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I always tell my students that “your history is not your destiny.” While that’s true, I’ve come to realize that your history can be valuable. You can gain so much from the past if you use it properly so that it trains your brain for success.
Rewire your brain with the past
I’m guessing you’ve heard of neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity to change and be trained. They call it “synaptic pruning, ” meaning that seldom-used neuropathways lose their power and frequently-used neuropathways get stronger.
To be successful, you want to strengthen neuropathways that lead to success.
This is where the past comes in and why often you’re told to “forget the past.” Our natural tendency is to remember the negatives of the past, what we didn’t accomplish or what didn’t work out for us. Doing this strengthens pathways that make us doubt ourselves or feel afraid. But we can use the past differently to support more positive neuropathways.
Use the past to grade your progress
“The way to measure your progress is backward against where you started, not against your ideal.” — Dan Sullivan.
In The Gap And The Gain, authors Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy write that when you’re going after a goal, the gap is everything between where you are now and where you want to be.
The gain is how far you’ve come, from where you started to where you are now. Most of us focus on the gap; how far we still need to go. We hardly ever acknowledge the gains we’ve made, the distance we’ve come, or how much we’ve accomplished.
But by dismissing the gain, you’re wasting a great opportunity. “Success breeds success,” and success builds confidence, right? When you notice and applaud all the challenges you’ve successfully overcome, you strengthen the “overcomer” neuropathway.
When you consistently acknowledge all those good ideas you implemented, or times you stepped out of your comfort zone, your brain starts seeing accomplishment as the norm for you. If you dismiss your progress and focus on what you haven’t yet accomplished, you’re strengthening that stressful “not there yet” feeling, which does not add to your confidence.
Try it for yourself. If you’re having a tough day, look back at where you started on this journey to build your business. Think about how far you’ve come, the obstacles you handled, and the big and small wins. Give yourself a big high five for all the gains. How do you feel?
Related: How Studying History Brings Success
Use the past for learning
“An experience only becomes valuable and useful once you’ve transformed it into a gain.” Benjamin P. Hardy
A friend of mine has a client who is a highly successful business owner. Whenever this man makes a big mistake, he says, “well, that lesson was cheaper than my college education — and probably more valuable!” He’s decided that every experience, especially the rough ones, gives him something he needs to learn. So, he’s very conscientious in figuring out what that lesson is.
It’s not always easy to figure out the lesson right after a significant setback. But if you don’t find that gold nugget, your brain might jump to false conclusions, like thinking you are not good enough for success. Instead, turn it into a gain by finding the lesson.
You can also do this with experiences in the past because the person you are today has a different perspective than the person back then. Try taking an incident in your past that still feels like a thorn in your side. What lesson could you gain from it? Did that experience make you stronger, wiser and more compassionate? Now, whenever you think of it, be sure also to remember what you gained from it.
Use the past to be more effective
Dr. James Gross, a Stanford psychology professor, ran a study to see how our emotions or state of mind affect what we do. His team studied 60,000 people for an average of 27 days. They found that when people were in a bad mood, they avoided challenges and even slacked off. They tackled the challenging but necessary work when they were in a good mood. In other words, to get good work done, it helps to be in a good mood. And you can use the past to get there, even if today is getting you down.
Start by remembering when you felt proud, happy or especially confident. Maybe it was when you aced your third-grade spelling test or got your first job. Maybe it was going to your high school prom or stumbling across a fantastic waterfall on a hike.
The key is to really get into that experience and feel what you felt back then. Give that memory a keyword like “waterfall.” Then find another great memory and re-experience that one. Pull out these great memories and re-experience them whenever you need a boost. After a while, you’ll find that even just saying the keyword can bring in that great feeling.
So, rather than just “moving on” from your past, use it as a tool to build your business. Focus on the gains from your journey and celebrate them. Find the gems of learning from past experiences, especially the “bad,” and learn from them. Use your wonderful memories to enhance your mood so you can tackle those challenges. It’s true. Your history is not your destiny. But when you use your past properly to condition your brain for success, it can be a valuable ally.