Mine Your Past to Create a Better Future

Written by on April 23, 2015 in Self Awareness with 11 Comments

mining your past to create a better futureThere must be a gazillion and one inspirational sayings about the importance of living for tomorrow and putting your past behind you, and to validate that notion I think it’s safe to say that each of us have at least a few episodes (and people) that we would be more than happy to erase from our consciousness for ever more.

On the other hand, your past may well be the single most undervalued and underutilized resource to help you create a better future.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about taking a walk down memory lane for the purpose of beating yourself up for poor choices or to re-open the wounds of past mistakes or regrets, but rather to take this journey from a place of acceptance to get to know yourself better and to identify and embrace the lessons learned from your experiences because – for better or worse – it’s your past goals, choices and actions that have brought you to this particular point in your life.

You are the product of your past and the architect of your future and each day you face a new crossroad. If you want to know your past, look at your present circumstances. If you want to know your future, look at the choices you make today.

Begin Here to Mine Your Past

One of the best ways to undertake this process is by answering focused questions. Following is a sample of questions you use to begin exploring the things, people and events in your past that have influenced you. I’ve included a few additional prompts to help you see how to dig deeper into these areas.

  • What has been the happiest time in your life up to now? What were the circumstances? How can you have more of these experiences in the future?
  • What is your greatest regret in life so far? Why? Is there a way to re-frame this to create a valuable life lesson?
  • How have you handled unexpected changes? Did you become stalled in overwhelm for a time, or were you able to quickly begin looking for solutions and opportunities for growth?
  • What have you avoided doing? Why? What would it take for you to take action?
  • What have you accomplished so far in your life that you are most proud of? What was it about this experience that made you feel proud? How can you do more of this?
  • What is the most important advice you would give to yourself 5 years ago?
  • What are the 3 most important decisions you’ve made in the past 5 years. How did you come to make those particular choices? Were you happy with the outcome? What one lesson can you take from these experiences to make better decisions in the future?
  • When have you felt the most inspired, motivated and really charged up? What were you doing? What can this experience teach you about what motivates you to do and be your best?
  • Do you remember your most important childhood dream for your adult life? Are you living that dream? How does it make you feel when you think of it now?
  • What is the biggest risk you’ve taken so far? Was it intentional? How do you feel about having taken the risk – proud, foolish, etc.? What did you learn?
  • What was the biggest life change initiated by you in the last 5 years? How did you go about creating the change – was it spontaneous or did you create a plan and goals? Did it fulfill your expectations?
  • Who are the 3 people who have had the most profound influence on you so far? What have they taught you about life and yourself? Have you told them what they’ve meant to you?
  • Do you regularly set goals? If you don’t, why not? How has that served you? If you do, do you regularly persevere to completion, or give up easily? How do you feel about that?

The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings. ~Ralph Blum

Your Past May Reveal Patterns in Your Relationships

This is also a very effective method to explore specific areas of your life that may need attention, relationships for example. Studying your past relationships can reveal patterns and recurring themes in your life. Maybe you have chosen people who were enablers, co-dependent or abusers, exactly like your father, or the complete opposite of your father. What characteristics do your closest friendships have in common? Are you attracted to looks or status without paying attention to other attributes?

The harsh reality is that if you’ve been in at least three relationships with people who are in some way abusive, dysfunctional or especially needy, it’s not bad luck, karma or because they just happened to find you. Whether you want to believe it or not, it’s because you sought them out and the sooner you recognize this behavior the sooner you can begin to create better relationships in the future.

When you know yourself you are empowered. When you accept yourself you are invincible. ~Tina Lifford

The more we can learn about ourselves and why we do the things we do, the easier it will become for us to make better choices in the future. Can everyone benefit from this exercise? Absolutely, though few will actually take the time to do it. But here’s why you should … have you heard that saying, “If you keep doing the same things you’ve always done, and you’ll keep getting the same things you’ve always gotten.” Bingo!

It is true we should neither live in the past, nor be defined by it, but it would be equally foolish to ignore the opportunity to mine past experiences to learn more about how to create a better future.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


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  1. Pique Dan

    After I read something like what was your childhood dream, I knew I had to take the time and think around all the points.
    Pique Dan recently posted…How To Be Safe During An EarthquakeMy Profile

  2. Great questions, Marty. We need to ask ourselves these questions to learn from the past to see our patterns more objectively. These types of questions help release us so we can move forward and not stay stuck in the past repeating those non-serving patterns.

    • Thanks for contributing to the conversation Diane. It takes time and I know not everyone is inclined to want to dig in looking for those valuable lessons from the past, but as you point out they can help us identify very important patterns in our behavior and decision making that we wouldn’t otherwise realize.

  3. Suzie Cheel

    So true Marty, that is a powerful list to begin with- the 5 years ago one jumped out for me :)

  4. Mark

    Thanks for sharing another extremely solid spot Marquita!

    And let me just say right off the bat, I totally love the quotes from Ralph Blum and Tina Lifford.

    And I couldn’t agree more with your totally excellent advice, that the more we know about ourselves and why we do certain things, the easier it will become to make better choices in the future!

    That is such a wise and insightful passage. And several of your questions just brought a broad smile to my face!

    And I thought, there really is quite a bit gold, to mined from our past!

    Thanks M for providing yet another extremely thought provoking post!
    Mark recently posted…Introducing Three Extremely Critical Mind Shifts Every Successful Entrepreneur Has To Make!My Profile

  5. Dave

    Thank you Marty for one of your more thought-provoking posts for me. I took a good deal of time to think about the questions you posed, and they provided some very enlightening answers. I certainly see opportunities in the future based upon the investigation of my past.

    And I am guessing that it’s not coincidence that it’s labelled as mining. I have reached only the first vein of gems just below the surface. I suspect that if I dig deeper, there will be many more data points to make sense out of who I was, who I have become, and how that can help me to become who I want to be.

    Thank you Marty, as always – great insights and perspective that makes me excited instead of wary of visiting my past.
    Dave recently posted…Big gameMy Profile

  6. Linda S Fitzgerald

    Marquita, excellent post on a subject often poo-pooed by so-called experts in the field of coaching and mentored. There’s much to be gained by periodically re-visiting the past to mine its riches. As I often tell mentees – okay to visit the past on a regular basis – no okay to set up housekeeping there!
    Linda S Fitzgerald recently posted…The Pioneer Woman…Reaching New Heights!My Profile

  7. Sue Kearney

    I love the 12-step version of this: “If you keep doing the same things you’ve always done, and you’ll keep getting the same things you’ve always gotten.”

    “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”

    That resonated deep in my heart the first time I heard it, and it still does.

    Powerful article, thanks.
    Sue Kearney recently posted…Oil pulling — a resource for your holistic business strategyMy Profile

    • Yes, you are absolutely correct in your reference to the 12-step program. My ex-husband was a substance abuser and I attended a few meetings with him. It didn’t work out for him, but the program obviously has tremendous merit.

  8. Stacey Toupin

    Thank you Marquita for a thoughtful post. I really enjoyed reading your questions for further self- exploration and rediscovery. I am a firm believer that our pasts can empower us and be the gold mines they truly are for self-empowerment and inspiration purposes. Thank you again! Wonderful! – Stacey

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