This article first appeared on Happify.com

We think of time as sequential, where events move from the past through to the present and into the future. In a way, there’s no denying that. But this belief overlooks the fact that our experience of time is closely tied to the way in which we sequence and compare events in our minds. In many ways, our future is a result of our interpretation of past experiences.

Most of these interpretations are subconscious. It almost seems as though we live life atop vast icebergs, blissfully unaware of the power of the past in driving our plans and checklists, our goals and action steps. Little wonder we lose motivation along the way or experience short-term happiness at best, even when we succeed.

As social psychologist Daniel Gilbert says in his book Stumbling On Happiness, we are quite terrible at predicting what will bring us happiness, perhaps because we are heavily influenced by outside forces that have disconnected us from our own selves. We need to look into our past and find the moments when we felt authentic, alive and truly happy. For these moments point to our potential and hold the secret to a purposeful future.

Befriend Your Personality

Do you know how you function best? Our personality is our nature, the person we are when no one else is watching and when we have no fears of being judged. Are you introverted or extroverted? (can link to my shy and introverted article). Do you make sense of events through reflection or action? Where do your sources of energy come from?

When we look at our past with curiosity and interest, we see patterns that we didn’t know existed. Studies show that the most successful people are those who set goals that capitalize on their strengths. Otherwise, the dreams that begin in our minds sadly stay there.

Understand Your Mindset

Our past also illuminates the way we think, the assumptions we hold, and the beliefs that paint our experiences of the world, and these thought patterns are primarily crafted in our early childhood years. Epictetus, the 1st-century Roman slave who later became one of the greatest philosophers of all time, wrote “It is not external events that cause us distress but the way in which we think about them”. We are not only nature, but also nurture. And whereas understanding our nature connects us to who we are, an awareness of how we approach life can often release us of the barriers that limit our potential.

What are your beliefs about yourself, about others and about the world in general? Do you see it as a friendly place brimming with opportunity or as a dark place full of threats? Do you see yourself as helpless or capable? Are others approachable or should they be avoided?

Ignite Your Passions

Passion is perhaps the most overused word today. And in this overuse, it seems to have lost its meaning. Passion is what makes us continue doggedly despite failure, what keeps us up at night in anticipation, and makes us embrace the day with excitement. Passions could be solitary, such as intellectual or creative pursuits, that get us into moments of flow and we lose all sense of time and ego. Or they could be social, such as belonging to causes that make a difference to the lives of others.

Does your past point you to your spiritual fire? What are the events that have made you excited, outraged, and yearning to go out there and make a difference? Given the challenges before us, it is essential we connect to our passions and identify the needs that they can fulfill. As writer Frederick Buechner says of work: “[It is] the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

In a world where we worship action and busyness, we tend to overlook the importance of reflection. Taking a walk down memory lane and connecting to our past allows us to take our gifts, overcome our challenges and craft a future that, as Steve Jobs once said, “makes a dent in the universe”.

What does your past tell you a

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