The Burden of the Past: Overcoming The Greatest Threat To Personal Development

How we deal with or address our past is likely the greatest threat to our own personal development.  The past can become a deadly albatross around our necks.  It can cripple and anchor us to past experiences, mistakes and regrets, making us feel powerless.

Ultimately, our inability to release or overcome our past hinders relationships, career ambition, and upward mobility. One reason why personal development experts and life coaches focus so extensively on how the past effects of our thinking and actions.  Likewise, a number of personal development systems and podcasts have been established, including The 7 Life Laws, and The Living On E Podcast, which both specifically address overcoming the past as well as other obstacles to living one’s best life.


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For many, memories of our mistakes replay themselves on a continuously loop.  They stand as an unforgiving and unapologetic judge and jury, where their defendants are left vilified and convicted without regard to previous circumstances or lack of options.

With that, some people become obsessed and focused on those past indictments.  They are blinded and guaranteed to stumble and fall over the actual obstacles and issues in their present.  They fail to realize that they cannot win a race or succeed looking backwards.


Subsequently, these same past memories transform themselves into beliefs, which dictate how people make their decisions and how they live their lives.  No longer does a specific event represent itself.  It becomes a declaration of an unchangeable outcome, state of being, capacity, or destiny.

A failed final exam becomes the belief that the person is a bad test taker.

Incidents of spousal abuse become the belief that the person is deserving of abuse or can never have a nurturing or loving relationship.

Memories of childhood teasing about a person’s appearance become the belief that the person was and remains unattractive.


Still others attempt to address or engage their past with an equally-damaging response. Instead, they chose to blame others for their past circumstances, indiscretions and mistakes.  By doing so, they shirk their responsibility and never become accountable for their past choices or behavior.  In the end, they negate their ability to change and transform their present lives.

For example, young people blame their parents for not pursuing their passions, but neglect the fact, they never took any interest seriously or truly committed to anything they ever pursued.

Addicts, who refuse to seek help for their addictions, fault their original circumstances, home life, and environment. They never acknowledge others who endured similar situations, but did not pursue abusive lifestyles.

Unfaithful mates blame their spouse or partner’s inattentiveness or lack of affection for their cheating. However, they never confronted their partner about his or her behavior nor did their own interaction with or demands placed on their partner.


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Our power and control are in the present.  We must not relinquish it through fear, indecisiveness, procrastination, or apathy.  The future depends on what we do now while our past provides the lessons learned for the present.

While we should not ignore or forget past experiences, we must first forgive ourselves for our transgressions against ourselves.  Then, we must engage our past not with scrutiny or blame, but with patience, objectivity, compassion, and empathy.

“. . . a self-distanced perspective, where we almost picture the situation as a ‘fly on the wall’ leads to focusing on why an experience occurred, which can foster insight and closure,” according to Adam Gerace’s article, “How we think about our experiences affects how we can help others” from

In addition, consider the following strategies as a proactive and productive manner to engage and overcome the past.


Photo Credit: Lesly Juarez

Be Grateful.

Some people mistakenly equate being grateful with being thankful.  The two are not synonymous.  Gratefulness is not simply appreciation, as is thankfulness.  Gratefulness embodies a state of acceptance and understanding. It is the acknowledgment that everything we have experienced has worth and beauty, especially those things that have caused us pain and hardship.  Gratefulness accompanies the gift of recognition.  It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to receive and reflect on the lessons offered through our experiences and the process.

For example, gratefulness allows us to appreciate and not curse the storms in our lives as well as the havoc and destruction they bring.  While our storms dismantle all that we have become comfortable with and accustom, they force us to withdraw from the action and cause us to seek shelter and remain still as they perform their function.  If we chose to resist or fight against our storms, we find ourselves drawn into their chaos and confusion.  We become swept up in the devastation.   As a result of our desperation, we move blindly.  We make harsh, thoughtless decisions that pull us further into the abyss. But when we chose to be still, our storms eventually remove all foes that have overtaken us.  They turn our enemies against themselves.  They become part of the destruction.  Debris is everywhere.

In the end, our storms reveal who and what our enemies really are to us and the world.  They are the broken ones and stood no chance.  Suddenly, we can see clearly, and are better for it.

Photo Credit: Gift Habeshaw

Accept Responsibility & Be Accountable. 

We must own our mistakes. For better or for worse, we made them.  The question is how does one move forward and ensure that we and others become whole for our transgressions.  We must first pay the debt owed to ourselves through our own forgiveness.  This allows us to free ourselves from our own shame and provides us the ability to do what we must.  Then, if our mistakes injured others, we can genuinely make amends and do what we can to compensate others for the injury.

Fear of judgment often holds us back from doing what we must.  In addition, resistance to responsibility and accountability also represent an individuals’ inability to forgive themselves.  Some view admitting their wrong or bad behavior as a permanent indictment of their character – a scarlet letter defining who they are, not who they were at that prior moment. Accepting responsibility and being accountable is the first step to true liberation.

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Embrace A Spiritual Foundation & Practice.

Prayer and meditation promote healing. Various religious texts offer wisdom regarding the necessity to address or overcome the pain or trauma one’s past.

We all possess an inner yearning, a thirst for answers, a hunger for completeness. Often, physical pleasures or material things are used to silence that yearning, but we are left feeling empty. Having a spiritual foundation and practice is central to navigating both the triumphs and challenges life offers as well as providing a desired sense of fulfillment.  Spirituality imbues life with hope, direction, and purpose. It also offers practices that encourage contemplation through meditation, prayer, yoga and journaling. These practices reveal and emphasize that we are all an intricate part of something greater than ourselves.

When we embrace a spiritual foundations and practice, our beliefs, values and, ultimately, our actions become inspired, directed, and centered to one consciousness.  We become able to interpret incidents and experiences with a transcendent, inner wisdom to make healthier choices. We are encouraged and able to forgive both others, and ourselves, which is one of the primary keys to accepting responsibility and becoming accountable.

Most importantly, that overall knowledge and inner wisdom helps us to realize that we possess and can access limitless potential.

Photo Credit: Neel

Control your new narrative. 

Ultimately, we must take an active role in overcoming our past since the world does not know we have accepted responsibility and are different people.  Our past remains tethered to our prior actions and public presentation. So, the world will ultimately continue to acknowledge and treat us accordingly.  If we want different, we must be visibly different from how we engage and interact with people to how we dress or present ourselves in public.

Photo Credit: Tyler Callahan

Our actions and behaviors must allow the public to believe we have changed so they can transform how they perceive, engage or work with us.  Therefore, we must be sincere with our transformation since we cannot afford to backslide into any resemblance of our previous negative behaviors.

In the end, we must ask ourselves several questions. Who are we today versus who we were yesterday? Are our actions consistent with who we are or profess to be? If not, what can we do to change them?

Eric Christopher Webb, DDiv., CPLC., an award-winning journalist and National Black Authors Tour Bestselling author of five books, is an ordained interfaith minister, a certified professional life coach and a motivational speaker.  For website and all social media visit: