“No matter what I do, I can’t seem to stop reflecting and trying to analyze what really happened to my marriage. It’s like my whole life went down the tubes with my divorce. I’m depressed, I’ve gained 50 pounds, I just don’t look good or feel good, and I am lost.”
My client was obviously disturbed about himself and his life. I had seen him years earlier as a confident, young executive. Now his hollow, empty eyes, along with hunched shoulders told a very different story.
I asked how long it had been since his divorce. After a pause with his elbows resting on his knees, staring at the floor, he raised his head and in a gruff whisper said, “Coming up on seven years.”
I leaned toward him and gently asked a key question: “So I think you are telling me that you are living your life locked in on the rearview mirror.” He nodded affirmatively.
Whether it be a job loss, the death of a loved one, a poor health diagnosis, a financial loss, or the loss of a marriage … it is not unusual when come to me realizing they are “stuck in the past” or “can’t get over _____” or “can’t seem to get back on track.”
It is normal to grieve after a loss of any kind. Although some research says it can take up to two years to grieve a major loss, I find that after a year, if someone is not taking some positive steps forward, they are likely beginning to settle into “living in the past.”
We all look back to make sense of things, but a continual looking back is not healthy. I tell my clients there are only three healthy reasons to “look back.” And there are seven GREAT benefits of being present in the present or looking positively toward the future.
The ONLY three healthy reasons for looking back:
1. To learn lessons from your history
2. To reminisce fondly
3. To reflect upon what you have to be grateful for
Unless you are doing one of these three things, you would be much more wise to be present in the present or looking to the future with hope, dreaming or positive planning. I believe that we need to keep ourselves present in the present most of the time, but to limit scope of our future visioning to positive things. If you look to the future to create worry, that is almost as unhealthy and destructive as living in the rear view mirror.
I shared this with the client who was nearing the seven-year mark of his divorce. He confessed that he did not look back to learn lessons, to reminisce fondly or to reflect upon what he had to be grateful for. He also admitted to rarely being “present in the present” with his children and grandchildren … and that all future visioning was about getting “old,” feeling worse and worry about what might or might not happen.
Over the course of a few sessions, we began to look at the 7 GREAT benefits of keeping his focus forward and positive, with an even greater focus on being present in the present.
Hopefully you will find this helpful. Even if this does not apply to you, it might be very helpful in reaching and communicating with others who need it desperately to stop living in their rearview mirror.
Seven reasons to keep your focus on being present in the present or looking forward positively and/or with hope:
1. You will be less likely to wreck your life.
There is a reason that the windshield in your car is about 96% larger than your rearview mirror.
Driver’s education classes teach young drivers that their eyes should always be looking forward with only glances into the rearview mirror. Focusing on the rearview mirror is likely to end in a collision.
I shared this with my client, and he agreed that his life had been a wreck over the past seven years. I suggested that we begin to transform this by limiting the time he allowed himself to “look back” over what had happened that his marriage to an end.
Then I posed a question you might ask yourself: “If you keep looking back to assess what went wrong, and you figure it out … what will it do to help you?” The expression on his face looked like I had just revealed a great-unknown truth. He replied: “Nothing I guess.”
I gave him an assignment to allow himself 15 minutes a day to look back. But the only things he could analyze were things he could have done better, in order to prepare himself with “good lessons” as he moved forward.
When he returned for the next session, he reported that he had felt less like a “nervous wreck” than he normally does. I suggested there was no mistake that staring in the rearview mirror for hours daily made him feel like a “wreck!”
What about you? What can you do to begin to limit your “rearview mirror time?”
2. You will be much more likely to have “real” relationships.
It is practically impossible to have a “real” relationship when you are living in the rearview mirror. Sometimes it is fun to reminisce looking back. But story after story after story about “the past” prevents real connection.
This is a real challenge for addicts. I have worked with celebrities through the years, and they love to tell “stories.” I tell them to consider limiting their stories. Otherwise, people they are with leave feeling “entertained, but empty.”
Being present means talking about the present. Being in the moment.
Many people are writing about and speaking about the power of presence in the moment:
“Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.”
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
Being present in the present creates connection in relationships of all sorts (marriages, business partnerships, parent/child, neighbors, etc). Future visioning, or dreaming together add superglue to the connection.
