens for a reason, too. Repetitive thinking is your mind calling upon you to face that past experience, head on. Acknowledge it, and accept it, and let it hit you full force. Ask yourself:
- Why is this memory powerful enough to keep me mentally stuck on it?
- What did that experience signify to me?
- What can I learn from it?
- How can I behave, now, in order to fill my mind with new positive experiences?
When you mess up, it can feel like you just lost your last chance at happiness, or success. You didn't. Your life is so full of opportunities that you can't possibly entertain them all. To see even one or two of those opportunities, you have to be mentally and emotionally open and present. You can't see that your best moment is happening, or is just around the corner, if you're stuck thinking about your worst moment in the past.
The negative intrusive memories that plague you all have something in common: together they tell the story of your fear. You are reliving past events because you're afraid that event will recur, or you're afraid that event defines you.
"I can't be confident, because I am a person who has had this embarrassing moment."
"I won't say the right thing because one time, I said something totally wrong."
"I'm not good at that. Once, I failed at that so miserably that I'll never try it again."
Stop. You are not your worst moments. Replace those old scripts.
"I choose to be confident. Confidence invites a positive outcome."
"I choose to communicate, honestly and wholly. Communication connects me to those I care about."
"I'm thankful for what I learned from that experience. Now, I know more, and I can try again."
Past failure doesn't ensure future failure; only preoccupation with failure does. Each moment is a blank slate upon which you have the enormous opportunity to write your own history. Approach this moment with openness, a willingness to learn, a willingness to listen, apply, and try.
When a negative thought recurs in your mind, remember: reliving the past ages you. Why multiply your negative experiences? Painful things have happened, but they do not need to happen again and again in your mind. Breathe, experience the present, and engage with it as the person you want to be. The past does not define you; the present does.