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If You Dwell in the Past, You’ll Get Left Behind

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” — Buddha

The key to a productive, mindful life is to keep moving forward and leave past problems behind. So many of the issues and uncertainties we encounter in life are because we dwell in the past on trivial, insignificant things — things that never help us in the present moment. And that’s all that matters. Right now, this week, living this moment with all you got.

We’re emotional people by nature, so it’s not surprising we often let our emotions “get the better” of us. This manifests itself in two ways: we long for the positive experiences or we painfully hang on to the negative ones.

Positive Experiences:

  • Falling in love
  • Childhood memories of family, school and activities
  • Accomplishments

Negative Experiences:

  • Failing at a job, school or entrepreneurial venture
  • Break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Loss of life of someone close to us


On the positive side, I think of maturing into a man and needing to leave past glories behind. High school. College. Grad school. These were great times that I didn’t want to end. But it was essential to move on and live in the present moment!

What do those positive moments look like for you? They could be major accomplishments at work that earned you bonuses and recognition. Perhaps it was the presence of a mentor or special friend who genuinely loved and cared for you. But has since moved on.

These experiences have a huge impact on our lives. They are memories written on our souls and forever in our hearts.

Just know this, once you’ve locked in those moments forever — the longer you dwell in the past, the more you lose in the present. Time, progress, meeting new friends, developing relationships and pursuing opportunities. In the abstract, it may not seem like a big deal. But time, as Steve Jobs famously said, is our most precious commodity. We have to move on. Because time stops for no one.


On the negative side, we have the nicks, scrapes and bruises that wounded us and knocked us down. Past defeats, failures or mistakes. Like getting fired from a job. A break-up with a past boyfriend. That embarrassing miscue at a social outing a few years ago that you can’t seem to let go. Keep moving forward, keep going toward what’s next.

“That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it, and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way is winning.” — Richard Bach

Adversity is the greatest teacher we have in life! Losing, in so many ways, is winning. We have to absorb the shock, make sense of it, derive value from it, then turn our attention to what’s happening now. It’s one thing to learn from our experiences. It’s a totally different story when we let what’s negative dominate our conscious and subconscious minds — haunting us. Controlling us. Limiting our future.

Dwelling in the past has a way of making us anxious. Anxiety leads to a sort of mental paralysis where we find ourselves stuck. We start to fear and doubt outcomes. We’re vulnerable in the worst way possible — not wanting to face the day ahead. I’ve been there, done that. Maybe you know the feeling, maybe you have too.

Anxiety is a battle for so many people. Within anxiety, we find these themes of emotional attachment, change and how we choose to focus our attention. While not the panacea, moving forward and refusing to be held down by the past is a great way to fight your way out of anxiety. The next best way is to explore mental health options that could make a world of difference.

The Courage to Keep Going

Chad Grills recently wrote a piece about the life story of Charlie Munger, the partner of Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway. It was an incredibly inspiring story of a man who refused to let devastating setbacks weigh him down. He kept moving forward in his personal and professional life despite tremendous adversity.

What’s next for you? What’s waiting for you? Chances are, something well worth your time. Life is one big series of “Next’s.” You’re best to embrace opportunity with an open mind and willing heart. With a clear, objective mind, we might think, “Why would we ever want to stew and dwell in the past on negative things?”

In every way it seems illogical and foolish. But think about it — how often do you do this? I know I get wrapped up in emotions that can take me away — if I let them. On the positive side, while it’s great to look back and reminisce, make sure you don’t stay there too long. There’s a whole new world out there for you to conquer.

May you find the life you truly desire for yourself. And even when you’re experiencing life’s best moments, know that time always marches on. Don’t dwell too long in the past. You’re meant for bigger things.

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Christopher D. Connors

Christopher D. Connors

Author, Executive Coach & Emotional Intelligence Speaker; Seen on Fox, ABC, CNBC, etc.; http://chrisdconnors.com

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