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Living Out of Your Memories or Imagining the Future: Which Is It?

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by: Bruce Hoag

I don’t just read books. I study them.

On the first pass, I mark and underline words, sentences, and ideas with colored pencils: Dark green for profound truth; light green for something great, but not quite up to the standard of dark green; orange for statements worth noting, blue for other books I ought to read or other statements worth noting; and red for startling thoughts or comments – things which remind me what I ought to be doing and don’t, or valid criticisms or observations that could be construed as negative.

On the second and subsequent passes, I read the parts of the book that I’ve marked. It gives me something of a condensed version and summarizes what was really important. And if the book has been sitting on the shelf for awhile, then these colored sections quickly remind me what the whole thing was about, and what impressed me.

Here is such a statement, underlined in blue, in the book If, by Mark Batterson.

“If you aren’t careful, past experience can become a barrier to what if. You stop living out of right-brain imagination and start living out of left-brain memory. That’s when you stop creating the future and start repeating the past” (italics author’s, p. 169).

Think about it.

You’re doing one of two things.

Either you’re imagining what you will do, or you’re captivated by what you have done.

It’s one or the other.

You can’t do both.

One of these will dominate the way you think, and everything you do will pass through that filter.

In another of his books, Batterson says that when you start living out of your memories, then that’s when you start to die.

You can argue the finer points to refute this statement, but that’s not the reason he makes it.

He makes it because he wants you to know that when your future lies in the past, then you lose hope, and when there’s no hope – no imagining of what the future could be like – then there’s nothing to look forward to.

What do you hope for?

What do you imagine that your future could be?

I’m not suggesting that you dream about apple-pie-in-the-sky or that you pretend that the past never happened.

Instead, I want you to train or re-train yourself to think about what is possible. That, alone, will help you to move forward.

One caveat: Although you must imagine the future, you must also refrain from living in it before you get there. To do so is what we call a vicarious experience.

When we imagine that we have arrived, we take our foot off the gas. We pull back on the throttle. We see no reason to put forth the effort.

This is not the same as imagining that you’re doing something. In your minds eye, you can see yourself do something, e.g. finish first in a race; but that’s different from imagining that you’re there already.

What do you think about? Are you dwelling on the things you regret, or are you imagining how things could be different?

Tutorial Author:

I’m on a mission to help entrepreneurs understand why they do what they do, and to help them change their behavior so that they can get the results that they want.

I have a PhD in Organizational Psychology and am the first author of the book, Managing Value-Based Organizations: It’s Not What You Think.


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