"You have to dig into your past in order to fix your present problems" is a widespread psychological bromide. Irrespective of whether that is true or not, millions of people spend substantial sums of money consulting therapists.
Does it pay to hire someone to analyse your dreams? Will it make any difference in your present or future life? I must express my scepticism about the psychological and practical returns on such investments.
When a problem of personal nature comes up, do you really believe that talking endlessly about your past is going to change your future? Should you not rather establish a plan of action and push yourself into implementing it?
Talk is cheap as long as you don't have to pay someone to listen to you. Talk is harmless as long as you don't relinquish your independence by submitting yourself to someone else's moral authority. My point is that cheap and harmless approaches seldom fix problems.
What is the alternative? The solution to past problems begins with present action. Paralysis only aggravates problems. Relentless action is the best countermeasure. The way forward entails defining goals, making plans, and following them through.
Let me break down my advice in 12 sequential steps:
- Get a pencil and a piece of paper and draw two vertical lines in the middle, creating three columns.
- In the first column, write down where you are now, for instance "I live in Detroit and I don't like it."
- In the second column, write down where you want to be, for example "I want to live in Paris."
- For the moment, leave the third column blank.
- Cross from the list all items that are of secondary importance or that you don't wish to address right now.
- You should be left with no more than six present and future elements. Let those be your priorities, at least for the time being.
- Classify your six remaining problems and objectives into two groups. One should contain burning short-term issues that need urgent attention, like settling pending bills or avoiding the foreclosure of your home. The second group should encompass your most important long-term goals, like moving to Paris.
- The less short-term burning issues and the more long-term goals you have, the better.
- In the third column, write down specific steps that you can take in order to advance, for each issue, from your present status to your future goal. In the geographical example, the actions could consist of selling your house in Detroit, learning French, looking for a job in Paris, finding a house to rent there, and preparing the removal of your possessions from Detroit to Paris.
- Begin to implement your actions one by one, pushing yourself everyday into carrying them out.
- Many of your foreseen undertakings will fail or will reveal themselves impracticable. Never mind. Simply cross failed actions from your list and replace them by new alternatives. The fact that you are doing something is already helping you learn what doesn't work.
- Step by step, your implementation will become sharper and increase the effectiveness of your results.
Peace of mind does not come from immobility, but from the process of pushing forward. The human brain is not made for wallowing in past mistakes, whether personal or societal.
Rational goals and ambitions bring out the best in human beings. Relentless action elevates men and women beyond the weight of personal history.
[Image by carulmare under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses