Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Simply touching a difficult memory
with some slight willingness to heal
begins to soften the holding and tension around it.


The board meeting is starting. I arrive in a sweat, nervous and apprehensive. For good reason. An executive position has opened in our company, and someone wants that chair. He assumes it’s his, but I know he’s not the right choice. In fact, I’ve already chosen someone else and told them. What’s more, I promised to phone the other guy to let him know, explain my choice, and process the disappointment ... before the meeting.

I “forgot” to do that. Right. The truth is, I chickened out.

The meeting starts, and I announce my choice. A bomb explodes in the room, at least for you know who. Months of conflict follow, all of which could have been avoided had I shown more respect for this person by making that call and working through what we needed to ahead of time.

WHO DOESN’T WISH they could rewind the tape of their lives and do a few things differently? “If I only knew then what I know now ...” We’ve all sung that song. So, what do we do with our troublesome memories?

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Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.


Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a sentiment echoed by Winston Churchill who wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If we take these two together, the remedy for overcoming the tendency to “rinse and repeat” seems to be: remember and learn.

In his book, Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours, Shirzad Chamine explains the difference between explicit and implicit memories. Explicit are conscious, implicit are unconscious, stored away when the hippocampus in our brain goes offline, which it does in high-stress situations. He writes,

It (the hippocampus) also is offline very early in our childhood, which is why some of the most powerful and important experiences of our lives that determine how we think and react to things are hidden from us.

Researchers have shown that our implicit memories result in emotions and impact our decision making without our conscious awareness. We rationalize why we do what we do without being fully aware of the memories, feelings, and assumptions that actually motivated our actions from our implicit storage. [Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine]

Childhood Memories: A Foundation for Our Lives

I have so many happy memories of my family—playing with my brother and sisters, accompanying my father on road trips—plus my share of troublesome recollections, just like everyone else.

None of us grow up untouched by parental imprints, some helpful and others, not so much. We all put together some kind of a decision-making process that’s rarely well constructed. So it’s inevitable that we would lose touch with our authentic selves along the way.

I was programmed, like every other kid, and I sure didn’t receive any education or solid advice about how to become the fullness of myself.

Like most people who look back on their past, I have a long list of regrets. But I’ve learned a few ways to free myself from the burden of self-judgment about memories I can’t change. It helps to decide that I actually chose my experiences back then and that I always did the best I could, given my age, my limitations, and the nature of the circumstances.

I’ve also accepted that everything happens for reasons we won’t ever completely understand and that there are lessons in everything, if we choose to learn them. As I review my past and tour through the memories, I remind myself that I can always make a different choice today.

I want it.

It’s a small insurance company, and I want to buy it. Coach Sharon has run assessments and told me it’s not a good fit for us. But I want it anyway.

I force things. I invest weeks, playing with the numbers, trying everything I can to make it work. It doesn’t. It can’t. Sharon was right.

I finally pull the plug and walk away. I know I should have done that much earlier. Why was I so stubborn? And what do I do now, with all this remorse and self-judgment?

I am carrying around many memories of failure. But memories of failure don’t support us to succeed in the future. Caroline Beaton, writing for, explains:

When animals, be they tadpole or human, win at something, their brains release testosterone and dopamine. With time and repetition, this signal morphs the brain’s structure and chemical configuration to make successful animals smarter, better trained, more confident and more likely to succeed in the future. Biologists call it the Winner Effect.

The not-yet-named Loser Effect is equally cyclical. In one study, monkeys who made a mistake in a trial—even after mastering the task on par with other monkeys—later performed worse than monkeys who made no mistakes. “In other words,” explains Scientific American, they were “thrown off by mistakes instead of learning from them.” Some research similarly suggests that failure can impede concentration, thereby sabotaging future performance. [Caroline Beaton, “This Is What Happens to Your Brain When You Fail (And How to Fix It),” Forbes, April 7, 2016.]

