Reframing How You See Your Life

Too many people struggle with depression and anxiety on a daily basis—and I’m one of those people. One approach that I have used from time to time to help eliminate my worry and anxiety over the future is to completely reframe my thinking regarding it and the past.

By nature, I have always held onto the past. It’s where I’m most comfortable because it’s a known. The future is unknown of course. By thinking about the past and dwelling on the past I’m able to keep my mind in a more comfortable, secure place.

However, we don’t live in the past. We only live in the here-and-now, with the future to look forward to. So, by living in the past in my mind, I’m actually creating more anxiety for myself. What happens now is that I see my “true” life as that which I had before I left home for college. That’s the point at which one major phase of my life ended and another began.

Therefore, in my mind, all the events that have happened since I left home are cataloged as leading away from that anchor point. 

Let me explain it this way. It’s as if I’m wading into the ocean backwards with my eye on the shoreline that is getting ever farther away. My childhood is represented as my walk down the beach until I reach the edge of the water. 

Everything after that (adulthood) is represented by my wading into the water. The longer I live, the farther I get away from the shore with its supposed safety and the more treacherous my journey becomes. 

Slowly but surely, I’m wading backward out into deeper waters, getting closer to the point where I’m completely underwater. My focus is not on the direction I’m headed, but rather it’s always on the shore.

Each day of my adult life is seen as a crisis—it’s not my real life because that ended at childhood when I began wading into the water. The crisis is heightening day by day as I get deeper and deeper. There is no real living in this scenario—just survival for as long as Ican.

As you can imagine, this way of thinking makes for a very anxious kind of life.

However, by reframing my way of thinking, I can see my life in a whole different light. If I create a different schema to catalog my experience, then everything is flipped 180 degrees. If I see each new day as the beginning of the rest of my life, and all the events that come afterward as just a long extension of my real life, then a great deal of worry, fear, and anxiety is eliminated.

I have to tell myself, “My life is here and now. Everything else is in the past. This is my life, along with everything that I experience from this point on.”

But the real key is to see my life this way. I have to keep in mind the image that the past is all behind me and that the future is a great, wide road in front of me, representing all the potential that life holds.

Creating this image in my head helps me see my life completely differently. Instead of ruminating on the past and fretting because each day takes me further away from its “safety,” I’m instead focused on the future and making each day count for something. I can look forward to each day instead of being anxious because life has taken me so far from my past.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells his readers that he uses that same approach:

“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

Phil. 3:13b

It’s good to learn from the past, but not so good if you live in the past. As the motivational saying goes, “Remember the lesson, but forget the details.”

Living in the past cripples you and makes you totally ineffective for you present life. Plus, you end up fearing the future because your mind is conditioned to crave the apparent security of the past. 

That security is all a lie, however. The past has no real power, only that which you allow it to have. The present and the future are where life is truly lived.

My Big Mistake

“When you take charge of your own narrative, it gives you a handle on it.”

– Liz Murray

It’s been a long journey to happiness. And while I’ve haven’t quite achieved the level of satisfaction with my life that I’d like, I have come a long way.

One of the ideas that held me back for so long—and still does from time to time—was my belief that happiness just happens to you.

That you wake up each day, optimistic, with a smile on your face, and ready to face the world.

It’s the idea that people are just born happy—and that I. Was. Not. One. Of. Those. People. For decades I looked around at my peers, most of whom appeared reasonably contented with their lives, and I wondered why I didn’t feel the same way. Why could I just not take life as it comes, without all the fear, worry, depression, and anxiety that plagued me each day?

Obviously I wasn’t born happy, but surely taking a pill (or two or three) would do the trick, wouldn’t it? Go to the psychiatrist, get a prescription, and BAM!—life is all better. I tried that method for years, with very, very little success.

The medication helped some, enough to raise me to a baseline where I could hang on, hopeful that someday I’d find the find psycho cocktail that would magically cure whatever my problem was.

That never happened, though. That magical potion did not appear. I didn’t wake up one day and feel transformed.

Over time, however, I did realize that the key to lasting change lay within myself.

While the medication helped a little, I discovered the old motivational saying was true: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

I realized that to find joy and happiness in life, I had to quit feeling sorry for myself and being angry that my life wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. I had to take charge of my destiny with a new drive to make my life into something better.

Instead of sitting around waiting for a pill to change everything, I needed to catapult the little amount of benefit I got from my medication into something bigger.

The pill gave me breathing room—now I had to punch back with a determination to practice gratitude, change my way of thinking, and begin to truly change my life.

And that is where I am today.

I had picked up a number of useful tools for dealing with depression over the years, although I’ve never really put them to good use.

However, I now realized that one of the main keys to becoming a truly joyful person is to quit looking at the past. Instead of saying, “Oh woe is me…I’m just not a happy person”—I needed to press forward, quit feeling like a victim, and get on with change.

I had taken great pleasure in playing the victim and feeling sorry for myself. I felt like the world owed me an apology for treating me so badly. I didn’t want to move forward—in fact, I couldn’t move forward—because I was too busy waiting for an apology and explanation as to why I felt the way that I did.

Little tip: You’ll never get that apology or that explanation. Just move on.

It’s been a very slow process, but now when those depressive feelings enter my mind, instead of getting down on myself and wallowing in self-pity, I have a desire to overcome those feelings and to take action to make my life better.

This deep drive and desire is what has made all the difference. Until I truly wanted to feel better—instead of taking some weird pleasure in feeling sorry for myself—it was not possible for me to make any lasting change.

I haven’t yet arrived. Not by a long shot. But, I’m well on my way.

See you there.