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Do not shut the door on your past......

One of my favourite Richard Bandler quotes has been “The best thing about the past is that it's over. The best thing about the future is that it's yet to come. The best thing about the present is that it's here now."


And I’ve seen other quotes of a similar nature, telling us to “shut the door on our past”, “leave the past behind us”, “leave the past in the past”. “We can’t change the past”. “Let it go”.  I’ve even shared some of these myself.  However, this has been niggling at me for a while now and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t agree with these quotes, well not entirely. 


It’s true to say that the present is here and now and the future is yet to come. The past is a memory, a perception, and the future is imagination. Both of which can be distorted.  But let’s look at the past for a moment. 


What is our past?  Five years ago? Ten years ago? When we were born? Before we were born even? An hour ago is in the past, a minute ago is in the past, a nano-second ago is in the past. We cannot Iive that hour, that minute, than nano second again. The past is over. But do we want to close the door on it? Is the best thing about the past that it is over?


Well, no. I don’t agree.  I don’t want to forget my past or close the door on it. I want to leave it ajar.  Why? 





Well, I know that I had some amazing experiences in my past.  I also had some truly devastating experiences too.  But there is no doubt in my mind that the amazing experiences far outweigh the devastating ones. 


The problem is, we usually remember the devastating experiences more, because our brains are hard-wired to negative.  There is a primeval reason for this - it helps to protect us, stops us making the same mistakes again in the future so we don’t fall foul of a sabre tooth tiger next time we go out of our cave.  But there are no sabre tooth tigers roaming around any more. At least not where I live.


So why do we let our negative thoughts get the better of us? The problem is, unless we decide to acknowledge them and learn and move on from our past mistakes, they will keep coming up for us.  I don’t mean we should dwell upon the past, but that we should acknowledge it and learn from the negative experiences.  And whilst we are there,  we should also learn from the positive experiences.  This is why I say we should not shut the door on the past and leave it behind us. Because if we do, we will be shutting the door on and leaving behind us all those wonderful, positive experiences too.  


Living with an abusive husband was not easy and I could say that my marriage wasn’t a happy one.  But this would be a generalisation and in fact it’s not wholly true.  When I look back at my marriage, the first thoughts that come to me are the negative ones, the abuse, the angst, the feeling I was treading on eggshells.   But like the curate’s egg, if I really drill down, I can find that there were occasions when it was good in parts. We did have some happy times. We enjoyed the same music,  I was blessed with two lovely boys, I got to like eating curry, I started to question religion and eventually I understood my values and what I was prepared to accept/not accept in a relationship.  So why would I want to close the door on my marriage?  There were some great experiences there that I have brought into my future, as well as the negative experiences that I have learned from. 


The more I think about it, the more positive experiences come up for me from the past. The birth of my children. The joy of singing in the local operatic and choral societies, bee-keeping, passing my FILex exams, all those people I have helped make a difference to their lives.  The joy of my clients hitting a “light bulb” moment. The fun camping holidays I had with the boys, Why would I want to close the door on all those experiences? Like attracts like and the more positive experiences I recall, I get more of those. 


Likewise, if I start to recall negative experiences, I get more of those.  That’s because whatever I am thinking is forefront in my mind and will attract like for like. It’s the thought that counts. Have you noticed when you have decided to buy - a new car for example - and you are looking for a particular model, you suddenly see them appearing out of nowhere?  Everywhere you look, you see the colour and model of car you have decided to buy.  Now, here’s the thing, they were actually always there, but you just didn’t notice them before because they were not at the forefront of your mind.  As soon a you decided to buy a red mini cooper, your brain actively started looking out for a red mini cooper and lo and behold, they appeared!  So as soon as you search for positive events in your past, hey presto! up they will come. 


As much as we might like to change some of the events that happened in the past, we can’t.  However, we can change how we react to them. We are good at blaming ourselves - those demons inside our mind give us grief - our “self-talk” is generally negative.  Perhaps we blame other people, how they behaved towards us. Maybe we feel we were made to do something that we didn’t wish to do.  And sometimes, as a child, that happened, and it was out of our control. 


However, whatever decision we made at the time, with the tools and knowledge we had - at that time - was the right one.  We don’t have a crystal ball where we can see into the future. The future is yet to come and actually, in fact it doesn’t always come.  We never know when we get up in the morning whether we will still be here in the evening. There is no guarantee with life.  “It’s now or never, cos I ain’t gonna live for ever…” sings Bon Jovi - and he is right.  We need to make the most of life - make every second count - and not waste time and energy worrying about what might have been. 


Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can always think of different ways we could have reacted or behaved in any situation. And it’s a fair point. Because we always have choice. We always have a choice and sometimes we wish we had chosen a different path.  But dwelling on this in a negative way, with regret or anger can destroy us.  We can acknowledge that sadness, that anger, perhaps even regret that we did what we did. And we can taken ourselves through the grieving process, the anger, denial, depression and finally acceptance.  However, we also need to understand that we are seeing the situation from a very different perspective now and the likelihood is that if that same situation had happened a few years later, we would no doubt have reacted differently because our experiences from that very problem would have caused us to think in a different way.


We cannot change the past. But we can change our perception of it. The perception that is causing the regret and anxiety in the present.  A great technique I use with clients is the NLP timeline.  Using the timeline, we can go back into the past, re-visit the situation that is causing us problems and view it in a different light.  I love this process. It’s a very powerful and effective tool. If you are still grieving over a past event, or a negative belief or fear, this process can really help you change your perception and overcome it. It’s magic. 


So I say, do not shut the door on your past.  Embrace it for what it was - the positive and the negative, the yin and the yang - and then as the Beatles said “Let it be”. 




Margaret Yates survived a traumatic divorce herself, trained and worked as a family lawyer and subsequently became a life coach and Master NLP practitioner.


Her mission is to help you step back and think before you take the final step of ending your marriage. And if you decide that divorce is the way forward, to help you save money and support you through the process. 


You can find out more about how Margaret helps people at



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