I asked my client to spend time with each of his adult children and be present in the present, and do a bit of future visioning. He looked at me like he was thinking: “What on earth are you talking about?”
I suggested this: After your greeting and polite “how are you’s” … ask at least two of these questions:
- What was the highlight of your week (or month if you haven’t spoken with them recently)?
- Tell me about your best moment with your daughter (or son, or wife) this week?
- Are you satisfied with your job (or business, etc)? If so, what is satisfying? If not, what do you need to do, because you spend most of your time there?
- How are you feeling about yourself? Your health? Your financial condition?
- What are you learning about life?
Then I asked him to do some future visioning by asking things such as: What is compelling about your future vision for you and your family?
And to be prepared to respond with more than “quip” responses if his sons were to ask similar questions back. He expressed that it would be difficult because he mostly tried to avoid anything that would bring the topic of his son’s mother up.
I commented: “Isn’t it sad that you’ve missed 7 years of connection with your son to avoid hearing anything about their mother?” He was shocked to realize what he had done, but agreed to give it a try.
In the following session, he walked in and handed me his cell phone, “It’s a text from my son.” I read it:
Dad, it’s been a long time since I felt like you were really “there” when we met for lunch. Thank you. I love you
When I looked up, he was beaming, then chattered for 5 minutes about his son’s job (he was in grad school online to qualify for an upcoming promotion), his grandson’s winning goal at his soccer game, and his plan to give one more try to having a little girl (since he already had two sons).
Presence. Future visioning. It makes a HUGE difference in relationships!
3. It speeds up your progress.
Being present in the moment and future visioning has been shown in multiple research projects to speed up your progress toward your personal and professional goals.
One of the speculations about why that is true is that the definition of a straight line is: “the shortest distance between one point and another point.” When you are looking in the rearview mirror, you will be more likely to veer off course, taking more time and distance to progress from where you are to your end goal.
In addition, taking your focus off of the end goal requires a reset and a certain amount of energy to regain momenetum.
I assigned my client the task of setting at least two personal goals and two professional goals. And then to note his progress toward those goals (as compared to his progress over the past seven years).
His career goals were:
- To begin going back to the office daily (instead of working from home)
- To select a C level position to work toward (he was already in upper management)
His person goals were:
- To lose 25 pounds by practicing intermittent fasting and going to the gym 3 times weekly
- To take his sons and their families to dinner 1 to 2 times each month
After a few weeks, I check in on his progress toward his personal and professional goals. With a grin he reported: “More progress than the past seven years put together!”
What about you? How can begin present and future visioning to speed up progress in your life?
4. It opens the door leaving a great legacy.
You must be present in the present to even assess what legacies are needed in this world. Noting trends, noting things around you. Noting your gifts, your strengths, your talents.
Leaving a legacy does not just “happen.” It requires focus, planning and future visioning. It is only when we are present in the present and future visioning that we can see a legacy and work toward it.
It took some time in the present and future visioning for my client to get a glimpse of a legacy he would like to leave. After some time, he chose to start a soccer league for granddads and grandsons, which included a summer soccer camp. He also added a program to include “bonus” granddads for boys who did not have a granddad. His club is called “The Winning Grands.”
What about you? Are you in the present enough and future visioning adequately to begin to catch a glimpse of your legacy? It doesn’t have to change the world. But it must change “your part” of the world. Whether that’s inside your family, inside your neighborhood, inside your community or inside your state. Any of those makes you a world changer!
There is someone who needs your legacy to become their very best. Get present and start your future visioning SOON so that you can enjoy it too!
5. To prevent negative impact on your health.
It is easy to ignore negative health consequences in our lives when we have no symptoms or health challenges in the present.
I am so grateful that I tapped into wellness early on in my life and began taking care of my health, vitality, energy levels and longevity by noting things I could manage with lifestyle changes.
“Living in the rearview mirror” was one of the first things that create health challenges that I stumbled upon in my search for wellness. I wrote my fifth book when I had been practicing and teaching about wellness around the globe. People often asked what my lifestyle practices were.
To answer the question, I authored my fifth book: “A Long and Healthy Life: The Facts about High Level Wellness.” In it, I wrote about how I worked diligently to live my life in the present moment, along with future visioning to avoid the health consequences of living in the rearview mirror.
