Stuck Looking Backward? - How to Move Forward

Is your life stuck in a rut? Do you feel like your not moving forward? Maybe you feel like you are dragging a huge ball and chain with you. Do you feel like you have no momentum or maybe you are not sure where you are going?

All of us face this type of situation sometime in our life. It is normal. The questions are when you face this issue "What do I do?" "How do I move forward?" "What about my past?"

There are two main reasons many of us get stuck in a rut: 1) we are walking backwards - we are focusing on our past, relishing in it or regretting it instead of looking toward what's ahead. 2) We have a ball and chain called our past: childhood, failed marriage, bad habits, no priorities, addictive behavior, anger, laziness, victimization, etc. that keeps us from believing we can move ahead.

Walking Backwards

For many, the future does not look as bright as the past. We look back, sigh and wish things were the way they used to be. Some were very successful in some area, sports, work, a hobby, an artistic expression, etc. Some had the perfect job or a great marriage. Others had their children at home and now they are 'empty-nesters.'

When you walk backwards you are doing a couple of things that are hindering you from moving forward. 1) You may be communicating (verbally or non verbally) that the people around you are not as important as the past. You were happier then. These people in your life are not as significant or provide as much meaning. Unfortunately, the talk is typically all about you... the good things or the bad things you did. The conversation is almost always about YOU, not others. (Boy, you must be fun to be around.)
2) By focusing on how good the past was, you are making an excuse to not focus on the future. It is a form of laziness, being irresponsible. It is a way to avoid engaging in meaningful relationships where you are giving, not taking. To some degree you are assuming you are a victim of your present circumstances for they are not as good as the past.

In these situations, your thinking is your greatest enemy. You think in terms of the past instead of putting your intellectual energy on focusing on others and the future. You 'believe' the past was better so you make no effort to have a greater future. Yes, it may be tough, but stop looking backwards; look forwards and work to build relationships, have a happier future. Make the best of what you have instead of complaining about how good it used to be. Few people enjoy being around a person who talks about themselves and is always in the past. Focus on being a person who is interested in others, asks questions about the future. Set some goals that are about helping others or about having a brighter future. Make the second part of your life better than the first!

Ball and Chain

Are you the person who would like to move forward but just can't seem to do it? Your past has too great a grip on you? In your past people manipulated you forcing you to do things that you did not want to do. You were ignored as a child. Others hurt you. Your grew up in a dysfunctional family. No one had commitments. Others lied to you. You are divorced. You made too many mistakes.

So now you are careful not to make too many commitments or trust others. You focus more on protecting yourself or doing the easy things versus setting a course for the future.

Two things I can encourage those in these situations: 1) You can change. You can proactively choose to change. You can choose to base your life on principles versus experiences and feelings.

A principle centered person sees things differently and acts differently. As Steven Covey writes "Principles are deep fundamental truths, classic truths, generic common denominators. They are tightly interwoven threads running with exactness, consistency, beauty, and strength through the fabric of life. Examples are: love, courage, discipline, honesty, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, faithfulness,, commitment, integrity, hard work, etc.

The process may be hard. You probably will need some counseling (or lots of counseling). The process may be long, but it is worth it. You are changing your foundation, changing your motivations from being driven by activity and others to being driven by deep truths that direct you in all situations.

You may believe you have these principles instilled in your life, and you may. But, are you making them the foundation of what you do? Are they setting your priorities? Are they determining how you relate to your boss, your co-worker, your parents, spouse, children, school, etc.

Are you living in the urgent, "gotta do now", side of life because you are not allowing principles to set your plans but instead letting the circumstances determine your life? Circumstances will always scream louder than principles, but principles have roots that last. The immediate is not always the necessary.

Many times people wear their past as an excuse to not move forward. They see themselves as a victim or just say "This is the way I am, I can't help it." They are giving into to experiences over driving their life by principles and priorities. Principles enable you to change.

Setting Priorities for the Future

So, how do you focus on the future? For some, they are going to have to start from the beginning and examine every aspect of their life to see if it is principle driven or driven by something else. For others, it is just having a refresher and asking yourself, "Have I let something get in the way of my true priorities? Have I let a bad habit develop and it has replaced what is truly important? Am I letting urgent activities replace what is truly important and long lasting?"

For example, Am I spending money on frivolous things versus saving for my future? Am I blaming my past on my spending habits or that I don't make enough money to save? Am I looking at past hardships, struggles in past marriage, health, etc. to not do what I know needs to be done? Do I see this change as hard work and am not willing to do it?

Most of our reasons for not really achieving our potential are that we have our minds distracted by things that are not principle driven. We focus on our past and give up. We can easily make up a reason for not setting a goal or doing something without ever truly investigating the real possibility. Too many times we let our past make our future decisions, not our principles. Focus on the result, not the obstacles.

I know I have been doing that in two areas of my life: how I spend my money and my willingness to work on a very important goal. I have been stuck in the past instead of focusing on the principle of helping others: my family and friends, to move me forward in achieving the goal. I was focusing on obstacles instead of the result. I was avoiding the work to achieve my goal because it requires that I have discipline of the mind to achieve my goal.

I came to this conclusion running in the heat today. I was focusing on how hot it was and how much I was struggling and not my goal of running 3 miles. But, when I had run 1.5 miles, I changed my focus and started thinking of my goal and how much I wanted to accomplish it. Also, instead of thinking how hot it was, I asked myself "Can I run another 5 minutes to achieve my goal?" I realized that it was just another five minutes worth of activity, not some hardship. I was able, through discipline and focusing on the future, to accomplish my goal. If I had focused on how hot it was and how hard it was to run the distance I had already covered (my past), I probably would have quit. By focusing on how tired we are (our past) versus on the benefits of the goal, we are demotivated to achieve our goal.

Examine one area of your life where you feel ineffective or stuck in a rut. Ask yourself, "Am I letting the past determine my future?" What principle do I need to focus on but instead, I am letting my feelings or others keep me from moving ahead?" "Am I too focused on myself and not enough on others which is hurting my relationships?"

Begin with principles that you want to live in your life, not excuses. Place them on your mirror or your dashboard.


Philippians 3:7-16
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained."

The Apostle Paul saw that his past had no bearing on his future. He forgot his past so that he could pursue his future.

I noticed that he did not just work toward the future but he "pressed on, he strained" to achieve his goals. We must have the same attitude and understanding that to achieve our future, we may need to forget our past and strain to achieve the goal.

It is rarely easy, but God is faithful and will give you what you need when you ask.

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