Are You Anchored to the Past or Speeding into the Future? 

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Remco Vrielink

Remco Vrielink
Personal Development Coach

Imagine a device that could track your thoughts throughout the day. A kind of ‘thoughtometer’, if you like. If this device could group your thoughts by future plans, past recollections, and thoughts about the present, which category would the largest portion of your thoughts fall into?

Unless you’re spending most of your day meditating, it’s likely to be either the future or the past.

We’re not only stuck between our unalterable past and an unknowable future, we also interpret our future on the basis of our past, anchoring ourselves to our past self, who is likely to be a different person than we are now.

To gain a fresh viewpoint on the topic, we had a chat with personal development coach, Remco Vrielink.

S.E. Sever: Remco, you once told me great analogy about a boat’s wake not defining its route. Can you please share that analogy with us again?

Remco Vrielink: Yes; it is one of the most powerful analogies I have come across. I first heard it from Alan Watts and later also from Wayne Dyer.

Imagine a boat crossing a big lake. The boat represents your life, and the wake that boat leaves behind shows us where the boat has been—just as our memories of the past tell us what we have gone through.

Let’s say you are standing at the back of the boat, looking right into the wake, and you ask yourself three questions:

1. What is the wake? What is this that I see?
Answer: The wake is the trail that is left behind. Nothing more and nothing less.

2. What is driving the boat?
Answer: The energy that’s being generated by the engine in the present moment is driving the boat. In other words, the direction our lives take comes from our current decisions and actions.

3. Is it possible for the wake to drive the boat? That is, can a trail that is left behind make a boat go in a particular direction?
Answer: Obviously, no. But we seem to ignore this when it comes to our lives. We have a tendency to look at the wake—and all the memories that come with it—and use it to explain why our lives don’t turn out the way we want them to be. But in reality, the wake, our past experiences, are not driving our boat. And as a matter of fact, they can’t.

There’s only one thing that drives the boat today and that is what we do today, on a moment-to-moment basis. Nothing else. The day you fully grasp this, your perspective will radically change.

S.E.: Does this mean we’re all capable of creating a new ‘version’ of ourselves, instead of making some minor ‘upgrades’?

Remco: Creating a new version of ourselves means a minor upgrade, if at all.

Try to see that any version or image you have of yourself is not who you are; it is only the idea of who you are.

For example, thinking of yourself as a bad or unsuccessful writer doesn’t make you an unsuccessful writer, no matter on which past experiences you base that idea. Just like imagining yourself as a great writer isn’t enough to make you a great one.

You are who you are and you do what you do. When you put yourself into the cage of self definition, even when it seems to be ‘positive’, you are limiting yourself and exposing yourself to the pressure and tension of having to live up to that image.

Writing is an art, and creativity needs space and freedom to blossom. Instead of limiting yourself with definitions, grant yourself freedom as the creator of your work.

See if you can stop defining yourself in any way. What do you need it for anyway? Do as you wish right now. Let past experiences be past experiences and just be who you are, without definition. It can be scary in the beginning, I know, but see for yourself what will change.

S.E.: What can we do to stop our past failures haunting us?

Remco: Understand what past failures are. Past failures—or more accurately, past experiences—do not define you today, nor can they prevent you from doing what you choose to do.

“What happened in the past can only show up as a memory today.”

Let’s say you’ve been writing for ten years, but you haven’t been published yet. Do you know what that means? It means that you have been writing for ten years and haven’t been published yet, that’s all! Do you see what I mean?

Your interpretation of the facts in your life is your self-created drama. It doesn’t mean that your writing sucks or that you don’t have talent. It simply means you haven’t been published yet. There can be a billion reasons for that. You choose which meaning you’d like to attach to the fact.

When Colonel Sanders tried to sell his KFC recipe, and Sylvester Stallone pitched his screenplay for Rocky, they both received hundreds of ‘nos’ before they were successful. Maybe tomorrow you’ll receive a phone call and you get your first contract. Who knows? You focus on what you love doing today and give it all your dedication. Don’t lose yourself in rechewing the past.

Shift your focus from involuntary thoughts towards conscious decisions and actions.

S.E.: How about if we tried to be selective by focusing on positive past experiences? Or should we stop watching the wake altogether and take a seat at the prow?

Remco: It is a good thing to be in tune with and learn from the past and not suppress any memories you have. At the same time, make sure that your main focus lies with what you are creating today. A past bestseller is no guarantee for producing another hit, nor does a past flop predict what will happen with your next creation. Only in the present moment can you shape your life. Right now, you have the power and freedom to decide to do or be anything you want. What you decide now is not limited by your past experiences.

S.E.: What if we notice a part of ourselves wanting to stick with an unproductive side of us out of habit? Can you think of any tricks to overcome such situations?

Remco: It is true, our identities can be fragmented: one part of us may suggest that we save money, the other may want to spend it. One day you think you’ve written a great piece, the next day you think it’s not good enough. However, once you notice a part of you is hanging on to a certain pattern, just remember that you are not that part. You are the one noticing that part. You, as the witnessing power, are the captain of the boat.

Awareness is key here. If for example one part of you has a tendency to leave pieces unfinished and instead jump to the next project, and the next one and the next one, without finishing things most of the time, and you notice that as a pattern, then just by being aware of it you can do something about it. Now you know: “Okay; one part of me has the habit of not finishing things”—say to yourself: “I acknowledge that part, and I, as the captain of my ship, choose to finish the part that I am working on right now, no matter what happens, no matter what I think or feel.” It is as simple as that.

The more awareness you have over the different parts of yourself, the more you’ll be able to function independently of those contradicting energies.

S.E.: I find that fear is the enemy of motivation. I’m talking about rooted, abstract fear. Fear of failure, fear of instability, or even fear of success… These kinds of fears can stick to us easily, even if we decide to stand on the prow and look ahead. What’s your advice to detect and overcome deeply rooted worries?

Remco: Everybody is talking about fear these days: we should fight it, overcome it, face it. But fear can also be a friend of motivation, depending on the circumstances.

Let’s have a closer look at fear. What is fear, really? It is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. They can only stick to you when you feed them with your energy by paying them attention. A thought has no power of its own. It runs on the power of your attention. Only when you are interested in it does it start to have some grip on you. Remember that fear can never stop you. It is you buying the fear that stops you.

You don’t even need to get rid of your fear totally; fear can be an excellent teacher. Over the last couple of years my fears have been my pathfinders. Underneath every fear you can find strength. Be attentive and listen closely to what is really going on when fear shows up and you will learn a lot about yourself.

Fear can mean discovery, growth and learning. I would suggest that you turn your fears into friends.

S.E.: Remco, thank you very much for sparing the time for us. And Mashers, we’d love to hear from you. What types of fears do you think you could adopt as friends?


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S.E. is the Founder of Mash Stories. She has had short stories published in fiction magazines across the US and the UK. One of her stories was included in The Subtopian: Selected Stories. Her poetry book, Before Me, is published by Thought Catalog Books, New York. She is currently working on a science fiction novel called Split Watch. You can read some of her short stories and poems at

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