How to Stop Worrying About the Past

Do you ever worry or obsess over some faux pas, or some perceived faux pas, that you have committed in the past? “That was a really dumb thing I said. How could I be so stupid? Why can’t I ever think of the right things to say?”

This, I suspect, is a very common trait of shy people, to constantly agonize and chew over and stew over perceived social blunders one has just made. Naturally, this can make shyness worse, because if every time you try to initiate a social interaction and you don’t perform perfectly, and you then punish and berate and chastise yourself for any perceived mistakes, you will decrease your chances of even making an effort in the future.

This is a terrible form of “negative reinforcement.” You are verbally or mentally chastising yourself for what is otherwise desirable behavior, reaching out and making the effort to connect with another person.

Here’s how to stop:

1. Whenever a negative thought imposes itself, psychologist Elliot Kinarthy recommends saying “Stop!” to yourself. Then take a deep breath. Finally, picture a relaxing seen. The word stop interrupts the negative thought. The relaxing scene replaces it with a positive image.

2. If the perceived blunder occurred earlier in the same day and you find yourself constantly obsessing over, try taking a brief nap. A nap can interrupt the negative brain waves and gets them going in a different direction. Sometimes a brief break in your day can work wonders.

3. Remind yourself that the blunder may not actually be a blunder at all. This is a powerful technique for stopping negative thoughts.

How many times in the past had you made what you thought was a blunder, and then as time went on you realized it wasn’t so serious after all? Perhaps what you thought was a blunder actually caused things to turn out for the better? In any event, after only a few days, or at most weeks, you realize the blunder wasn’t so serious after all, and it may not even have been a blunder in the first place.

Now remind yourself that what you now think is a mistake may, in retrospect, turn out to be quite neutral or even beneficial! Whenever a disturbing or negative thought pops into your mind, say to yourself “That may turn out not to a been a mistake after all, just like the other so-called mistakes I’ve made in the past.”

Try this! It’s a great way of disputing that negativity.

4. Have in the storehouse of your mind, constantly at the ready, a repertoire of affirmations or aphorisms that you can instantly recite to yourself whenever a negative thought pops into your mind. This will break and interrupt the negative thought, and turn it into something positive and beneficial. What you want is a conditioned response, almost like that of Pavlov’s dogs.

Pavlov was a scientist who brought food out to his dogs every time he rang a bell. In time, the dogs became so conditioned to associate food with the sound of a bell ringing that they started to salivate at the sound of the bell even when no food was present.

What you want to do is create a conditioned response, so that every time a negative thought pops into your mind, you instantly replace it with a neutral or positive thought. Your goal is to do this so often that it becomes automatic, or a conditioned response.

You should pick one aphorism to memorize and to recite yourself whenever a negative thought enters your mind. Remember, this must become a conditioned response or reflex. Pick any one of the following short aphorisms, suggestion by the late Crenville Kleiser, as:

1) I can do only what I know.
2) I am what I am.
3) Thoughts can achieve wonders.
4) My efficiency grows through exercise.
5) I realize my power for great achievement.
6) My self-confidence grows daily.
7) I have a high and true estimate of myself.
8) I am always cheerful.
9) My life makes for happiness and success.
10) I smile in the face of trouble.
11) I am brighter and happier every day.

5. Try memorizing one or more longer aphorisms. Repeat one to yourself whenever a negative thought pops into your mind.

A longer aphorism does make it somewhat cumbersome to yourself to have to repeat it every time you detect a negative thought. If it becomes a chore to repeat the aphorism every time a negative thought pops into your head, good! You will be applying a sort of negative reinforcement to yourself (otherwise known as punishment!) every time you detect a negative thought.

The goal here is not only to break or interrupt the negative thought, but to make it somewhat wary of returning, knowing it will be subjected to a cumbersome mental exercise each time it rears its ugly head!

Pick one or more of the following quotations to memorize and recite to yourself each time you detect a negative thought:

The star of the unconquered will.
He rises in my breast.
Serene, and resolute, and still.
And calm, and self-possest.

— Longfellow.

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding. — Proverbs.

Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of life, which they are henceforth to rule. — Carlyle.

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the serenity of solitude. — Emerson.

Take this multi-pronged approach to make worry a thing of the past!