Those health consequences included researched challenges such as:
- High blood pressure
- High increase of stress hormones, such as cortisol
- Digestion issues
- Poor sleep quality
- Significantly decreased energy levels
On the other side, numerous research articles revealed that living in the present with future visioning resulted in these health benefits:
- Less cardiac conditions
- Better mental health
- Less doctor visits
- Less likelihood of sleep apnea
- Greater energy levels
- More positive outlook on life
What about you? Are you willing to live being present in the present and practicing future visioning for a better quality of life?
6. You won’t miss the moment.
There are moments in life that we will remember forever. But to treasure those moments, you must be present or you will miss it! Not just present physically, but present mentally and emotionally.
One of the moments I will treasure forever was when we were leaving my dad’s graveside service. My mother, my sister (and her family), my mother’s pastor and wife, and my cousin were riding in the limo. It was an icy day, but there was road construction still going on. As we were passing the construction area, all of the workers removed their hats and placed them over their hearts.
By the time my sister turned around, she had missed it. She was “lost” in grief, understandably. But whenever my mother and I would mention that moment we treasured, she would express her regret of “missing” it (because she was not “present”).
None of us wants to miss those “moments.” But you must be present to store them away.
I asked my client what “moments” he thought he might have “missed” over the past seven years. He began to name them, and we were both teary-eyed:
- The birth of three of his grandchildren
- Many family gatherings
- The first steps of grandchildren
- Receiving one of his awards at work
- The list went on …
Research reveals that when we are able to “focus on the moment” there are a myriad of great things that can occur:
What about you? What moments are you missing by lack of presence? Focus in on the moment and collect all of the great benefits, not to mention memories to cherish and treasure!
7. You are much more likely to reach your goals, fulfill your dreams and have healthy relationships.
There are increasing research reports that suggest that keeping our focus on the present, and splashing it with hopes and dreams about the future create more meaning in our lives.
There is also a plethora of research about marriages of couples who are present in the present, and dream or plan their futures together:
- They are 70+% less like to experience separation or divorce
- Their children are much more likely to complete a higher education
- They are likely to be in a higher income bracket than those who live looking backward
- Their longevity is extended
- They age more gracefully
- They are more generous
- They are less likely to develop cancer and other life-threatening diseases
- Their relationship is unlikely to become toxic
- Their interactions in challenging situations are more likely to be handled with kindness
No wonder they are more likely to achieve their goals and realize their dreams!
It makes perfect sense. When you are present with one another, and you share your hopes and dreams, reaching your goals and realizing your dreams is easier when two are invested in the same things!
When I shared this with him, he was overwhelmed with sadness that he hadn’t known this information 30 or 40 years earlier. He shared how his former wife would ask him to share his dreams and he would tell her: “Don’t worry about it!” He had been raised to believe that it was the man’s job to take care of all of that, and not worry his wife with it.
I told him that we could only look back if he could glean a lesson from it. He nodded, and after a silent moment, he grinned and said: “Well, I did take a lesson: don’t shut your wife out!” I asked about the grin. He reported sheepishly:
“Well, I attended the first birthday party for one of our grandchildren last weekend. I had missed all of the previous parties in order to avoid her. But she was kind and polite. In a serendipitous moment when we were alone, you would’ve been proud of me. I was present, very present. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just said, ‘Hey, all those times I told you to not worry about it when you asked me to share my dreams … I’m sorry about that. I thought I was protecting you but now I know I was pushing you out.’”
I asked about her response, and he reported, “She looked right into my eyes and said, ‘Thank you. That means a lot to me.’ Then my son came out and realized he had stepped into a ‘moment.’ He immediately said he was sorry and took a u-turn.”
“But it didn’t matter, because now I have a ‘moment’ to remember from the present.”
As an update: he lost his weight, got his promotion, set up his soccer teams and says, “This life is so much better than the one in the rearview mirror.”
What about you? Which of these reasons can you embrace in order to turn your presence to the present? And to begin to look forward with hope, envisioning your dreams?
Don’t crash your dreams and your life by looking in the rearview mirror. You deserve the richness and abundance of life this will bring to you!