Reviewing the past? Take the best, drop the rest.

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

As an adult, you can choose to review past events. This can be scary, and even lead to arguments with others. These tips will help you take the best from the past, while rejecting those aspects that are hurtful or inaccurate.

1 Keep it private

First of all, be discreet to start with. You don’t have to tell anyone if you’re reviewing the past, or that you’re forming your own opinions about events.

Choose to keep your thoughts private, if discussing them will lead to arguments. You could even enlist the help of a trusted counsellor if you wish to share with family members.

2 Manage thoughts and emotions

Reviewing the past may bring up difficult memories. So learning to manage thoughts and emotions is vital. Take some time to learn skills in these areas first.

Read some books written by psychologists that deal with emotional regulation and coping with negative self-talk. Then you can re-examine the past with less distress.

Over time, you can take the best and reject the rest.

3 Question assumptions

Reviewing the past can help you view events differently. You can change how you think about yourself and your past. You can re-examine labels others have given you. And you can question assumptions they’ve made about you. 

Previously, you may have accepted these statements as if they were true. Now you don’t have to believe them, if you don’t think they’re valid.

4 Reject unhelpful labels

You’re in charge of your own life now. You can decide what you think is right and wrong, or what’s helpful and what’s not.

You can reject others’ beliefs if they cause you distress. If these beliefs are derogatory towards you, or label you negatively in some way, you can choose to reject them.

In addition, you can discard rules that you may have imposed on yourself to keep the peace, or to please the adults in your life. These may not be working for you now. 

You have the power to decide what to believe, and what to reject. You can decide what’s important to you.

5 Understand your past difficulties

It’s often helpful to understand the difficulties you may have experienced in the past.

As a child, you often accept what happens on trust. You may sense something’s wrong. But you keep your head down to stay out of trouble. Or you may blame yourself for family conflicts and problems, when in fact, you don’t know the full story behind what happened. 

So it’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to revise your opinions about the past. 

6 Stop self-blame

When reviewing the past, you can see what happened with fresh eyes. Now you understand the struggles you went through, you can let yourself know you did the best you could.

You may have been powerless back then to make many choices. Perhaps you had to comply with what others expected.

So try to let go of self-blame. Refuse to put yourself down.

7 Empathise with your young self

Instead, understand and empathise with your younger self. Appreciate the struggles you faced. They can shed light on difficulties you’re having now.

You may not have been shown much empathy then. But you can feel empathy for yourself now. And that also means accepting yourself as you are. 

8 Drop self-criticism

Some people use self-criticism as a motivational tool. You may criticise mistakes you’ve made, in an effort to trigger change.

However, all it does is make you feel worse. And when you’re down, you don’t feel motivated.

So being self-critical sets up a vicious circle. The only thing that changes is your mood – downwards. Drop self-criticism and practice self-acceptance instead.

9 Practice acceptance

Accepting mistakes you’ve made is far more helpful than being harsh and unforgiving. Hold back from giving yourself a tongue-lashing if you’ve tripped up. Remind yourself that you can choose how you talk to yourself.

Refuse to buy into self-criticism when reviewing the past. If possible, stay neutral when thinking of your past mistakes.

10 Take a neutral approach

Remaining neutral allows you to re-evaluate your actions in a more realistic light. 

For example, you could say to yourself: “I made a mistake back then. Although I regret it, I was doing the best I could at the time. Can I make amends now?”

There’s little criticism there. You’re stating facts. You’ve accepted reality without excessive emotion.

Of course, you may be annoyed or embarrassed. Or if you’ve hurt others, ashamed.

But it’s not useful to keep punishing yourself. Acknowledge the mistake, and make amends. Assume you can solve the problem at least partially. Minimise self-criticism and move forwards.

11 Reduce self-criticism

On the other hand, you could say: “I’m so pathetic, I failed terribly. I’ll never work it out.”

This self-critical approach looks backwards. It dwells on how incompetent and lacking you are. It also assumes you’re unable to find a solution.

That makes you feel inadequate, and lowers self-esteem. And these negative feelings can last a long time.

Which approach encourages you to take action? Or to be creative in your problem-solving?

12 Be kind to yourself

It’s much better to be kind to yourself, even if you have to accept some of your actions weren’t helpful. So give yourself a break when reviewing the past.

Be kind to your younger self. Sometimes life was tough. And you coped the best you could.

Accept that some things were out of your control. You may have missed learning some skills in the past. But you learned other skills that are just as valuable. Give yourself credit for what you’ve achieved.

You can’t go back and change the past now. But you can move forward.

Take the best from the past and drop the rest.

13 Make good choices from now on

As a young person, you may not have had much choice about what you could do. You may have been dependent on your parents. You may not have realised you could make decisions for yourself, or you may have felt powerless to do so.

But now you can make your own choices.

14 Face up to what you need to do

Deep down, you know what path you need to follow. You can sense when you’re falling into unhelpful habits. Or that your life isn’t satisfying or meaningful.

It’s up to you to decide what values to adopt, and how you’ll shape your life from now on. Take responsibility for moving into your own future, rather than remaining stuck in the past. 

Having had difficulties in the past is unfortunate. But it doesn’t condemn you to always having difficulties.

Decide now to take the tough decisions that will improve your current situation. 

15 Refuse to get stuck blaming others

Reviewing the past can bring up a lot of memories. But don’t get stuck blaming yourself or others.

You want to review your relationship with the past, and change how you see yourself and others.

Many factors may have once prevented you making progress, and now you can change that.

Choose to make the hard decisions to change your life. But first, remove the shackles of the past. Make sure you take the best and drop the rest.

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