Last week we talked about getting “unstuck”, or “unfunking your funk”. Part of the reason we can sometimes find ourselves stuck is because we’re looping and re-looping the past in our heads.
As the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan so eloquently put it:
“We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror.”
The trouble is, sometimes we’re too tied up in what’s happened in the past that we can’t fully consider the future.
Now, before I continue, I’m conscious that I run the risk of confusing my readers. Is this site for patients or is it for practitioners?
Well, yes, Essential Cancer Education primarily exists to serve the professionals who work directly with patients. However, this week - this month in fact - I want to shift the focus of my writing to help those living through the cancer experience. I’ve felt prompted to do something for patients for a while, and I’m not quite sure what that will look like in the longer term, so I guess in writing this month’s posts I’m experimenting a little with what that might look like. I’m a scientist - to my CORE - and I think I’ll always be playing around and experimenting with things!
And of course, as you know, ‘tis “Generous April”! So once again, I have another free download to help you complete the past.
Completing the past
“Ok, Vari, what exactly do you mean by ‘completing the past’?” you may ask.
I first came across this idea in Michael Hyatt’s bestselling book*, “Your Best Year Ever” where he talks about the importance of doing so in order to design a better future. He tells us that we need to understand what happened in the past, and how that has affected our thinking, our feelings and our emotions, so that we can move on and not let it hold us back.
Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Dale T. Miller call this “the power of backward thinking”. You see, an experience - whatever that may be - isn’t complete until it’s remembered.
BUT...and it’s a big BUT!...we human beings have evolved a canny knack for protecting ourselves against painful memories by repressing them. Have you ever found yourself waking up from a dream about something embarrassing or shameful that vaguely relates to something or someone from your past and then carried that guilt and shame around with you for the rest of the day?
Yeah, me too….
THAT is the subconscious trying to help you process what happened, but it’s in conflict with its attempts to protect your ego by repressing your emotions.
But enough of the psychology. What YOU want to know is how to process it and move on, right?
Acknowledge what we’ve already experienced
It all starts with acknowledging what’s happened. As much as you might wish to never contemplate those darkest of days again, if you just ignore them and bury them, then I’m sorry to tell you, those repressed emotions are likely to haunt you for years to come. You might not be aware of them - it might happen in dreams, or be physically manifested in the body (e.g. ailments, illness, disease). But it WILL persist until you deal with it properly.
If we don’t address what’s happened in the past, the danger is we then go on to live inside unhelpful stories that we tell ourselves. And before too long, we begin to believe them.
...It must be something I did wrong…
...It’s all my fault…
...I deserved it…
...I’m just not meant to be here…
But you see NONE of that is TRUE!
If we entertain these thoughts, these negative, false beliefs about ourselves, our situations, our past and our future (which, by the way, we CANNOT tell!!), then we’re just going to end up dragging all our unfinished business and dirty laundry into the future. And it will get in the way - it’ll sabotage everything we’re trying to build!
Gleaning what you can from the experience
So, I’m guessing that you don’t want to be defined by what happened?
If you’ve lived through cancer, how can you use what’s happened to help you move on? How can you “complete the past”?
Step 1: State how you felt when you first received the news
However painful it might be to remember that time when you first heard the words, “You’ve got cancer”, it’s important to do this in order to complete the past.
Step 2: Acknowledge what happened
This may seem trite and pointless, but stick with me here. By first acknowledging what actually happened, and then stating what you’d have wished had happened instead, you are in fact helping your brain to process the trauma and allowing the emotions to flow freely, rather than repressing them.
Step 3: Learn from the experience
No one wants cancer, yet one in two people will experience it in their lifetime. I believe that we can learn something from every experience in our lives. Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that these things happen in order for us to learn and grow, but rather that despite these things happening, we can learn and grow from the experience.
Step 4: Time to change
Maya Angelou famously wrote,
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
We have so much inherent power to change our situation simply by changing the way in which we view it and think about it. When you shift your perspective, what comes up for you? Write it down and reflect on it. Will you do anything differently as a result?
Download this free guide designed to help you work through the four steps to completing the past.
Join the movement
Over the past week or two, I’ve been reflecting on my “mission” - why did I start Essential Cancer Education in the first place? What is my vision for its future? What impact do I want it to have in this world?
And the answer came to me in the form of a note written by my friend, Beth, in my little handy jotter that I took with me to a conference:
Now I know that sounds rather grandiose! And I’m not entirely sure I believe it’s possible. But you know what? I DO believe that through education and increasing public awareness of the impact of our dietary and lifestyle habits on cancer risk, we ALL have the power to reduce cancer incidence. Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by making positive diet and lifestyle changes. Nearly half! That’s staggering!
And as the old adage goes, “there’s strength in numbers”. I can’t do this alone. I believe I’m part of something bigger. A movement of sorts. And I would LOVE to have you join me in this movement. If you sign up to the mailing list, I’ll keep you posted on news and events that I think might interest you. And I promise not to spam you either! Typically, you can expect to receive one email a week, with some additional surprises now and again when I have something special to share with you that I don’t want you to miss. Sign up here.
© Essential Cancer Education
*Full disclosure: I receive a small affiliate commission for sales received through my affiliate links in this post.