Thursday, April 16, 2009

Looking at Life Through the Rear View Mirror

Many of us spend a significant amount of time looking through the rear view mirrors of our lives. Some people spend all their time there - some spend no time there - but most have a nice balance between looking at what's behind and what's ahead.

Sometimes the "mirror" can be really helpful, and sometimes it can cough up those really embarrassing, stupid, negative memories that are best forgotten, but that the mirror wants to keep front and center.

Have you ever had the experience of suddenly being confronted, in your mind, with something you did in the past that you wish you hadn't, or that you regretted, and that "something" flashes up on your brain screen and sends a chill down your spine, or a flop to your stomach, or a tear to your eye - or a song to your heart?

Funny - very few of my rear view mirror flashes send a song to my heart. I don't know about you, but my mirrors tend to be critical of my behavior - the coulda', woulda', shoulda's that make me feel less good about myself. My rear view mirror wants to keep the negative stuff more available than the "bring a smile " stuff.

I'm talking about those little drops of negative emotional water that hit your brain, again and again, and in so doing create a groove or funnel for continued negative flashes.

What these flashes do is create habits of thought that affect our beliefs about our personal worth, ability and value. And those negative mirror flashes feed those two little worms - the "I am not worthy" one, and the "I am not able" one. And they grow. And we do it to ourselves.

The most powerful messages we receive about our ability and value are the ones we send ourselves. And we're often not aware that we're even doing it. That's the thing about habits - both good and bad. They become so ingrained that we just do them. The good news is habits can be changed. Not stopped, but replaced with other habits.

If your rear view mirror keeps sending you negative messages about your past, here are suggestions on ways to change that destructive habit of thought.

1 - Be aware that it is happening. That sounds so obvious, but habits are sneaky. They get so ingrained that they seem unconscious. The first step is to challenge your thoughts. Are they helpful? Are they destructive? Do they help or hinder?

2- Prepare a list of the top 100 things that make you smile, make you feel thankful, make you proud, make you feel worthy and able. Write them down. This can be tough - especially if your messages have been negative for a long time. But it is the key step to replacing those negative thoughts.

3 - Review them every day and add to them as you think of more positive messages.

4 - When a negative thought message comes through, catch yourself and tell yourself to stop! And then replace it with one of your 100 or more "guaranteed to make you feel good about yourself" messages you have written down.

5 - Persist. Habits take time and dedication to change. Keep reminding yourself of the value of thinking positively about yourself. And of how much better it makes you feel.

6 - Think of your rear view mirror as having two modes - one that lets in all the bright lights that can blind you, and the other mode that filters so you can see more clearly.

Let's face it, life has and will continue to throw all kinds of challenges at us. Using your rear view mirror to prepare for the challenges to be faced is a powerful habit of thought. Take a look in yours right now, and become aware of what a positive tool it can be.

Andy Cox is President of Cox Consulting Group LLC. The focus of his work is on helping organizations and their people increase their success in the hiring, developing and enhancing the performance of leaders and emerging leaders. Cox Consulting Group LLC was started in 1995, and has worked with a wide range of organizations, managers and leaders - helping them define success, achieve success and make the ability to change a competitive advantage. He can be reached at

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