September 1, 2011

The Past Does Not Equal The Future

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I almost always chuckle out loud when I read or write statements that say that past performance is not an indication of future performance. Most often it is related to stock offering documents or funding requests. It’s complete common sense in the financial world yet it has to be plastered on everything. Investors must be warned. As if they don’t have the entire disclosure memorized anyway.

When it comes to ‘real life’ though, we need to hear it over and over again. Yet we don’t. It’s resigned to a few hocus-pocus self help books written by people who’ve scammed their last few dollars. That is until now. I’m saying it! And I’m telling you that what happened in the past can be rewritten a thousand times over if we want it to be. Each time telling a different story based on the same basic set of facts if we allow ourselves to look objectively.

We can’t though. Our past is our subjective interpretation of what happened. Subjective. That means subject to. To what? To us. Our interpretation of the data points. Our skewed understanding of what happened. I experience this often with my grandma. See, Bubbe is going to be 91 shortly and in talking to her about things that have happened the story often changes. The basic set of facts are always the same. But how it impacted her or created a causal pattern often changes. You can listen and call them lies, but are they really? If the basic facts stay static but how they are interpreted changes, is that a lie?

About a month ago I shared with you my experience of the past four years. The facts are still the same, but I’ve now chosen to re-frame my past and no longer believe that the horror I lived was somehow created because I was a bad mother or friend. After hearing all that negativity directed toward me it became my belief. It was easier to believe it than fight it. If it kept being said it must be true, right?

No! Just like any athlete who knows that each time that starting gun goes off it’s a new game, we need to begin to understand that we get to start over every single day. Yesterday does not have bearing on today. Sure, there are chain of event type things. But the psychology of yesterday isn’t like super glue. We aren’t stuck.

It’s easy to get stuck. I know stuck. I could easily have a Ph.D. in stuck! And I’ve read stacks of books on this topic and cognitively I know how this works. But the emotional and subconscious are extraordinarily powerful. Being stuck starts to feel normal so we just stay there. It takes too much effort to change. In some ways we’re the Titanic heading straight toward the iceberg. We aren’t nimble enough to just yank that steering wheel and go around.

So what do we do? It’s not like we just snap out of it one day and the unicorns frolic under gitter-sprinkling rainbows. It’s wicked hard (did you get that Boston reference?)! When you’ve spent months, years or even decades convincing yourself that you’re unworthy of something you can’t expect to wake up some Tuesday morning all healed like you went to some tent revival the night before.

No matter what we’re trying to overcome, it’s not just a matter of thinking positive thoughts. Yes, changing our mindset is part of it. And yes, I talk to myself and have little mantras and positive sayings I tell myself when I’m present enough to catch myself going down that spiral. Present enough. Therein lies the key.

It’s easy to keep looking in that rearview mirror to try and predict what’s in front of us. It doesn’t work that way. Sure, we learn from experiences of the past. Touch the hot stove and get burned. Don’t really need to double check that one. But it’s not true that overspending yesterday means we will overspend today. We can change our thoughts and behavior and create a future that looks nothing like our past.

Where am I going with this? I saw a screening of the movie People v. The State of Illusion. Written by Austin Vickers, it is a fascinating docu-drama about how our perception can be both real and illusion. Surrounding the story is the phenomenal insight from thought leaders in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and consciousness theory. The story is uncomfortable because the main character could easily be someone we know. But unlike the positive thought movies of the past, this one takes on a new dimension by adding the documentary aspect and calling upon world-renown scientists to explain how life changes first begin within the human brain. The movie opens in Scottsdale, AZ at the Harkins Camelview on Friday, September 9th, 2011. If you have a chance to see it, you should. It will be worth your time and money.

And while it does have a feel-good ending, it is very deep and though provoking. It is, after all, part drama. I had the pleasure of meeting the writer and producer, Austin Vickers. His passion not only for this project but for the ability to help others see the limits of our own life’s illusions is easily felt. I got a very real sense that helping others break down these mental barriers is immensely important to him.

The past does not equal the future. It’s not just a saying. It’s a scientific fact when it comes to determining how we will live our lives.

Sara

{ 2 comments }

Sheila September 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

I agree that it’s the present that matters the most. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. My friends and I have been talking about something similar. I’m reminded as well of a page on Wikipedia listing some cognitive biases, including memory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases.

Moxie September 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

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True, but (personally) I think it takes a very strong person to take that wisdom and go with it!

I left a comment on your “Today I Banish Shame” when you first posted. I always felt afterwards that I should have then followed up with a more personal email. I actually wrote to our mutual friend, Margie, that I was very sad/shaken (lots of emotions) by what I had read. However, since we’ve only had a “business” relationship, I didn’t want to come across as a phony to you.

However, I haven’t stopped thinking about your powerful piece of writing. I’m in awe of the fact that you were not only able to advocate for your daughter, but also then be able to write about the horrific experiences your family endured to help others.

Know that you are admired by myself, and so many other, for your courage and strength. Your family is fortunate to have you, Sara!

Love,
From a Fellow Mom (one day I hope you will consider me a friend)

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