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Developing a Short Memory

The past is gone. Focusing on it only brings things that are forgone back to the present to either self-promote or self-punish, and neither are all that great.

You didn’t read that wrong.  The title says developing a short memory:  not improving short-term memory or improving memory. This isn’t really about memory in a biological sense at all.

By short memory, I mean, learning to let go of the past. The past, in many different forms, can become a hurdle in the way of your present.  It can dictate your drive and ambition.  It might cull your sense of being able to do or clog up your head with daydreams of past wins or losses. It might become a crutch to lean on when times require you to act, but you’d prefer to lament. In awful scenarios, it could lead to being in a depressed state. This is a multi-layered concept, so here goes:

What Have I Done

Our biggest critic is often the one that lives inside our heads. I find myself often lamenting a poor decision.  A lack of vision or an impulsive reaction is usually the catalysis for a downward spiral of analysis.  Reliving the day, asking “what-if this” or “what-if that!” Although I think a measured amount of reflection and self-criticism can be a useful tool to grow as a person, obsession can and will lead to paralysis.  The past becomes an anchor that tethers us to the depths of the mind.

We all make mistakes. And we won’t stop making them, ever.  When I’m in one of those ruts, beating myself up over a poor decision I try to focus on how I came to make that mistake.  I look at the information I had at hand, I think about whether or not I let my emotions get in the way, I try to compile as many facts as possible about the situation. I will take ownership of my actions and apologize or attempt to atone, if necessary. From that point, I look to pull out what can I learn from that experience, or how can I apply that situation to my life in the future.  Once I hit that stage, I try to move on.

Now, I can’t say that my little method will work for everyone.  It wasn’t the way I handled letting go of mistakes in the past. I built up confidence in myself that I wouldn’t fall victim to the same things that were in my control over time, and also with plenty of practice along the way.

What Have You Done to Me

People hold onto grudges; I would even argue that many people hold onto grudges unwillingly (I’ll talk more about this below).  When we feel wronged, it gives us an identity.  We are the victims.  There is a weird kind of strength in victimhood.  We don’t feel shame to tell our story.  We feel hurt. Even when we want to move on from whatever happened to us, we can be bound to loop the past over and over in our mind.  This can happen especially if something was personal, or if you are taking something personally.  I believe whenever we create some identifying characteristic of ourselves we are building up parts of our ego.  That thing that is who we are to the outside world (and maybe to ourselves). Being a victim has power.  People send you sympathy, and that sympathy can make you feel special.

But what value does a grudge truly hold for you? What is the upside of a grudge? I don’t see anything of real value.

Just like our own mistakes, we need to try and extract real lessons and move on.  I think the lingering of a grudge in our minds can also start to create a sense of entitlement like you are owed some reparations from the world.  Then we wave that flag of the victim and repeat your story again and again.  It allows us to be the passenger, a passive identity in the world, instead of the driver who goes forward making his or her decisions at will.

Back to the unwilling part – I have and sometimes still do harbor grudge like feelings.  Even after believing the above, that grudges serve no purpose other than consuming your mind, and building up these walls of ego; I still sometimes get stuck in the past. There are a few cases in particular that have stuck with me over time.  They rattle around my head for a little, I reason them away, but then something happens, and boom I’m teleported right back to the full-on grudge.  It takes me a few minutes to even recognize it, but once I do the extraction of lessons begins again.  This is a continued practice and something I doubt I will ever master.

And Then There’s All that I’ve Accomplished

This one is the hardest nut to crack.  Sometimes our past accomplishments may precede us, but we can’t hold on to them.  It’s so hard.  The very things we struggled for, the ones that we identify as positives in our lives, the fruits of our labors, can harm us if we lean on those successes when we should be moving forward.  It’s a balancing act.  When is taking pride in our accomplishment turn into an anchor? Those very same accomplishments that have pushed you forward, given you promotions, degrees, money, success, and so on, can build up that ego, just like victimhood.  With time, entitlement can creep in.  But to move forward, and stay hungry and driven, is not to allow your past accomplishments to get in the way of your current ambitions or even your mental state. What you did yesterday is gone, enjoy it for a moment, but return to the present, and keep on kicking it!

Final Thoughts

The past is gone. Focusing on it only brings things that are forgone back to the present to either self-promote or self-punish, and neither are all that great. Let’s all try to live in the present and develop a short memory.

Thanks for reading,

-Dan

PS – would love to know your thoughts on this one!