The Tyranny of What Was

If You’d Like To Improve Your Quality Of Life, Celebrate Moments As They Happen

As a consequence of a conscious and deliberate decision to change my lifestyle and become healthy, I took up running in January 2013. To my surprise, I loved it and I was hooked. Over the next three years I trained enough to take part in two sprint triathlons, the March for Honour, a half-marathon, and a lot of road and trail races around the world. I’m no elite athlete, but the process of training, challenging myself to improve, and the act of racing kept me engaged in running, and resulted in a lot of satisfaction for me.

Then last May, I had to stop running due to a health condition that required many months to resolve. Though I was able to continue cycling, I couldn’t run. I gained some weight. I grumbled. I tried a run in September thinking maybe the doctor was wrong.

He wasn’t.

So I waited, grumbling.

In January I was finally given permission to take up running again, IF (and this was heavily emphasized) I could ease into running gradually with lots of recovery time. ‘Sure. No problem,’ I said.

I decided to do the Couch to 5K (C25K) program that I had done when I first started running. I enjoyed that, and the process seemed painless and would certainly be gradual enough to keep the doctor happy.


This has been one of the most difficult, discipline-required things I have ever done. These runs are awful. I am required to alternate walking (which I hate) with “a slow easy jog” for 30 minutes at a time. I find myself mentally shrieking, at myself. I should: Go faster…go farther…have better form…not be so lame…not hurt so much  …. and on and on and on. The problem is that I am constantly comparing now to what was then. I’m remembering in my head how fast I was. How easy it seemed. How far I could run. The consequence is a sense of futility and discouragement now. The tyranny of remembering what was got in the way of what is.

I’m running again so the health problem is finished. Positive.

I’m good on the stamina because I was able to cycle when I couldn’t run. Positive.

I’ve got time to build up my form again before the first race. Positive.

I’m so freaking slow! Negative.

That’s all that matters, apparently, because that one thought outweighs everything else about running. Everything.

The tyranny of what was …even when it wasn’t.

We actually remember things inaccurately, and the memories of the past are coloured and modified by how we feel NOW as we recall those experiences. My memories of running have suddenly become mythically positive, and running now, epically negative. There is no balance, past or present. Truthfully, it wasn’t all good back then. If I actually think about it, I was constantly sore, and often grumbled about my run times, believing for all the training I was doing, and how sore I was, that my stopwatch ought to say something so much better than it did.

I’m talking about running, but the truth is, we do this to ourselves with nearly everything.  Relationships, work, hobbies, sports, whatever. This poor thinking habit can rob us of joy and significantly impact quality of life. If we spend our lives thinking about how something was done in the past, we completely miss the opportunity to craft something entirely new and appropriate to now. There’s no way to be happy when habitual comparison to the past robs us of the moments of satisfaction in the present.

We humans seem to live, almost by default, with a feeling of regret. I mean we have an ability to remember the past and to lament or grieve something we can no longer influence or change. The feelings we experience can be every bit as powerful – positive or painful – as we felt at the time. While this is a pleasant thing many times, other times, this phenomenon can cause great distress.

If you’d like to improve your quality of life, celebrate the moments as they happen @ and leave the past where it belongs. Those experiences and accomplishments are good historical markers which prove that we have done things.

“I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past.” -Clara Barton

Dr. Susannah-Joy Schuilenberg, RPC, MPCC-S, DAAETS, ACS

Originally published in bazaar Kuwait 02.03.2017 (Edited)

#running #mentalhealth #couch25K #selfdiscipline #marathon #trailrace #qualityoflife