I think the majority of people would agree that it’s unhealthy to live in the past. After all, we’re all familiar with the new age philosophy, “Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery, Today is a Gift, That’s why it’s called the Present”. Living in the past holds us back from being able to embrace the present moment. People hold on to childhood fears, adolescent pain, betrayals, bitterness, anger, etc. Even in terms of fond memories: very often when the present is difficult we are quick to recall “the good old days” when life was theoretically better. In our nostalgia, comparisons to better days gone by conjure up feelings of sadness and loss that easily translate into resentment, unhappiness, bitterness, and hopelessness. In our minds, life will never again reach those standards of excellence.
Recalling mistakes we’ve made in the past is also considered counterproductive as it can lead to remorse, regret, low self-esteem, and self-loathing. On so many levels, living in the past seems to be a bad idea. Or is it? Are there ever any benefits to revisiting a previous time? Actually, yes.
The past has several perks:
Learn from our mistakes: We all know that poor choices can be some of life’s greatest teachers. Recalling times when we made mistakes can reinforce reasons why we are better off not repeating them. Understanding what we did or didn’t do, how it impacted our lives in a negative way, and how we felt during and after the encounter helps us to make smarter and wiser decisions in the future. In this way, the past becomes a point of reference for future decision making.
Moving beyond: By revisiting an unfavorable event from our past, we can often view it from a different perspective as time has passed. Being older and presumably wiser, we are now able to re evaluate the experience and gain deeper insights and understandings of what happened and why, and how it has impacted us since. We also have the ability to change how any situation continues to impact us. What once scarred us can now be healed through a new-found awareness and no longer be a negative force in our lives.
Motivated by prior successes: There are times when we have all enjoyed success on a variety of levels. Other times life has been difficult and times have been lean. A quick trip down memory lane to a prior time when we were at our best can help motivate us out of our current slump and put us back on track for success. Use your past successes to propel you on to newer and greater things. Remember: success breeds success.
Fond memories of comfort and joy: I love looking at old photos. They bring back vivid memories of some of the most fun and memorable times in my life. Doing so provides a moment to relive a joyful time and evokes feelings of fondness and happiness once again. Recalling what brought us the most pleasure is an incentive to recreate those moments or to embark on new adventures that are exciting, loving, and memorable, those that we can later reference once again trigger memories of comfort and joy. In the case of the loss of a loved one, fond memories of that individual can be a powerful tool for healing from the loss. Pain is replaced by warm recollections of the one we loved and helps to keep that love and memory of them alive.
A gauge of progress: Very often it’s difficult to see how far we’ve come in life. We work hard but our progress seems infinitesimal by comparison to others or to what we imagined it should look like. Only when we revisit our starting point are we able to see just how much we’ve accomplished. This simple act can boost our morale, restore our hope, increase our self-esteem and confidence, and motivate us to continue putting forth effort.
So while it’s evident that revisiting the past has several perks, there are a few caveats. Just like an amusement park, it’s fine to visit but you cannot stay there forever. At some point, the park closes and all visitors are asked to leave. Enjoy the past when necessary but don’t reside there indefinitely. Use it as a perk for living in the present and planning for the future. In that way, it will serve you well.
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