In perusing through stock photos for the perfect image to welcome 2020 to my readers, this picture captured my attention immediately. Though shown in silhouette, I saw myself in the female figure. The brief case. The professional dress. And the cape. That cape did it!
“My superpower is being able to look back on 2019 and thank God for how I got over.”
“How I got over” is a refrain from an old gospel song made popular by Aretha Franklin on her now iconic Amazing Grace recording. The refrain that Ms. Franklin and choir belt out : “My soul looks back and wonder how I got over” extols the joy and wonder that we will experience when we arrive into the presence of our Lord after this life.
For me, 2019 was a tough year, fraught with situations that challenged my spiritual, emotional, physical and financial reserves. These situations wore me out and as I thought about them, I saw in that silhouetted woman, me looking back over the horizon of 2019 and realizing my own superpower was my spiritual power and the grace of God that saw me through.
I planned to tweet it out on New Year’s Day. But I couldn’t get peace with my own thoughts about my own perspective. It’s as though the Holy Spirit whispered into my spirit:
“Why are you still looking backward when I’ve given you the power to move forward?”
Then it occurred to me, there was another way to see the image. Could this silhouetted woman be looking out onto possibilities and opportunities on the horizon of 2020? Though poised for a great year, why did I automatically think back to the problems of the past. My perspective, my viewpoint was fixed on the past, and had actually shaped my perception—how I saw and interpreted the 2020 picture.
Well, now you can imagine how this insight really stirred me up! The thought ran through my head: “Was I a person who habitually looked back instead of forward?” Oh my! “Is it necessarily a bad thing to look back?” “Why was it I could see “looking back” before I saw “looking forward?” Soberly, I realized, a new year means nothing if I go into it with the same old perspective or mindset.
Indeed, I am grateful for the grace that got me through, but I believe the Spirit was saying to me in that moment, “Look forward! Shift your mindset!”
Our mindset or perspective (viewpoint) frames our perception (how we “see” or interpret things).
What is a mindset?
- The established set of attitudes held by someone.
- Your approach to thinking about people, issues, problems, and situations.
- Your mindset shapes your interactions with others.
- A system of beliefs that orients the way you handle situations, your reactions and your tendencies.
Some of us of have cultivated a mindset that dwells on the past. That is, we ruminate on the hurts of the past or the mistakes of the past. Others of us are of the mindset that looks forward to the future. We envision the possibilities of what is before us.
I consider myself to be a “possibilities” thinker and a visionary, so I wondered, how did I get caught up in only seeing the past on the horizon instead of my great future. Actually, some psychologists tout that we need to see both the past and the future, and keep those views in balance–not being overly preoccupied with the past, and not being overly preoccupied with the future.
Truth is, our brains are wired to remember! Memories are a crucial part of our identity, our history, our stories, our functioning. What trips many of us up, however, is when we get stuck in memories that are painful and allow that pain to cloud our ability to see possibilities, and opportunities.
A mindset or attitude that tends toward the past may fix your sights on things you can do absolutely nothing about. You can’t change the past. You can’t undo the past. You can’t fix the past.
But you can learn from the past. You can commit to not repeating the same mistakes of the past. Learning from the past is called gaining insight. According to John Maxwell in his book, How Successful People Think:
“It’s not necessarily experience that is valuable; it’s the insight people gain because of their experience. Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.”
Everybody doesn’t gain insight from their past experiences. Some past experiences are downright awful and people want to bury every thought of those experiences. But buried, unresolved and un-reframed issues or conflicts of the past will creep back up to the surface of our minds and cause us to view current situations through a painful filter of the past and act out on them in ways that can hinder our current relationships, work or ministry assignments or even our own health.
So how do we gain insight?
Well, there are many authors, psychologist and ministers who have lessons on gaining insight. What I have found is that insight emerges from a process of self-awareness.
Tasha Eurich, in her book Insight wrote:
“If self-awareness is a journey, insights are the “aha” moments along the way.”
Dr. Gary Klein, who writes for Psychology Today, describes three paths to insight:
spotting contradictions, and
escaping from flawed assumptions.”
For me the process of growing in self-awareness is a spiritual process. Disciplines such as prayer, scripture reading, inspirational reading and journaling heighten my sensitivity to hear the Spirit and embrace the “aha” moments that come to me on my journey. These “aha” moments help provide clarity to my sight and crispness in my thinking.
I believe that’s what happened as I was preparing my New Year’s post. The Spirit helped me spot the contradiction in my own thinking, as well as to escape the assumption that there was only one way to “see” that picture. You see, as a leadership consultant, coach and minister, I am often tasked to help people leave their past in the past and step boldly into their future. So, in that moment, my post contradicted my own belief system. And it caused some tension with which I had to wrestle. And from that wrestling came the “aha”!
So how do we capture the “aha”s along the way?
Prayer and meditation. Often the insights come in a whisper. They come in a quiet still voice. This means that each of us has to get quiet enough to hear that quiet voice of insight and wisdom. In today’s hyper fast-paced media-saturated world, it’s a challenge to slow down enough to be able to hear. But I encourage you to commit to carve out the time for prayer and meditation that quiets your thoughts and slows you down to hear the insights you can gain from your experiences.
Journaling. I like to write about my experiences and activities. As I get them out of my head and down on paper, I begin to see previously unrecognized connections or patterns in my thoughts, in my actions, in my life. The “aha”s that come are so valuable. I am always grateful that not only have they come to me, but I have captured them on paper, and therefore I can go back, refer to them and act on them.
Feedback from people who know me well. It can be tough to hear sometimes, but there is nothing like getting feedback from relatives and friends who can speak the truth in love and have our best interest in mind. These people can see things about us that we don’t see. They see our blind spots and vulnerabilities.
Talking It Out. Talking to people in the helping professions can help us gain insight.
- Counselors are trained to listen and feed back to you what they’ve heard to help you make sense out of the contradictions or troubling areas of your life.
- Life coaches help you gain insight in moving toward your goals and objectives. Coaches are not counselors and therefore do not delve into the dysfunctions of the past, but help you gain insight about moving forward.
- Ministers and spiritual directors help you gain insight by listening to what God may be saying through circumstances, listening to your heart and God-given passions in order to help you gain meaning from your circumstances.
So how do I see myself in that picture now?
I see myself poised for a great 2020, equipped with lessons and insights from my past, and tools from my profession. In fact, the Spirit continued to show me that 2019 did not take me out. Instead, I grew tremendously. And based on the lessons learned in 2019, I have gained the following for 2020:
- Insight into my own blind spots and vulnerabilities.
- Wisdom on how to draw and maintain healthier boundaries in all areas of my life.
- A strategy for current and new clients.
- Creative ideas for new projects.
- A plan for scheduling & balancing business travel and personal travel.
- Clarity on priorities.
- A network of mutually supportive people who helped me get to this juncture.
I encourage you to take some time to think about your future in light of the lessons of your past. Perhaps you have already planned out your 2020. Perhaps you have made resolutions of what you wanted to do or gain in 2020. Go back and take some time to listen for the voice of wisdom that comes often in the quietest moments, when our hearts are open to hear and not too encumbered with the busyness of the culture. Sit still, invite the Spirit into your planning. Write out what you hear. Share insights with trusted confidantes. Talk it out. Then move forward.
This will be a year of great possibilities. Even more importantly, by committing to the self-awareness journey even more earnestly, this year can be a year of clarity.