A good friend gave me the book Ten times Happier How to let go of what’s holding you back by Owen O’Kane. The first chapter is titled Stop looking back, you’re not going that way.
How He Begins
He begins by retelling an experience he had as a psychotherapist working with a group of “very depressed clients”. Four weeks into a 12 week group program, he was stuck and the group was stuck. One of the participants called him on it. He realized the only props he had in the room were a window looking out onto a nice view of some trees and a dark crumbling wall on the other side of the room. He told the group what each would represent. The window would represent a future that looked more hopeful and the dark wall would represent all the difficulties in the past that helped maintain their depression.
Then he asked the group to form a line and turn to the side of the room that represented what they would like therapy to focus on. Without hesitation they all turned toward the window. He then asked, where their attention typically was focused in everyday life. Again, without exception, they all turned toward the dark wall. He then asked “What do you think might be the problem with spending a lot of time focused on the wall?” One participant gently said: “If I stay stuck looking at this wall, I have my back turned toward the future.”
What Do You Focus On?
The past is real, but what do you focus on? Your energy really does follow your attention.
In the office, at the start of each session, I ask clients to tell their partner something positive they have done that they appreciate and then I have the partner mirror back what they heard. Partly I do it to practice the mirroring, but another reason is, in any relationship there is good stuff and bad stuff. What do they focus on? Your energy really does follow your attention. You have a choice about what you focus on!!
How Do You Use What You Have?
Alfred Adler years ago coined the phrase “It is not what you possess but how you use it.” I always use the example of Terry Fox, a young Canadian man who had lost a leg to cancer and attempted to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. This was 25 years ago. He made it from the east coast to near WaWa, over half way, before the cancer came back and forced him to stop. Another young man could have the same affliction but simply conclude life is not fair. They both possess the same thing but use it quite differently. Fox couldn’t do anything about the loss of the leg or the cancer but what he did, pretty impressive. The same with you and me; we can’t change anything that has happened to us to date, but what we decide to do from here forward we have more choice over.
O’Kane is not saying the dark wall didn’t happen in whatever form it might take for each of us, but we do have a choice about facing the dark wall (the past) or the window (the future).
How It Ends
He ends this first chapter with:
“There is a wise expression: ‘Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.’ Sometimes we have to look back but it doesn’t mean we should keep looking there. The people in my depression therapy group decided to stop looking back and it became their way forward. I now pass this insight on to you. The past is over. You can rewrite your rules and let go of the difficult stuff. You are not going that way any more.”