Five Steps to Help Make up for "Lost Time"

"I cleaned up. I quit drinking, I quit doing drugs, I quit stealing, I quit breaking into houses, I tried to quit being a bad human being. I developed a conscience later in life than many. I call it the lost-time-regained dynamic."

-James Ellroy, writer

I was sick last week. To be more accurate, I was sick in bed-almost the entire week, two weeks ago, and then spent a sort of "lost week" last week: Going through the motions at work, spending an inordinate amount of time reading (James Ellroy, actually!) and feeling like crap, and guilty about it, all the while. 

I managed to read about six novels and write over 5,000 words of my own, while being under the weather, but I still felt terrible and strangely guilty! I have been thinking of this concept of "lost time," and what James Ellroy so poignantly referred to as the "lost-time-regained-dynamic," and just thought: Here is one very smart dude. Not to digress too much, but James Ellroy lost his mother at age ten when she was murdered (the case is still unsolved today, sadly) and went literally almost off-the-rails in his early twenties-drinking, drugging, and even spending many years homeless. 

I read his biography years ago, and do not recall the complete details of his recovery, but somehow, he managed to pull it all together. And instead of fretting over lost time, and punishing himself to a greater and greater degree, he made up for it .

But how does one "cash in" time when we have used it up, wasted it, squandered it? Then what? 

What if you've been laid off, had an illness or one in the family, have acute financial trouble, and just, man, cannot see a way out. What if your days turn into weeks and months and years of inactivity. What would be the instigating moment for you to try to forgive yourself, take the baby steps toward real change, and establish a new set of rules for your life? 

Here a few things to think about:

1. What do you really want? 

Do you want to be more creative? Follow a dream that is still burning, but which you have somehow let go along the way? A new job, or position within your company? To become more organized, have more friends, attain a new relationship? All of the above? You need to pinpoint what is really causing you this pain before you can completely move out of living in the past...Take a few hours this week to really think about and focus on this. You can start as small as you like, as suggested by the wonderful Leo Babuta of Zen Habits, who also offer suggestions on taking baby habit steps. 

2. Stop the "Second Arrow" from hitting you in the heart

Buddhists say that it is not the thought that causes us pain, but our perception and the story we build and tell ourselves around this thought. This is not an easy thing to change, especially when it comes to change: We want huge change, stellar results, fast and immediate impact. This, of course, is totally silly. We feel we have wasted so much time-being frustrated, tormented, and bullied by our own conscience. The arrows become sharpened, aimed and fixed over time, our minds-the target. And we live in a culture steeped in a anxiety and worry. Do not buy into this, please. Before you move forward, you need to learn to smile at those arrows, especially as they fall to the ground of your heart, and slowly disappear, and melt away. Try practicing this image, and use it when you go on a walk, or sitting at your desk, or in the morning, or before bed. Did you try it yet? Guess what? You're meditating! (Ha! Tricked ya.) Controlling the mind is the fastest way to control your life. How you react is everything. 

3. March that bully in your brain off the playground (or give him a hug!) 

Now that you've identified those arrows, it's time to see where they are coming from. Who is this bully in your head? Because that is what happening. There is a story you have been telling yourself for such a long while, but feels it has a place, stealing your proverbial lunch money-your confidence and "chutzpah" (which is Yiddish for "balls.") Would you allow this person to talk to your kid, Grandma or dog or cat like that? Hell no, you wouldn't I bet! A wonderful therapist I was practicing with even had me envision these separate voices, if you can imagine that. Talk about powerful. And you know what? I think you will be surprised at the amount of compassion you will have. And that is the start of it all, of course-feeling that love and good-feeling flowing back towards yourself. (And please note, if your inner bully is being personified as an actual person who did you harm in the past or currently, going to a certified therapist is highly suggested here, and recommended.) 

4. Say "I'm Sorry" to yourself...

This is probably the hardest thing to do. Because holding onto this pain is the very thing that has kept us stuck. To forgive oneself is to move forward, and I know this can seem insurmountable. But have you ever read those stories of people who completely change their lives, seemingly in an "aha" moment?  And you're like, "Yeah, sure! Easy for them, not so easy for me because A, B and C..." The thing is, it does become easy, once you begin to focus on the one thing you really want to finish, accomplish or work on, and forgive yourself for not doing it already. It's a little secret that is often left out of these stories. It really IS never too late, I cannot stress this enough. It's just not. You need to know this, and move forward with as much joy as you can muster. (AND, if you have hurt others along your journey to this moment, now might be a good time to call or write to them and apologize, if it feels safe to do so...)

5. Start to say "Thank You" as soon as you open your eyes in the morning...

I do this. And it is not as dorky as it sounds, believe me! Much like making one's bed every day,  (I swear, this also sets up one's day pretty nicely, it actually does work!) it sets you up in ways you cannot really imagine until you start doing it. 

Think about the above steps, and try putting them into practice this week. You will soon start feeling you have more time than you could ever have imagined in life....