Let that sh*t go...
The past is a murky place. We like to think that time moves in a line from A to B to C, but the reality is that it's all a bit more "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey" than that. What happened to us when we were 2 (or 5, or 14, or 21) has the sneaky habit of showing up in our current understanding of reality.
What on Earth are you talking about?
I believe that there's two ways of looking at our histories. The first is, well, more classically historic. It is the sequence of events, precisely as they happened. Think the kind of timeline you see on a murder board in a police procedural - what happened, when, with who etc. The details of it. That is not how our memories work.
In actual fact, how we see and processe events is likely to be very different to how someone else did - we all look at life through our own set of biases, beliefs and memories. That doesn’t make my truth truer, or better than someone else's. It’s just my version of the story. Here’s how I explain it with the folk that I coach…
You walk into a meeting room at work and your boss immediately stops talking with the other person who arrived there before you. Silence ensues. Those are the facts of the situation, but it’s not where our brain stops making meaning.
Someone who’s rocking it in the workplace - who has memories of successful experiences, warmth, praise, accolades - and knows they’re outperforming Early-Doors-Doris over there might think “Ooh they’re in trouble! Boss Lady knows that the missed deadline last week was on them and she’s out for blood!”
Someone who’s feeling self conscious about how they look at the moment might think “OH MY GOD they were laughing about how I look today. What was I thinking this morning? I knew I should have gone with something beige and baggy!” They're probably unconsciously dredging up memories of all the times they have felt or actively been shamed for their appearance in the past, and living in that same emotion.
Someone who’s experienced trauma might think that Boss Lady has found some massive mistake that they didn’t even know they made and Doris is giving her the evidence she needs to fire them, effective immediately. They’re going to lose the house, the car, the relationship, die alone in a box eaten by the street cats that were their last remaining friends…
I know all these thought patterns are possible, because I’ve thought them all in different phases of my life. Interpreting life is subjective and our brains do their best with an infinitely wide set of variables influencing them in that moment. That's the place we're acting from in the moment. This is how our pasts show up in our presents. This is how we form beliefs about now, based on what's gone before. The wibbly-wobbly of it all.
Multiple choice living
In my last blog post, I talked about how to make decisions according to how you are designed. Each time we make a decision - not just the big ones, any decision - we're subtly shaping the future. We're laying down new memories and picking a path that will take us onwards.
In those moments, we make a choice but there are usually plenty of other options, all of which would lead to a different onwards path. The funny thing is, we only ever see how it plays out on the path we took. So just to add to the murkiness of memories, we then pass judgements about the choice we did make and add an emotional layer onto whatever we did. Have you ever heard of the "gift of hindsight"? I believe that it's actually the "judgement of past choices" - we have no way of actually knowing what the outcome would have been had we made a different choice, we're just predicting it would be "better than this" from wildly incomplete data.
It's all another story we tell ourselves.
This woman is lost. She is single at 30 after fifteen years in a relationship that really, really wasn't healthy for her. She's exhausted, in chronic pain and going to bed at about 5PM every night. She's unspeakably lonely, especially in a crowded room. She's serving people through her work, but it feels hard and unfulfilling because of the systems and restrictions she's pushing through. It's better than rock bottom, but it ain't great y'all.
She has to make some choices.
What if she plays out the same patterns that she has tried before - a quest to create a "picture-perfect life"? She'll find a good-ish man to settle down with, aim for another promotion at the unfulfilling but worthy job, have a health crash every year as her body can't cope with the strain. She'll make it look shiny on the outside, but it'll suck.
What if she decides to be single forever? Screw any kind of connection - put up walls on walls. That just means she'll have all the brain space to throw herself into her career. She'll reach the top, get a PhD, speak about her work on BBC breakfast and then go home to a silent house and watch Friends re-runs for the 2048632th time. Retirement won't be appealing, because really what's the point? At least she has her 15 cats for company...
What if she gives up? Says screw it and goes to bed for a few months instead of just at 5PM? The depression void isn't that far away for her, and it could be the top of a slippy, slidey slump into purposelessness.
This woman was me in November 2017.
In this moment, I chose to get help. I started engaging in the coaching programme I had signed up for, rather than going through the motions. I did the work of healing, even when it was uncomfortable. Especially when it was, because that was when I wavered. I discovered who I truly am - capable, brave, fun, adventurous, loving, silly, intelligent.
I have a new career that I love, and it loves me right back.
I have a wonderful fiancé - no settling, someone who is my equal and enriches my life.
I have a body that gets through most days and talks to me when it can't. I listen.
I have friends and a life with moments of joy every day.
Yes, there are challenges and I'm growing into new levels all the time, but I've realised something amazing. I fucking love my life. No reservations, no regrets. Even the "questionable choices" led me somewhere pretty damn magical.
I'm grateful to those alternate me's, because they've got lessons for me too. They keep me present to the risks of settling. They remind me that I can achieve excellence, but not at the expense of living. They remind me that my mental health is precious and that TLC is necessary, not a luxury. They remind me that for all I'm an introvert, I love being around people... they just have to be MY people. They remind me that professional support will help me make magic.
So here's my invitation to you...
Imagine a "bad decision" you've made. Something you give yourself a lot of self criticism for, that is weighing you down. Imagine the version of you that made that choice standing in front of you in the here and now.
Now imagine forgiving them. Thanking them, for doing the very best they could in the moment. Celebrating them, for the resoursefulness and courage to make a decision (or even to decide not to make one). Praising them for being the unique mix of skills, experiences and beliefs that they were then. Give them love. They deserve it.
What's different now? What can you create from this place onwards?
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