If you’re anything like me, your brain spends a good portion of its time and energy reminding you of all the things you should’ve done, however big or small. Making you feel guilty for never learning how to draw, or taking a trip abroad, or working out, or writing, or whatever.
If you’re a lot like me, that guilt becomes crippling. In my case, it hits me hardest when I skip a day of writing. (Or two. Or three…)
The left side of my brain, my Inner Editor–that pesky perfectionist–gets stuck in a loop. She looks back at my screw-up, whatever it was, and replays it a thousand times, analyzing it, and making me feel like crap for not getting it right the first time.
Sometimes, if it’s really bad, she’ll replay my entire life, questioning every choice, criticizing every action and lack of action. (She especially enjoys doing this right as I’m trying to fall asleep, or right when I sit down to write).
Can you guess what happens next?
Nothing. She stays stuck in that loop, pushing each of my flaws and failures to the forefront of my mind. And then I feel so awful that I continue not to write, or work out, or go abroad, or learn to draw, or whatever. And that just adds more fuel to her fire.
“You should’ve spent time writing before you went out yesterday, Paula.”
“Should’ve cleaned the apartment first thing, instead of procrastinating the day away.”
“You should’ve started exercising years ago.”
On and on she goes.
When I allow myself to spend too long looking back, I have a hard time looking away again. Because my Inner Editor is a huge perfectionist, she focuses on the things I got wrong (never mind all the things I got right)–and she stays stuck, because she wants so badly to fix those errors. But she can’t. It’s in the past, it’s done.
The only way to get my mind out of that loop is to grab my Inner Editor by the ears and force her to turn around and look ahead. To envision myself in the future: six months down the road, a year, five years, ten. To glimpse the person I want to be, the things I want to accomplish. And then, before I can waste time daydreaming, to stop looking towards the future and look right here, right now, and start doing what needs to be done to get where I want to be.
Never mind all those times I didn’t accomplish what I set out to. No looking back.
I can’t change the years I spent dreaming of writing and never actually doing it. I can write right now, and keep writing every day for the rest of my life. Ditto for exercising, learning to draw, whatever it may be.
And if I slip up, there’s no point dwelling on it. Dwelling never helped anything. What does help is brushing myself off and moving forward, getting better.
Daenerys Targaryen has a great mantra in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series: “If I look back, I am lost.” She means it a little differently than I do, but the phrase holds true for me nonetheless, and maybe it holds true for you, too.
Because when I look back, I often do get lost. Very, very lost.
So here’s to looking ahead.