Ever seen someone wearing a rucksack get onto a crowded train, tube or bus? More often than not, what I’ve witnessed is that the bag stays on their back while the owner appears blissfully unaware of the result; passive aggression builds up in the other passengers standing behind them, as the bag is wedged into their faces, arms or bodies, compromising the already cramped space they are in.
The most extreme example I’ve seen was a man wearing a double bass on his back – squashing the person stood behind him into the corner!
Resentment builds towards the offending passenger and everyone just sucks up the aggravation until they get off the train. It’s not as if it’s a tricky situation to resolve. In fact, there’s a really simple solution to all this unnecessary aggravation – take the bag off your back!
Wearing our past on our back, like an invisible backpack
If we’re not careful, it’s easy to do the same with our past. We can get weighed down carrying the issues that remain unresolved from our past. Most of the time we’re not even aware of the weight we are carrying around because, like wearing a rucksack, it’s behind us. And if we don’t do something about it (more on how to do this in a bit), our bag can soon get full, weighing us down, energetically knocking into the people around us.
How holding onto the past affects our future
It is only when we live fully in the present, I believe, that we are able to take full responsibility for ourselves, creating optimum levels of success, wealth and happiness for ourselves. If we let it, our past can constrict our ability to flow and create the best possible future for ourselves, because (without us even knowing it) we’re living in our past.
When we’re sitting in our past (‘if only ‘X’ hadn’t happened, I’d be successful / wealthy / happy now”), we miss all the amazing opportunities that are open to us today. Similarly, we can make our actions today dependent on the future (“if I get ‘X’ then I will be successful / wealthy / happy”) and miss the same opportunities.
We can only ever create our future (and be in flow) by being present in the ‘now’ and taking action in the present.
The past is gone, it’s history; we can’t go back and change anything, no matter how much we’d like to. And until someone figures out how to build a time machine (Einstein did after all tell us that this is possible!), we can’t do anything in the future, no matter how much we might worry about it, because it’s not yet happened. We have just one way to create our future; to become fully aware of all of the opportunities that surround us each day, by being fully present in the moment.
Effect on individuals and organisations
If we don’t take our past out of our backpack (clean out our past) then our future happiness will become blocked, just like the commuters on the tube were blocked.
I remember how it felt for me before I started cleaning my past; no matter how much effort I put in, or how inventive I was, before I cleaned up I was blocked from achieving my full potential. I never felt satisfied. It was as if my path ahead was clear, but to get onto it I had to pass through a door, and a bulky bag on my back that I wasn’t even aware of, wouldn’t let me fit through the door. It all culminated in a feeling of being blocked, that life wasn’t flowing for me, a feeling of running to stand still.
These downsides also show up with potentially disastrous consequences for organisations. If you manage a team or run a business, you might find that some in your team are not as motivated as they once were, or maybe you get ‘cliques’ developing within the organisation, creating communication ‘silo’ issues that weren’t there before. An inability to clean up the past can also lead to missed targets, disengagement and low motivation, all of which means much more time spent managing the business, rather than getting on with business.
A healthy team socialises together to celebrate hitting targets and discuss how to do more going forward. A team that hasn’t yet cleaned the past (individually and collectively) will focus on who was to blame for the missed targets and how the past behavior of others makes it “impossible” to get things done.
How to clean up the past and regain your flow
So now for the good news. It’s actually a really simple process to clean up the past, however, it’s vital to bring awareness and responsibility to the process, or it can backfire, in a big way. FlowCoacher are experienced in facilitating cleaning up processes with individuals, teams and organisations.
How you take the bag off your back and clean it out is important. Imagine if you were on a crowded tube and a stranger took off their rucksack and threw it at you! So here are my key steps to a successful clean up:
1) Get help to facilitate your clean up
Get someone experienced to help you. It means you can focus on the work you need to do on yourself without having to worry about process and you are much more likely to achieve a successful outcome. This is definitely something that we at FlowCoacher can help you with.
2) Create a safe space to clean up
If you suspect you are holding onto ‘stuff’ that happened in the past with someone else, the first thing you need to find is a safe space to share your ‘stuff’ with them. By safe we mean a confidential space in which you can share (without any interruption) where you are at, without fear of recrimination or judgment.
At first, it may sound challenging or fanciful that such a space can exist, however, creating this space is one of the foundations of the work that FlowCoacher does. Over four years of practice, I’ve never yet failed to create a space for a client that wasn’t trusted. Ensure you get a commitment from everyone in the cleanup space to uphold the integrity of the space, during and after the sharing.
3) Actively listen to each other
People need to be heard to clean up their past, and they also need to feel heard. I create processes for businesses (across industry sectors) that ensure that no matter who you are, whatever your role in the business, you will actually be heard.
4) Stay on your side of the fence
This is not a ‘blame game’, nor is it an opportunity to attack anyone for what they might or might not have done in the past. Each person needs to take responsibility for their own stuff, not throw it at each other. Share how you feel, what affect it’s having on your life, rather than stating things like “you made me do X” etc.
5) Get it all out
Empty the bag, take it all out so that you can go forward free of the weight on your back. I know that for some this can be very scary to do and it can feel overwhelming; I’ve felt this way myself at times, however, I guarantee it will be worth it! Trade a big pain (of a future laden down by the past) for a small pain (felt taking the bag off your bag and emptying it out) to regain a life in flow.
6) Learn from the past!
Cleaning up does not mean you jettison the learning! The whole point of cleaning up is creating a foundation from which to create your best future. By cleaning up you will take every bit of learning you can from the past and be able to use it to make the best decisions for your future, no longer weighed down or affected by your past. Now you will fit through the door to your pathway and you’ll feel in flow.
7) Clean up regularly
For teams, businesses and organisations, have regular clean up meetings. As a minimum, a monthly meeting and if possible, make it a weekly meeting. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, it simply needs to be effective!
As for individuals, I recommend a daily five minute self-analysis session every morning. Ask yourself the questions; “how was my behavior yesterday, was I the best that I could be in my relationships with others, is there anything I need to take responsibility for, were my needs met, do I feel that anyone crossed my boundaries?” etc. Take a moment to note down if any further action needs to take place (i.e. a clean up conversation and with whom) and then get it done.
Living in the present, in flow
Anyone who has run, cycled, hiked or done any other kind of physical activity knows it hurts to do these with a heavy bag on your back! Maybe we can never take the bag off, but we can choose whether to fill it or not. Unresolved past issues take a lot of effort to carry around and they limit our capacity to flow, to take advantage of the opportunities all around us in life. After your clean up the past, managers and business owners can spend less time managing, while individuals are better placed to make their dreams come true and climb to heights they’ve never dared think was possible.
Isn’t it about time we all took that bag off our back?!