Is Your Past Holding You Back?

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Do you try stuff over and over again just to be hit with some barrier that you can’t get past? Maybe you keep finding yourself in a weird holding pattern. Maybe fear keeps creeping up on you. Do you ever wonder what’s holding you back? 

Why are you not able to reach the goals that you place for yourself? Why are you scared of trying something new? The problem may not be exactly what you are doing but where you are in your mind. Are you looking at your prospects through the lens of the past?

Thinking in the Past

Many times we look at life through what we have experienced. Have you ever said I don’t know how to do something, or I have never done that before? Those are past thoughts. You are dipping into your past experiences each time you say something of that nature.

Sadly people cling to the past thinking that it is keeping them safe and it is a dangerous activity. You want to be able to rise above your trauma yet if you hold on to the past you will only sink into despair and victimhood and scarcity.

The Past is a chain, not a buoy.

Many people often even define themselves for something in the past. Either they are a survivor so some traumatic event or a person will be an ex-such and such. When in reality you need to be looking to Rafiki the baboon in The Lion King. He whacks Simba on the head with his stick.

Adult Simba: I know what I have to do. But going back means I’ll have to face my past. I’ve been running from it for so long.

[Rafiki hits Simba on the head with his stick]
Adult Simba: Ow! Jeez, what was that for?
Rafiki: It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past.
Adult Simba: Yeah, but it still hurts.
Rafiki: Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it or… learn from it.[swings his stick again at Simba, who ducks out of the way]

The Lion King

And that is the piece of wisdom people need to garner. Yeah, the past has painful parts in it. There are times that life sucked, but you survived and you can either live in the past because running from it you are still living in the past, or you can learn from it. Take the key parts of that experience and grow. 

You can take the knowledge that yeah you haven’t ever been in a managerial position before and let that dictate how well you do. Then again you can take that advancement you got and venture ahead.

I have talked about how I shot myself in the foot with my one-time advancement by staying in the past and not looking at how I needed to act but instead fell back on what I didn’t know. Because of this I screwed up and lost that position only about a month and a half after getting out of the truck.

The past holds you back. It is a chain that will sink your dreams more than a buoy will ever lift you. Looking to the future and being present is what keeps you afloat in the new waters that you are navigating.

The Past doesn’t define you

As mentioned a bit earlier your past is just that in the past. You don’t have to let what happened to you define you. If you were an asshole in the past you don’t have to be defined by your actions. You are not the same person you were 10 years ago. You may be stronger but you are most assuredly smarter for the experiences you have had.

We often fear what happened in our past as something that will hurt us. Yet as of writing this piece, we don’t have the ability to time travel. Hitler isn’t killing jews anymore, the same goes for your life. That woman who hit you in your past isn’t throwing ashtrays at you anymore. You can be who you want to be.

Why do we live in the past?

There are a few reasons we live in the past as much as we do. No matter what the excuses were given by a person living in the past. It boils down to Fear and comfort.


Fear is the opposite of love. Fear can consume and wreck your life. Depending on what angle you take fear can and does hold you back. It keeps you playing life small and staying away from the big adventure. That is one reason that I pity the person I see driving in their car by themselves in a mask. All because you see they are scared to death of what the media is telling them. They live a fearful life. They cant even take the chance to breathe the fresh air when they are the only person in the room. What a sad life to live. 

Fear in your past often sprouts up as if someone finds out what I did as a child. It also appears as shame if they were abused. Maybe you are an alcoholic and you won’t get help because what if someone sees you walking into an AA meeting? Maybe you are stuck in a marriage that has no love in it. Sex is completely out of the question. People will stay married because they are afraid of what happens if they live out on their own. 

You do know what happens right? It’s not the worst fear they see their power. They realize they have agency and they can do what they feel is right. In doing so they build confidence and security in their ability. Yet they can get past that barrier of fear. What if?


Other people stay in the past because it is comfortable. That is how they have always done it. Why fix something that ain’t broken? I often called these people change-resistant. The only thing constant in life is that it is going to change. 

Yet many people become comfortable with being stuck in the past. They like the life they have but don’t care to stretch for the brass ring they are always talking about. The chance of getting what they want versus the perceived work involved. Since that work would require them to step out of their comfort zone they just would rather sit and wish they had better.

How Do You Know When You are Living in the Past?

There are a few big warning signs as to when you are living in the past. Some are blaring while others do take a bit of concentration and attention to the words you are saying. You may have to ask yourself why you said those exact words.

Are you afraid to Change?

Fear of change is often a learned fear. We may pick it up from our parents or even from other experiences. You may have a very uncomfortable change happen in your life, and you have fought against that and any other sudden changes. Wal-mart changed their aisle layout again. Now you don’t like to go because you have no idea where anything is. I know I detest going to Wally World for that very reason right now. I can’t find anything that I want.

