It’s easy to get stuck in the past when a strong emotional memory takes hold and affects our self identity. In last week’s blog post we discussed how you can take an objective look at the stories of your past and the current stories you’re telling yourself about the present and the future. By reframing reality we are able to release the past and move forward in life.

This week we’ll be exploring another way to get unstuck from the past and step into personal growth. Few of us take the time to evaluate our personal stories for how well they help us navigate the complexities of present day relationships and work teams. In Judith Glaser’s book Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results, the author suggests an exercise to look at the past, find new meaning from significant events, and create successful behaviour patterns.

Look Back to Look Forward 

You can do this on your own, but it’s much more effective to do with a trusted partner, friend, or better yet, your coach. In this exercise, choose events in your life that are significant. Write them down and then ask for each event “What can I learn from this?”

Rather than bringing along the negative feelings, revisit the event and reframe the way you think about it. Aim to extract wisdom from the situation that you can take forward into your current and future life. 

Step 1: Draw a Life Timeline 

You can do this graphically using a line drawing, or make a list. Outline your lifeline into three segments: the first third of your life, second third, and last third. 

Step 2: Identify Significant Events and People

Looking at each time segment, identify the events that had a significant impact on you. Write down some key words to anchor them. Find at least one episode in each time frame. Each experience will have a key event, people, a story you made up about it, and a takeaway lesson you formed at the time. After identifying your timeline stories, share them with a partner or your coach.

Step 3: Find Patterns and Meaning 

As you share your stories, ask your partner if he or she sees any patterns you may not have seen. Help each other to step back to see the big picture. As you get to the present, see the larger patterns in your life. Capture insights. 

Step 4: Back to the Future 

Each partner takes turns at looking into the future to see what’s next. How is this life pattern going to impact the future? Is there a pattern that you want to replicate, change, or do differently? Find the elements of wisdom for your life’s journey. 

Step 5: Map Making 

As you reflect on your life from this perspective, what lessons can you carry forward to enhance your personal or professional life? What are your biggest takeaways? Of course this requires a bit of self awareness and introspection. And, I highly recommend doing this with a trusted coach. I’d love to hear your ideas on this. You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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