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Become attached to your future, not your past

In 1899 Charles H. Duel, then Director of the U.S. Patent office said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

In 1895, Lord Kelvin who was President of the Royal Society said, “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”

In 1905, Grover Cleveland, then President of the United States said, “Sensible and responsible women do not wan to vote.”

In 1943, Thomas Watson, then Chairman of IBM said, “There is a world market for about five computers.”

We all say and think things everyday that we sincerely believe to be true, even though they are not true at all.

When we think or say positive things it could be motivating. Even though sometime it could cause us to underestimate what it takes to get something done. However, when we think or say negative things it often limits our view of what is possible and therefore it disempowers us and makes us less powerful.

Our thoughts are not objective. We see things and form views based on our pre-conceived notions. We don’t believe or disbelieve what we see. We actually see what we believe or disbelieve.

We seem to already know how good or bad the future is going to be even though the future hasn’t happened yet.

For example, when people start a new project they often say things like “this is going to be hard” or “it’s going to take a long time.” When they are searching for employment they often say “its really hard to find a job in this field or these days.” And when people are looking for a romantic relationship they often say “there aren’t many potential women or men out there given my age.” I hear these types of comments in my coaching work all the time.

These are all valid perspectives, but they are not facts or truths. And, if we get too attached to them, they often become self-fulfilling prophesies.

It’s as if we are driving toward our future, but without realizing it, we are looking into our rearview mirror. So, everything we see that seems to be in front of us is actually behind us. We think we are objectively working on our future, but we are actually stuck in our past. And, when we keep bumping into objects and/or having recurring accidents and issues we think: “this is just the way life is” or “this is as good as it gets.”

If we were actually driving our car on the highway and we realized we were looking at our rearview mirror, rather than the road in front of us we would immediately shift our view.

Could we do the same in our real life?

If we focused on our future without being distracted by our past we could strategize, plan and navigate more freely and effectively toward our objectives and commitments. We would probably also be able to avoid many of the hurdles and obstacles that impede our progress.

I often hear people say things like “forget the past, discard it, pretend like it didn’t happen…” when giving advice to others who are dealing with a challenging situation. I find that advice both silly and unnecessary. First, it is impossible to forget our past, especially when we have traumatic or memorable events in it. Second, it isn’t necessary to forget it in order to move forward with freedom and confidence.

We all have the ability to become attached to our future while having our past. Unfortunately, most people tend to live in the opposite way – they stay attached to their past and have their future.

When people who are attached to their past face new possibilities they tend to focus on the obstacles and reasons why things can’t be done or why things won’t work. When you try and enroll them in new ideas and possibilities they often respond with “Yes but…we can’t do this because… And, they often refer to the people who are initiating new possibilities as naïve and/or unrealistic.

People who stand in the future tend to be more optimistic and confident. I was coaching a group of managers from two functions in a known technology company who were working on improving their role definition and collaboration.  The dialogue quickly became extremely lively and flowing with ideas. People constantly built on each others’ thoughts and ideas by saying “Yes and…we could also do this and that.” This is a typical dynamic when people stand in the future.

We don’t have to forget or discard our past in order to become our future. In fact, we should always honor, respect and learn from past lessons. But, we shouldn’t cross the line and become too attached to our past. It will limit our ability to create and fulfill great things in our future.