New Beginnings, why the past should be a point of reference not a place of residence

Alan White New

Alan White

With the new school year beginning, I felt that this week would be a good time to talk about new beginnings. As a teacher I see September not January as the beginning of a new year. After the summer break, the new school year, for me, is a time for a fresh start, renewed energy and an excitement about what the coming school year will bring.

This got me thinking about the past. Last week our leaving cert students received their results, which were outstanding. And I began to reflect on my own journey since the day I received my results. I was lucky enough to get the results I needed for the course I wanted. At 18 I had a clear plan. I was going to college to become a teacher. Sounds simple right? But like many of us my plan didn’t work out the way I had planned.

It took me a decade to become a teacher. My path included a year teaching in France, between my second and third year in college, then graduating and taking on a postgrad degree in business (not teaching). Then getting a job in a bank and working there for five years before eventually going back to qualify to become a teacher.

You might be wondering at this stage why this information about me is relevant to a mental health blog! Throughout this time I wasn’t clear or confident when making my decisions. Like many of us I made choices that looking back now, weren’t good decisions and I often chastised myself later on for making these decisions.

However as the title of this article suggests, living in the past and replaying past mistakes over and over in our minds is detrimental to our mental well-being. The human mind is very good at creating negative thoughts and feelings, especially around the mistakes we have made in the past. If we let it, this negative story of our past that we keep telling ourselves, can quickly become the central narrative of our lives and can wreak havoc on our sense of well-being, our relationships and can stifle our personal growth, which will inevitably lead to us not reaching the goals we set ourselves.

If you think about it, we are all a little guilty of this. That nagging feeling of guilt that hangs over many of us dictating to us that, I shouldn’t try to do something that I really want to do because of whatever story we choose to tell ourselves as to why we don’t deserve it. I see secondary students as young as twelve and thirteen, self-sabotage in this way regularly and it’s usually due to some negative experience in the past that has caused them to start believing that they can’t achieve or that they don’t deserve to.

But the good news is, at any moment, we can choose to begin a new life narrative. We can create a new story to tell ourselves and achieve our goals. It’s not always easy and it’s not a simple case of deciding to change the story and that’s it. It takes determination and hard work also. Although it is difficult at first to break a negative thought cycle in our minds. When we do manage to begin telling ourselves a new story, we become invigorated, inspired and driven. It’s a feeling of renewal and you feel a new energy and passion.

“Every saint has a past and every sinner a future” – Oscar Wilde. I like this quote as it neatly sums up how we can change the path we are on at any time. We should use our past as a reference and learn from our mistakes, but we should never take permanent residence there as it serves to only stifle our true purpose. So if you or someone you care about didn’t get the results you wanted last week, or you are someone currently caught up in your past. Remember that at any time you can change the narrative you tell yourself and therefore change the future.

As I spoke about in my last blog your perception of the world is unique and the lens you use to view the world is coloured by your past experiences. The predominant thoughts you have and the values through which you perceive the world. However you have the ability to change the lens. So if you are not happy with the way things are going now, maybe it’s time to start a new narrative to create a new future.

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