Monday, February 24, 2014

The Good Old Days Syndrome

Back In The Day...

Nearly everyone is a victim of this mental distortion. It's why we post so many pictures of ourselves from our youth, why we have a midlife or sometimes quarter life crisis, why there's such a thing as Throwback Thursdays, why we get back with our ex-lovers, stay friends with assholes, and it's sometimes why we have a hard time keeping a youthful mindset and progress forward.

The past is only good to help us move forward and learn from our mistakes. It's not meant to be a movie you play over and over, where you can edit it however you want.

I get it. You think the past was somehow better, and you were amazing looking, smart, strong, and life was so much better. No it probably wasn't. It wasn't better, it had its ups and downs, and tears and blessings just like now. The more you distort your past, the more you'll be unhappy about your present life, the more you'll feel like change is out of your control. Nothing good will be served by you putting your past on a pedestal.

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books and the main character Gatsby is guilty of idealizing his past. He remembers it with bias. And with that, it'll always be impossible for him to find happiness.

What are you looking for? What's the mystery of the past you need to unravel? You're not going to find your mysterious uncle's map to buried treasure. You're life won't suddenly turn into Goonies.

In Advertising

Advertisers, social media companies, and the whole internet has known for years that nostalgia helps sell things. It helps them live and re-live over and over something they are familiar with, that they have a strong emotional experience with.

From Facebook's timeline to Buzzfeed's endless series of nostalgia based quizzes, like "Which 90's movie soundtrack are you," to the quizzes about which character are you from some show or movie or comic you used to read "back in the day."

Instead of moving forward, they know we'll sit there going deeper and deeper into the past. Spotify will recommend one nostalgia song after another and you'll listen.

The internet uses nostalgia, because it's a powerful tool and it's not rational, it's emotional.

Why does Hollywood keep remaking old movies? Because we love The Good Old Days.

Good Old Days can sell anything

Idealizing of the past is not conducive to progress

If you can reminisce about your past and remember how great it used to be, then that becomes as good as changing. Why change, why progress, why improve your current position in life if every day you can escape into your past? And every day you make minor changes to it so it becomes more pleasant. We have that ability, to make our past better or worse, and the ability to rehash it and ignite the feelings we want. If you look at old swimsuit pictures of yourself and remember how great you looked, what purpose do you need to get fit again? You can just escape into that picture over and over and distort it more and more to your liking. It's self hypnosis. Then if we post it online and people tell us how amazing we looked, it validates us more, we can keep fantasizing... about ourselves. And live inside that picture, that moment, that memory.

Then objective reality hits you in the face. Your back to work, your current life, your current face, your current friends, and you're more miserable than you were plus interest for the time you spent lost in your past.

Remember this song?

Do you catch yourself saying music and everything else was better "back in the day?"

Crime keeps dropping lower and lower but the way we remember it, it was always safer "back in the day."

The Underdog

Sometimes instead of glorifying the past, we talk about how terrible it was. How there were so many things working against us. So many obstacles. Either you'll stay frozen by your past or you'll overcome it all and write your own ultimate underdog story. You'll find your smile. Which is it?

Frozen in time

Or maybe it's not the whole past. It's a moment in your time, when things were idyllic. And you want to return there. Maybe there was one summer you were fit.

I've had people come to me and show me a picture from 10 years ago. They tell me they've had it in their wallet for 10 years, and want to return to that self. If you've been carrying that photo of yourself in your wallet for 10 years, I don't know if I'm the right person to help you. This may be out of my scope of practice. There's a lot more going on than needing to just get fit. No one can take you back in time.

And if you were so determined and consistent back then, how did you ever fall out of it? It's just another moment in time when you started something and you stopped isn't it? It's just that, that time you did it long enough to see some results. That time you didn't have as much weight to lose so it was easier to see results. But it was still just another time in your life you started and stopped something. So what are you idealizing? Why are you idealizing? Why do you still care?

I know I'm supposed to be sensitive and tell you how great you used to be and that it's good to remember happier times. No. That's not going to help anyone. You don't need more enablers, more accomplices, more validation that who you were then is somehow better than who you are now. Surrounding yourself with positive people is NOT the same as surrounding yourself with people who want to keep time traveling back with you and reminisce. Happiness does not mean fantasy, happiness means progress and meaning.

Were the good old days ever really that good?

For better or worse, release the past

Clients often tell me about their past. You can't work in a field that deals with weight loss and not deal with the past. When people tell me about their glory days, I often tell them "I don't care." Not because I'm mean, or cold, but because to create change effectively, I can't have the same biases my clients hold over themselves. And if the client wants to change, they have to let go of that past, that luggage.

In martial arts, it's easier to teach children than adults. Partially because kids are at a stage where they can learn quicker than adults, and the other reason is they have no past, no garbage, no baggage, they won't tell me how they learned it this other way already, or over analyze, or over-think, or worry. Kids just do.

Cherish your past and your memories. But don't live there. Otherwise there's no one here to take care of you now.

And isn't that what this is all about? You somehow stopped taking care of yourself?

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