The time that you spend thinking about past mistakes is draining your mental energy and physical well-being.
You know it, I know it. But that doesn’t stop it from happening.
Dwelling on the past hurts the present. It can cause anxiety to flair up in your every day life and, worst of all, in your relationship.
If you’re reading these words, your body is likely filled with elevated stress hormones, like cortisol, making it impossible to enjoy the present moment.
The problem is that if you let your imagination take hold, you’ll end up moving through life on auto-pilot. You’ll go through the motions, but your mental focus will be elsewhere.
With this article, I want to show you how to remove this feeling of ever-present stress that hampers your entire life! We’ll clear away the brain fog and get you back into a sharp mental state.
By reading every word of this article, you’ll come away armed with a war-chest of new strategies to combat this tendency to ruminate on past mistakes.
1. Shift Your Focus to the Present Moment
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle
Almost all of the negative emotions that we feel throughout the day are self-inflicted.
We think about events that cause us to feel angry. We remember people who make us annoyed. A “trigger” causes us to be reminded of something bad that happened in our youth.
When you’re in your head and thinking about situations or events, you are NOT in the present moment. Your body continues throughout the day on auto-pilot while your brain ruminates about the past or worries about the future.
The biggest shift that you can make to remove this constant dwelling is to begin to make a habit of focusing on the present moment.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is an excellent starting point for learning more about the present moment and how it affects your life. I’d grab a copy of it right now or at a book store near you.
After reading this book, I came to realize that so many of my negative emotions each day can be completely squashed by re-focusing on the present moment.
As I started to do this more and more, I instantly saw a drastic decrease in my worries, anxiety, and unhappiness. I stopped letting my emotions be controlled by the whims of my every-day thoughts.
I recommend doing this through daily meditation. Set aside 15 minutes in the beginning of the day to meditate. You should do this before you get started on your day.
Mindfulness meditation will bring your focus to the present moment and clear our all of the vestigial thoughts that are running through your head. It will set this mindset for the day.
2. Re-work Associative Memory Patterns
Memory does not function like a file folder system. Instead, it’s associative. This means that one memory, event, image, or thought can evoke other memories.
Have you ever struggled to remember something?
You’re trying to remember the title of a book and you say to your friend something like, “Oh, it begins with an S. I think it was about _____. There was this one really great example of _____. Oh yea! The title is ____.”
Your memory works off of a series of cues. Sometimes, you’ll encounter a cue that will draw out a memory that you haven’t pondered in a really, really long time. You’ll say something like “Oh wow! I haven’t thought of that in forever.”
A simple way to begin to stop thinking over and over again about past mistakes is to remove any cues from your environment that might be causing you conjure up these memories.
Many people will do this when it comes to break-ups or when they realize they don’t want to be friends with someone anymore.
You might unfollow them on Facebook, delete their number, or unfollow them on Instagram, and thus remove their constant updates from your daily life.
By doing this, you’re cutting down on the amount that you “think about them” because whenever you do, you get angry or annoyed.
You can do the same thing when it comes to your past mistakes. Identify anything in your environment that prompts these memories and remove it!
3. Finally Process The Emotions
There are TONS of experiences you’ve had in life that don’t really have many emotions tied to them. As you age, you’ll forget most of these.
We will vividly remember the experiences that come with strong emotions.
The only reason that these past memories continue to re-surface is that there are still emotions tied to what happened. This means that you haven’t fully processed them yet.
You can make use of the techniques that I’ve described above. You can stop thinking about the past by entering the present moment. You can re-work memory associations.
However, until you finally process the emotions, you won’t completely remove the power these past mistakes hold over your present life.
All this means is that you must gain clarity regarding what you feel, think, and how others thought and felt in the situation. Once you gain this clarity, you must then decide how this event makes meaning for your life. You will decide how you view it.
By processing the emotion, you will eventually come to a conclusion about the situation which is the basis of beliefs you form about yourself and your life.
4. Lower Your Standards
I find that readers who “beat themselves up” about past events tend to have very high personal standards. These standards tend to be unrealistic.
You have to accept and forgive yourself. The first step towards doing that is to lower your standards. You are a human being. You are not perfect. Treat yourself with kindness.
A lot of the time, these same types of students associate their identity WITH high standards. “I wouldn’t be _____ if I didn’t have high standards.”
This is a false belief that is stopping you from growing in a positive direction. You can have high standards in one area of your life and lower standards in another. You don’t need to be perfect in every area of your life.
Your standards do not equate to your personal worth. We all know people who have low standards and are also loved by everyone (or are very popular).
Self-acceptance is a major part of processing emotions and removing the negative feelings that you have regarding previous mistakes in your life.
5. Recognize that Memories are State-Dependent
The thoughts and memories that you have are dependent on your emotional state.
When you’re feeling angry, you’re going to have angry thoughts.
When you’re sad, you’re going to have negative or depressing self-talk.
When you’re excited, you’re going to feel thankful and remember how amazing the world is.
The emotion that you’re feeling greatly determines the thoughts that you have about yourself, the environment, and whatever is happening in life.
This also is true for the memories that you recall. If you’re in a positive state, you’re more likely to remember good things that have happened recently. The same goes true for a negative state.
Many of these “past mistakes” and anxiety-ridden emotions will flare up at different times throughout your life, similar to a physical aliment.
When you’re under tremendous pressure or anxiety, you’ll find yourself dwelling on things that happened years ago (and that still bother you to this day).
This is NORMAL and NATURAL. It happens to everyone.
They key is to recognize why this is happening and then to begin to work on changing your state, re-directing your focus, and improving your mood. With practice over time, this will help you quickly move past the dwelling phase.
6. Find a Teacher or Mentor
There is only so much that you can do on your own. It’s hard to get a third-person view of the emotions, stories, and beliefs that are affecting your life.
The sooner that you seek out a teacher or mentor, the better. It doesn’t have to be an in-person mentor. It could also be a spiritual teacher. Check out some of the podcasts that are out there. Read some books or blogs. Find people who you resonate with.
Unfortunately, often times, our environment and the people in our life are causing a lot of the negative thought loops and emotional patterns that we go through.
By seeking out positive influences, you’ll add kindling to the process of transformation. Before you know it, you’ll begin to see results!