“You can never plan the future by the past.” – Edmund Burke
I know a little bit about being depressed, having worked hard together with my psychotherapist to overcome the debilitating and frightening mental health condition of depression when I was a young woman. Not only did I have a history of persistent sadness, having failed to effectively deal with the loss of my father when I was 13, I also accumulated losses and failures for the following 15 years to the point where I continually felt bad about myself. I found it hard to plan anything, other than surrendering to spontaneous pursuits, often accompanied by risky behavior. Yet, I did hold out hope I’d be able to change, to get past the cloak of depression that was my constant companion and begin to chart a different path for my life.
That I was eventually able to do so is a testament not only to the wisdom and dedication of my therapist, it shows how tenacious and resilient the human spirit can be when properly motivated, nourished and supported. What I learned is what I share today, with the fervent wish it helps someone who is in recovery from depression begin to believe in themselves and learn how to make plans for a better life.
The past has no relevance today.
Looking toward the future is an exercise many who suffer from depression are afraid to do, principally because they’re held captive by the past. I know I found it extremely difficult to let go of the fear, guilt and pain I’d carried so long. With so much baggage carried forward, is it any wonder that plans sometimes get cast aside for fear they’d turn out to be failures, just like so many did before? With compassionate guidance, I learned that this is shortsightedness in the extreme, for no momentum or traction can be gained when your eyes are firmly planted on the past.
Always learn from mistakes, as well as any successes.
Granted, it takes a certain amount of courage to shut the door on the past, particularly if those memories are recent, disastrous, and painful or one more in a lengthy line of failures. Again, I can relate to this self-defeating behavior, having tallied more than a few perceived and real failures. Yet, the most important thing to take from this is that you are not today who you were yesterday. Hopefully, you’ve learned from what didn’t work so that you don’t endlessly repeat those mistakes.
Lean on your support system as you entertain changes.
Having a good support system is also critically important as you draft plans for how you’ll go about completing goals you consider worthwhile. You must develop and make use of a staunch support system when you’re tentatively exploring options, adopting new behaviors, identifying potential goals and beginning to challenge yourself to undertake them.
You can self-renew.
But do give yourself some credit for having the tenacity to slog through some incredibly challenging work. It’s rough going through failure and disappointment. It stings, saps your immediate energy and puts a temporary damper on plans you’re working on for the future. How can you believe you’ll be successful when you’ve just experienced failure, right? You are here today, however, living testament to the restorative power within you. It’s time now to move ahead, look for new opportunities to get involved in, an interest that fires you up and you just can’t wait to pursue, and people whom you haven’t yet met who may provide that added spark that you need to act.
What you really want to know, however, is what can you do to start making plans – and stop thinking and obsessing over the past? Here are some suggestions that worked for me that may be helpful:
Adopt a hopeful outlook.
Instead of condemning yourself to repeated failure, reverse that trend. Tell yourself that this is a new day and you are moving ahead with excitement and purpose. You may need to repeat this mantra daily for it to begin to take root – and it will, it you allow it.
See the lesson in everything.
There’s always something valuable to learn from everything you do, regardless of the outcome. If you train yourself to find the kernel of wisdom in all your actions, you will boost your self-confidence and feel more empowered.
Share what works with your network.
Even when plans don’t turn out to be completely successful at first, there are some aspects of your action that does work. Be willing to share what works with those in your network who support your efforts – and listen to the suggestions they offer. You might learn something incredibly valuable that will further your own efforts.
You may be fearful of change, likening it to past disastrous outcomes, but the truth is that life is filled with constant change. Without change, there would be no growth. Instead of fearing change, make it a point to embrace it, to eke every bit of knowledge and opportunity from it and make it your own. When you are in charge – and you are – change doesn’t look as formidable. That’s because you’ve put change in your go-to bag and are running with it.
Use the building-block approach.
A house doesn’t get built without going through many stages of construction. Similarly, achieving a successful outcome when working toward a goal almost always involves several steps. It isn’t just point A to point B. You may need to accommodate layers and a building-block approach. Capitalize on what you’ve learned and apply it to the next stage of development of your plan.
Always have a plan for tomorrow.
When you’re in recovery from depression, it helps to have something on your to-do list that you can turn to tomorrow. You need structure and the confidence that you have a ready-made plan to help you navigate what may be emotional or tumultuous times, to give you something you can proactively do when there’s a lull or not much else going on. Plans worked on today may prove the starting point for tomorrow’s activities. They may also lead you in new directions, to exciting discoveries, a means to expand your horizons, cultivate your talents and employ your strengths. Remember that each win is another addition to your self-esteem quotient.
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This article was originally published on Psych Central.
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