How to Stop Recreating Your History and Start Creating Your Future

Create your future; don't recreate your past.

You believe you are taking steps to create your desired future. However, you are actually recreating your unwanted history.

You’ve likely been told to create the future by visualizing it. Indeed, imagination is a powerful creative tool that rewires the brain for the desired outcome.

But more often than not, your brain brings history into your mental movie, which stymies your efforts to create your desired future.

The Human Tendency to Focus on History

Humans have a powerful ability to recall and reimagine the past, but their ability to imagine the future is not as strong. As a result, they superimpose the past onto their future vision and create more of what they’ve already experienced—whether they like it or not.

Humans are creatures of memory and reflection. Research suggests we are biased toward focusing on the past rather than imagining the future.

The human brain is highly attuned to past experiences. It perceives them as crucial data points for predicting and navigating future events.

That makes sense since memories of past successes and failures help us to learn and adapt, enabling us to make better decisions in similar situations. Plus, the past is known and familiar, thus providing a sense of security and continuity in a constantly changing world.

However, constantly reliving past experiences can make it difficult to break free from the grip of history and imagine—or create—new possibilities for the future.

The Brain’s Default Mode

Research in psychology and neuroscience has shown that the part of the brain responsible for daydreaming and future-oriented thinking is less active than the part involved in memory and self-referential processing. Thus, the brain defaults to familiar thinking patterns and focuses on past experiences rather than creative and forward-thinking activities.

Also, the brain perceives thoughts about the future as a threat since the future is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. Whenever you imagine the future, you assault the brain’s need for control and certainty.

The reptilian part of the brain wants to keep you safe, and your visualizations cause it to believe you are in danger. As a result, it takes action to keep you safe; it reminds you of the past you don’t want to repeat.

Why You Struggle to Imagine the Future

Let’s examine how this plays out when you imagine your desired future.

You want to create something different from the past, so you sit down to visualize or imagine that future scenario.

Yet, you can more easily imagine the past reoccurring than a different future. So, even if your past was uncomfortable, your brain continues showing that old mental movie. That discomfort is known and, therefore, safe. The brain sees your imagined future as unknown and frightening—even if it’s a lovely mental movie.

For example, let’s say you want to create wealth in the future. However, you have experienced financial lack in the past. It’s likely that, even if you imagine becoming a millionaire, you also visualize yourself losing the money, not making it at all, or living in financial lack. That’s the brain at work, causing you to spend less time living in your imagined future and more in your remembered past.

Memory is Creative

You realize that your thoughts are creative. That’s why you’ve been trying to visualize your future. Your visualizations are filled with thoughts about having what you desire.

But your memories are creative, too; they consist of thoughts and beliefs about the past.

You are where your attention is. If your attention is on the past, you will recreate it in your present and future.

And when you recall the past with emotion—negative or positive, you recreate it. You bring it into your current and future experience.

Live Out of Your Imagination

Stephen Covey offered superb advice on this topic: “Live out of your imagination, not your history.” While you probably realize this is easier said than done, you can do it.

Use these five tips to bypass your brain’s efforts to keep you living your history.

1. Imagine consciously.

Despite your best efforts, you may start imagining your desired future only to find your brain changing your mind movie to a well-worn one from the past. To correct this challenge, remain conscious.

Of course, you want to allow yourself to get lost in your visualization, but not to the extent that you are unaware when your brain changes the movie. Remaining conscious while visualizing takes practice. As you become aware of a shift to the past, you can return your focus to your chosen movie.

If you do this often enough, you will train yourself to quickly notice the old movie playing instead of the new one. The faster and more often you switch movies, the less likely the old movie will show up on replay next time.

2. Retrain your brain.

By consistently visualizing your imagined future, you retrain your brain. You create new neural pathways.

Your focus on the past developed old neural pathways. And your brain takes you down those “roads” whenever you focus on something related to it—even a different future.

The more often you imagine your desired future, the less frequently your brain will take you on an historic drive. It will begin feeling more comfortable driving the new route.

3. Keep your visualizations short.

Keep your visualization periods short to avoid your brain switching out your mental movies of the future for historic flicks.

When you spend a long time enjoying your imagined future, it’s common for your focus to wander. Then, you realize that you’ve spent 30 minutes reliving your history, imagining a future you don’t desire, or thinking about a work assignment or task you must handle.

Set an alarm for five minutes…or less. Visualize only for that period. As you become adept at visualizing only the future for that amount of time, lengthen the amount of time you spend imagining the future.

If you find your mind wandering to the past, shorten the duration of your visualization.

4. Script your future.

If your history continues to enter your periods of future imagining, try scripting instead of visualizing. Write your vision for the future.

When you are fully awake and conscious, you can more easily prevent the brain from derailing your visualization of the future. So, handwrite or type out your future vision.

Do this as often as you use creative visualization. For instance, you can write a script for your future once or several times daily. Or write it in the morning and read it to yourself throughout the day.

5. Use a vision board.

A vision board allows you to activate your imagination while looking at images of your desired future. For this tip, you need to create a vision board.

Purchase a large piece of poster board. Cut out images that look like your desired future. Paste them onto the board like a collage. Then, place the vision board somewhere you see it often or where you can gaze at it from a chair a few times per day.

Now, you have a visual representation of your desired future. Look at the images, think about them, and imagine what it would be like to have that future now.

The more often you stay in your imagination and visualize the future, the more quickly you create what you envision. If you allow your history to take over your vision, you’ll create that instead.

Using the tips above will help you work with your brain. You’ll have a choice about when to review your history or entertain future possibilities. Choose wisely, and you’ll more easily create your desired future.

Do you struggle to keep your visualizations focused on the future rather than the past? Please tell me in a comment below, and share this post with someone who might benefit from reading it.

What if you could stop procrastinating…or behaving in ways you know aren’t supportive…and do so more quickly than you can imagine? It’s possible with a transformational coach or Certified High Performance Coach. If you want to be someone who can do the things necessary to create what matters to you, click here and schedule a quick meeting with me. Let’s see if we are a good fit to work together and what type of coaching would best help you get the results you desire.

Photo courtesy of yurolaitsalbert.

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