Client: “I’ve always been lacking the confidence to speak up. In childhood, my parents were very harsh with me and would always criticize me when I opened my mouth. There was this one time when I was 9…”
Me: “Aham (cough)… I don’t really need to know that. Give me an example of how this lack of confidence manifests itself NOW.”
The fascination many people have with doing a heavy, skilled analysis of their past is something I understand very well and in terms of practical benefits, I find pointless.
Coaches have traditionally been making a lot of fun of some types of therapists for focusing to much on the past and not enough on the present. I guess somebody forgot to inform the potential clients as well about this frequent weak spot of therapy.
Why We Like to Explore Our Past
There are several reasons for which I believe that many of us put a lot of emphasis on exploring our past in our personal development:
- We have a need to know ourselves, which includes understanding clearly how our past experiences left their mark on us. This is all fine but, do you really want to put a lot of effort and sometimes money in that?
- We have this idea (probably induced by cheap self-help books) that there is this one negative experience in our past which is single handedly responsible for a certain flaw or fear we have. And we need to find it.
- We think that in order to change our beliefs or get rid of our fears, we need to understand exactly their source in the past. And when we do and we embrace our past, the change often happens just like that.
- We sometimes us it as a way of running from the responsibility of acting and changing ourselves. We focus on the past so we can forget about the person development work required in the present.
The Reality of Personal Development
I will sometimes read a psychoanalyst’s opinion on how our present problems are rooted in the past and we need to skillfully uncover the past in order to heal the present. And it will crack me up; because in all my research on this topic, I haven’t found a single convincing shred of evidence to support this.
Analyzing your past, digging dip and unraveling all sort of stuff may sound cool, but it is basically a useless process judging by the improvements it creates. The bottom line is this:
Exploring your past is not necessary or very useful in transforming yourself.
Why? Because our present ways of thinking and feeling may have their origins in the past, but it doesn’t really mater. Our beliefs, thinking patterns and emotions have a life of their own in the here and now.
Consequently, it is in the here and now that we need to address them if we wanna see results. Understanding the kind of experiences that created them may give us some extra clarity and help us discover irrational thinking, but that’s about all it can do. And we only need a small amount of past exploration to get this effect.
This is why I use principles and techniques from CBC (Cognitive Behavioral Coaching) when I assist my clients change their thinking and emotional reactions, in order to improve the people skills they aim to improve. CBC has a focus on the present and on getting real, quantifiable results.
If you’re looking for improvement, focus on the present. Identify those limiting ways of thinking you have now and combat them now. Do this repeatedly, systemically, and you’ll see some real progress. The answer to your personal development is not in the past, it is in this moment.
Image courtesy of geroco