How I stopped letting my past (and what I believed about it) determine my future

Several years ago, I was working 50-60 hours per week in a business I had started a few years before.

I loved being self-employed, but was quickly burning out. Inspired by Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Work Week, I made some drastic changes in my life and in my business and transitioned to working an average of only 4 hours per month.

Although I had to take a 40% pay cut to make this possible, I was making 30x as much per hour, had more free time to spend with my family, and was able to focus my work time on other ventures. With a few exceptions since then where I reinvested my salary in capital expenses, I continue to get paid every month for only a few hours of work.

I know objectively that most people would consider that a huge success.

So why (until recently) did I still feel like a total failure when reflecting on this accomplishment?

Recently, I was reading Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA and discovered the concept of “Re-interpreting” your life’s events.

The idea is simple: Whenever we reflect on our past, we automatically “interpret” the events in order to derive meaning from them. These interpretations often reflect and reinforce deep and distorted beliefs that hinder us from moving towards what’s best for us.

The good news is that we can actually take control over how we interpret our past, through a process that Josh calls “reinterpretation.”

Reinterpreting is the process of reflecting on significant events in your life, identifying your default (subconscious) interpretations of those events, and then choosing a different interpretation that is more accurate and helpful.

In my case, I had been subconsciously skewing my interpretation of my work on this business to align with a deeper narrative: “You will never be successful.

Because of that narrative, I instinctively interpreted anything that looked like success as a form of failure. Twisted, I know.

But the first step towards change is seeing the problem.

Once I saw that I could analyze and then (more objectively) reinterpret past events in way that they could provide meaning and inspiration to me for the future, I scheduled a few hours to do just that.

Although the time-investment was small, the results were transformative. Being deliberate about how I was viewing my past had an immediate and direct impact on how I view both my present and future.

And because my thinking has changed, I’ve found it way easier to change the way I act and develop healthier habits that benefit my family. It turns out that the way you think DOES affect the way you act! (I should have listened sooner, Zig!)

Where do you need to reinterpret your past?

Have you interpreted past events in a way that is hindering you instead of helping you? If so, I challenge you to take the time to adjust your interpretations. You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s the process I went through, and how I’d recommend it to a friend:

  1. Take 15-20 minutes to identify impactful events in your life and write them down. These may very well include events that would seem insignificant to anyone else (i.e. a conversation you had with your boss one time). That’s ok. Write down whatever “floats to the top” of your mind. Ask questions like “What have my greatest failures and successes been? What am I most proud of and ashamed of?” to get the juices flowing.
  2. Reflect on each of these impactful events, and write out your current interpretation for each of them. Ask questions like “What does this say about who I am? What does this say about my future?”
  3. Identify whether or not these interpretations or helpful or harmful. Do they give you courage to become or a better person in the future, or do they make you want to give up? Any interpretation that cuts your legs out from under you is a false one. Even if you are reflecting on real shortcomings, an accurate interpretation will give you hope for the future, and inspire you to do better.
  4. Where your previous interpretations have been harmful, write out an alternate interpretation that gives you courage. Religiously reflect on these new interpretations every day until you start you believe them. You’ll believe some of these right away, while some will take longer.

 

Very few activities have had the same impact only thinking and on my life, and I’ve now scheduled this as a part of my quarterly review process.

If you’ve gone through this process before (or one like it), how has it changed your life? Have you, like me, experienced a natural shift in the way you act as a result?

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