Do You Know How to Change Your Relationship With the Past?

Growing up means that we make room for what we used to push away, deny and avoid.

___

My supervisor popped into my office the other day. After some small talk about my family, he informed me that the recent bandwidth lags at work are in part because of employees who are heavy internet users. Turns out, I am #2 in overall bandwidth consumption at work. At first it stumped me, because I don’t do a lot of You Tubing at work. I try to keep it professional so it didn’t make sense that I am a bandwidth bandit. But then I realized why I am guilty as charged: I have a habit of keeping open way too many computer windows and tabs.

Your (computer) Windows are a window into your mind

If I am honest with myself, having multiple open browsers is comforting – it is connected with my anxiety. There is a side to me that doesn’t want to miss anything, wants to get it right, and want’s to always be on alert.

So I conducted an experiment: I counted all of my open computer windows, browser tabs and programs. What I found out felt a little like looking down at the bathroom scale. Here is a window into my use of Windows:

  • My work computer:
    • 25++ tabs/windows open, consisting of:
    • 12 internet browser tabs
    • 3 open programs: Word, Adobe and Excel, and
      • Each program also had several files open. (Some of these files have been inactive for over a week.)
    • 2 out of 25 of my open windows/tabs/projects are in active use. (This works out to less than 1%)
  • My cell phone: I counted over 20 open programs and 12 open browsers on my cell phone.
  • My email: I receive numerous daily and weekly reminders of recommended readings and other products (to name just a few):
    • Amazon likes to remind me of what is in my shopping cart
    • I receive numerous daily news listings suggesting that I read their articles
    • Travelzoo sends regular recommendations that I review their latest travel deals
    • Facebook reminds me to review my traffic trends and when birthdays are coming up

Often we read statistics like this in articles that discuss how to be more productive, more efficient in our work. While that is one aspect of what I am working to improve, I want to go a little deeper. The question I have is “Why do we keep all of the clutter going around us? What need does the behavior meet?”

It struck me that keeping open tabs is a little like trying to force the past to remain open so that you can go back and work on it. If you keep the past right in front of your eyes, maybe you can rework it?

Most times, I am unaware of all of my open windows, tabs and other programs. If I am honest with myself, having multiple open browsers is comforting – it seems connected with my anxiety. There is a side to me that doesn’t want to miss anything, wants to get it right, and want’s to always be on alert. Sometimes, like all of us, I can get lost in my mind, in off-task cycles of emotions and thoughts.

If you look at your own open tabs, you will see that your Windows are a window into your mind.

Close your Windows and open your mind

It is a bit sobering, but what my family says when I check and re-check my phone is that I seem distant and distracted. This is not what I want my family or my friends to feel about me.

Turns out, the research validates what my family is saying. In an article by are keeping ideas or information (literally) at our fingertips, it actually makes us less efficient. Multitasking forces our brain to quickly switch from one thing to the other, or ‘spotlighting.’ This causes us to be less effective at filtering information.

Other research highlights how highly cluttered desks and computer environments can have emotional costs. Cleaning up your desk and your computer can make you “less irritable, more productive, distracted less often, and able to process information better with an uncluttered and organized home and office.”

My family is justified in feeling that I am somewhere else. My body is in the chair, but my brain has left the building.

I have to ask myself a few questions: What does keeping so many open windows do to my ability to focus? How does it effect my ability to be more emotionally present with myself, my life and my close relationships? And what does all of this do for my creativity?

You may think I am being unnecessarily hard on myself, but I see a bigger picture: this is an opportunity to become a better human being. I’m not judging myself, just being honest and practicing some self-compassion.

Your open Windows are an attempt to rework your Past?

Closure really does let you breathe. It saves your energy so that when you need to revisit something, you are ready for whatever you need to do.

Not surprisingly, an insight came to me after I cleaned up my open programs and Windows. I realized that some of them had been unused for well over a week. It struck me that keeping open tabs is a little like trying to force the past to remain open so that you can go back and work on it. If you keep the past right in front of your eyes, maybe you can rework it?

Closing tabs and browsers is important for your bandwidth, but it will also make you feel a little lighter. When I used a single tab system, I started to feel more relaxed. Closure really does let you breathe. It saves your energy so that when you need to revisit something, you are ready for whatever you need to do.

Some of the most important work of recovery involves saying goodbye: Goodbye to your past. Goodbye to hating yourself. Goodbye to distraction, avoidance and denial. Goodbye to acquaintances who drag you down and keep you locked into negative patterns.
Before you rush to try to fix your past think about this: Growing up means that we don’t leave the past behind… it means that we make room for what we used to push away, deny and avoid.

One thing I have realized is that having a few open windows, or projects is not a bad thing. It can even make you MORE creative. When I am working I like to spread out my books and papers so that I can see it all. James Altucher calls this “Ideasex:” having two or more active ideas or projects can generate new ideas. Call it whatever you want, a little clutter can make you more productive. Turns out that great minds like Einstein liked having a little clutter all around them.

Our clutter tells a story. We all have some ‘unfinished business.’ Before you rush to try to fix your past think about this: Growing up means that we don’t leave the past behind… it means that we make room for what we used to push away, deny and avoid.

I will leave one thing with you: What I have learned from this is that you can’t rework the past, but you can learn to change your relationship with it.

If you enjoyed this article, you will want to check out some of my other writing:

Your Past is Not a Problem, It is Just a Perspective

Don’t Hate Your Past, Embrace it.

How to Respond to Emotional Triggers Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photos by Boris Thaser and Matt Perich

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