Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life: Part 8

In Chapter 3, “How Has My Past Influenced My Life Today?” explore how your family and your past decisions affect choices you make today.
You can access the already published posts here.


How Has My Past
Influenced My Life Today?

Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your LifeWhether our family consisted of a mother and father, a single parent, a mother and three step- fathers or three step-mothers and one father, two moms or two dads, grandparents who took over the parenting role, foster parents, a commune in the woods, or any other combination of people who take on the responsibility of raising children, it was within that family that we learned our first lessons about goal-setting and the possibility for change.

Within strong and well-functioning families children are able to learn that they have the ability to make wise choices and to be responsible for the consequences of their choices. They learn that striving and failing is part of the human condition and that we all fail at one time or another.

These positive lessons begin very early. in fact, they begin in the first three years if a mother, or other significant caregiver, is attuned to the child’s emotional states and responds appropriately. from those early experiences, and other positive relationships, will come a strong sense of self, a belief that he can care for himself, the freedom and courage of self-confidence, and the ability to choose what is best for him and others. All of these strengths, and more, are possible because the child’s brain is developing a network of neuronal connections that support self-awareness and self-determination. These positive pathways are developed to a large degree through the interaction of caregivers and child. Thus our sense of self is developed through our connection with others. Nature needs nurture.

  • What did (does) my mother hope I would (will) be?
  • How did (does) my mother encourage me to make my own choices?
  • What did (does) my mother say when she wanted (wants) to praise me?
  • What did (does) my mother say when she wanted (wants) to criticize me?
  • What did (does) my mother say about success?
  • What did (does) my mother say about failure?
  • What did (does) my mother say about trying to do my best?
  • If I don’t remember what my mother said, what do I think she might have said?
  • How do I let the need for my mother’s approval still influence my decisions and goal-setting?

What Effect as My Family Had On

My Ability to Achieve My Goals?

Earlier i mentioned family myths when discussing the importance of stories families tell themselves. There are two other ways in which each generation passes on to the next generation concepts about success and failure, winning and losing, trying and failing.

The first are family rules. These are the “unwritten laws” of the family and they have great power to create, maintain, and control the life of every family. Some of the rules are formal, out in the open for all to see, and everyone is conscious of what is required. However, the majority of family rules are informal, hidden, and unconscious, which makes their emotional significance even more potent.

  • What did (does) my father hope I would (will) be?
  • How did (does) my father encourage me to make my own choices?
  • What did (does) my father say when he wanted (wants) to praise me?
  • What did (does) my father say when he wanted (wants) to criticize me?
  • What did (does) my father say about success?
  • What did (does) my father say about failure?
  • What did (does) my father say about trying to do my best?
  • If I don’t remember what my father said, what do I think he might have said?
  • How do I let the need for my father’s approval still influence my decisions and goal-setting?

Similar to powerful family rules, every family has rituals that reinforce those rules and bind the family as a unit. These rituals demonstrate in concrete ways how we are to respond to events of birth and death, money and work, love and lifestyle.

As discussed in Chapter One, we carry with us rituals, rules, myths, traditions, beliefs, etc. that may no longer be appropriate for our life today, but they are deeply buried in the psyche (that is, our old backpack).

When children grow up, leave the nest and fly off on their own, they bring with them concepts about choices and goal-setting that they’ve absorbed from the rules, rituals and myths that were an integral part of the old nest. Yet what we learned back then may not be appropriate for the new nest we create after leaving home. The difficulty arises when deciding which traditions and concepts are valuable to keep and which need to be discarded so that we can make appropriate choices for the future.

It isn’t necessary to delve deeply into your past in order to solve problems in the present. You don’t have to have a cathartic experience in reliving old wounds in order to function well today. But it certainly helps to understand which of your family rules, rituals and myths encouraged success and which are ones that prevented you from choosing wisely.

What Have My Experiences Taught Me

About Choosing and Reaching Goals?

Your parents aren’t the only ones who’ve influenced your ability to be successful. You’ve played a significant role as well. it’s called “experience.” or perhaps it might more appropriately be called the “experiments” in life.

You see, before something happens, you don’t know how you will experience that event. You can certainly make a calculated guess based on past experiences. for example, you may choose to watch the sequel of a movie because you greatly enjoyed the first one. But you can’t count on the second being as good, can you? it’s an experiment. it may be great fun, maybe even better than the first movie, but it’s no sure bet.

When you deliberately select one experience rather than another, you place yourself in the role of experimenter. You are making a hypothesis that one choice will cause you to experience an event one way and another choice will provide another experience. After you have finished the experience, you discover how your “experiment” turned out.

Think of how different your life has been because you chose the college you did or decided not to go to college at all, because you joined the debate team instead of the water polo team, because you married Barbara instead of Jane or Bill instead of Jim, because you decided to practice piano or stopped lessons because they were boring. The experiences (the experiments) you’ve had that result from these choices can be either positive, negative or somewhere in-between. All of them influence how you will make choices in the future.


What choice out of all the thousands of choices I’ve made has most impacted my life? Why?

What choice do I most regret? Why?

When we are placed in situations we don’t choose to have, we still have a choice in how we will respond to them. Consider how great trauma and significant loss can eventually turn into new patterns of behavior. As hard as it may appear when trauma first hits, by the time you’ve been dragged, often kicking, screaming, and gnashing your teeth, into new circumstances without the object you lost — be it spouse, house, job, health, dream, or belief in a fact that proves untrue — you may discover that you are a different, and better, person for it. it may be that you won’t be any different after the upheaval in your life than you were before, yet many people are transformed by their greatest setbacks and challenges.

Fortunately, we also learn life’s lessons from pleasant experiences. When you are laughing and having a good time with people you love, you mentally put a check-mark in your list of events you want to choose again. exploring your past experiences, and the lessons they offer, can make you more aware of how you might be holding yourself back from pursuing a goal that will give you an opportunity to have more experiences on which to build a new you, or at least an improved version.

Through your relationships, schooling, work, church, recreation, and social organizations you develop skills that allow you to negotiate, persuade, analyze, and teach. All of these skills, especially if grounded in a love of learning, provide a growing opportunity for experiences that make each new goal more possible to achieve.

Chapter Three will continue next week.

Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life is reprinted here by permission.

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