Yet if you notice you are dreading a change or some big switch up. You do have a choice. You can look at the change as an adventure or you can complain, bitch, moan, and groan. Ask yourself, why? Why does this bother me? You will hear many different answers. All the possibilities you have thinking about don’t reflect the current situation.

couple passing carton box to each other while unpacking car
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Look at what is causing that fear, which is nothing more than a thought. How can you look at that thought differently that it could be positive? You may find that you can look forward to something new. Maybe you are going to have a whole new adventure.

Are you always talking about how life used to be

Oh, the good old days. We do like to reminisce on how great those days are and how crappy today is. The belief is us living in the past. That can become a problem when all you are talking about is how you used to be. 

Look at Al Bundy from Married with Children. He was always talking about how he made 4 touchdowns in the City Championship against Andrew Johnson High. He is always talking about how that was the greatest time in his life. He will go as far as to strike his passing pose and if you spoil the splendor of the game you will often get Al fired up and ready to fight. That is living in the past. It is his comfort zone.

This can become a deal with bad things in your past too. Are you always talking about your abuse or crappy parents? This has the same effect you have made your identity to be that you are abused. You stay in the past.

So how do you get past this? You can get out of your past by acknowledging that yes that happened but that is not who you are today. If it was some type of greatness then yes also acknowledge that it happened and you want to experience that feeling again with something new. 

Start visualizing how great it would be to do something you are resisting. How do you feel? How do you act? Apply those thoughts to act as if you have already achieved what you are wanting. That will change your mindset from resisting the change to embracing the change. 

You find yourself in the same situation

Many times you will get out of a situation only to find yourself right back into that same situation. Many women who leave abusive relationships will jump right into another abusive relationship. Why do they do that? Because they are living in the past.

How about you getting a new position that you end up failing at? That was a good chance that you were living in the past. Many times we see something that we have never experienced before and it freaks us out in a way that causes us to sabotage the hard work we did.

Instead of getting worried about what could happen, focus instead on what can happen, look forward and use words that accent the present and the future. Avoid the use of past tense when you are speaking of what you can or can’t do. 

Pay attention to why you keep finding yourself in the same situation. Are you in a new job and that advancement never came? Instead of picking up and moving to another place that claims they will put you in a managerial position after 6 months. Change how you do your job where you are at. Start stepping up and taking responsibility. You may see that you weren’t being manager material. 

So, look at why and get curious as to what is holding you back. If you are always changing jobs then there is only one constant in that equation. That constant is you.

Refusing something new

Do you always have the same food over and over again? Why is that? Because you know what’s good, right? Well, that can also be you avoiding something better. You may not realize it but you are comfortable with the fajitas over at Paco’s. You may find out that the Chili Rellenos are even more of a treat.

IF you find yourself not wanting to try something new, push yourself to do it. Yeah, your mind may scream NOOOOO! Yet once you are on the other side you will see that it wasn’t bad. 

Here is a little exercise to test yourself out. Try everything on the menu. Well, not all at the same time but order something different each time you eat at your favorite Mexican food restaurant. Do that until you have tried everything. You will find a huge amount of resistance. Yet you will also find a new favorite meal.

How do you get out of the past?

So how do you get out of living in the past? It takes work. Lots of work and paying attention to why you are doing something. You have to find intentionality in your actions. Come to understand why you are married to the past as much as you are. A few ways you can get out from the past and that is paying attention to the words you are using, and think of how you will act when you have reached a goal or objective.

Pay Attention to Your Words

I have never done that before. How many times have you said that when you are faced with something new? Did you say that when you were riding a bike? How about when you were learning to drive a car? I can bet you didn’t say anything close to that. Yeah, you may have had some apprehensions. Yet, you didn’t say well I have never driven before. No, you visualized how free it would be to be behind the wheel of your very own car driving down the backroads listening to your favorite band. You learned to drive a car because you were future-focused, not past focused.

The words we use have a huge influence on our outcome. If you are talking like you are already there you have a bigger chance of succeeding. If you happen to fail that future talk will help you to accept that failure and learn from that experience more. Because you are already in the future.

Make Peace with Your past

This is where so much of our limiting beliefs come from because we fight our past while also refusing to let it go. Your past is gone and the only person who is keeping it alive is you. It isn’t the bully who tormented you all through your school years. It is only you. That bully is dealing with his own struggles. You can let your past go and accept that it happened and it is now gone. 

Sounds easier than it can be. We often have our whole identity tied to that face that we had something horrible happen to us. We like the attention of pity we get because that bad thing happened. If you let that go it can be rather uncomfortable to think you have to create a whole new identity. Then again you can be whoever you want. So again if you change how you think you can change how you grow.

So look at how you are approaching life events and inspect why you are acting that way. Are you thinking of who it used to be or are you thinking of how it will be? That change will change your world.

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About Bryan Goodwin

I like being able to help people find their "why" and achieve the personal freedom they desire. Besides writing for Relaxed Male I also am a life coach. By helping men find the leader that is found in each and every one of us. I do this by encouraging men to get outdoors and find the balance they are missing. Realize that they need to be in contact with the outside as often as they can. It is not only good for them but for their families and relationships.

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