This may sound strange, but we actually only remember something once. From then on, we remember our most recent recollection, and that “memory” keeps changing. Obviously so, because we are changing over time, so we “remember” through a mind that keeps evolving.

The result is like that campfire story game. What’s whispered to me changes as I try to relay what I thought I heard to you, and on it goes around the circle, the story getting altered in every retelling. Likewise, our memories change slightly with every recall. When there’s trauma attached and we were a powerless victim, the remembering ritual can become a rehearsal for future failures.

That’s not a good formula for creating business success or personal happiness.

Changing Habits

I’ve been able to change many of the habits that caused my missteps in the past. The happiness and harmony I experience today is a strong proof of the value of surrendering control and trusting a higher power to run my life. If only I’d known this secret decades ago! For sure, I’ll still be talking about this and learning myself, many decades from now.

How you correct your mistakes will define your
character and commitment to a higher power.


When it comes to memories of abuse, therapists understand that healing often requires surfacing our anger, then navigating through it to feel and release the grief buried underneath. A friend relayed his experience in a men’s workshop where someone noticed scars on one man’s arm and asked about it. “Oh, those are where my father stubbed out his cigarettes and cigars.”

After a moment of shocked silence, the facilitator inquired, “You know that’s not OK, right?” Supported by the others, this man was able to connect with and vent his rage, then drop deep into his grief. A torrent of tears later, he collapsed in the corner, emptied and renewed. He reported later that this became a landmark turning point in his life.


My writing partner lives in Hawaii. He practices a traditional forgiveness ritual called the ho‘oponopono prayer, which is composed of four sentiments: “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.” It’s a kind of lullaby to the self, to address troublesome memories when they arise.

“I’m sorry” is the first essential step, admitting that I made a mistake, that I hurt someone, and I regret it. “Please forgive me” is an expression of humility and remorse, a request for forgiveness from a position of surrender. “Thank you” expresses appreciation for whatever comes back from the other person. Finally, “I love you” affirms the choice I’m making now. Whatever the injury, this is what I want now, love to share, with no strings attached.

Ho‘oponopono can be performed any time with any person, often done when they are not present. You might consider making a list of remembered incidents where you hurt others. Then bring each person to mind, one at a time, and direct the prayer toward them.

You could try this right now. Think of someone you hurt in the past, picture them in your mind, and silently say these words, making sure to pause as you go so you can really feel the meaning of what you are saying:

I’m sorry,

Please forgive me,

Thank you,

I love you.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

I write letters to our four children from rehab. When I get out, Kelly invites me to the beach house. The kids are there. Three of them are immediately kind and welcoming. But Marshall, who has always had a strong sense of right and wrong, won’t look at me and won’t talk to me.

On our own in the kitchen, Kelly notices the sadness on my face and asks whats ’ wrong. I share my grief about Marshall and she says, “Well, he doesn’t want to talk to you. He doesn’t care what you say. Hes ’ going to watch what you do!”

I immediately think of something my friend Mark had told me about rebuilding damaged relationships: just keep your word.

Marshall likes pizza from Landofis, a nearby Italian place. So Friday becomes pizza night. There are many Fridays when everyone goes somewhere else, but I still get that pizza. It takes about a year before Marshall and I begin talking again. The “time-out” felt like eternity, but I’m grateful for the healing space it provided.

I didn’t try to be a hero or do anything big. I didn’t try to say the right things. I just picked up the pizza every Friday night. Today, our relationship has never been better.

Any man can be a father,
but it takes someone special to be a dad.


Marshall and I managed to heal our separateness. That counts for a lot because he has a high sense of morality. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it really means something. We laughingly refer to him as “the silent assassin.” He just quietly does his thing. Like being number one at almost everything he tries. We’re friends again now, and that’s a miracle to me.

Maybe healing our past could be simpler than we think. Just develop new constructive habits—like getting pizza every Friday night for a while—stick with them, and refuse to identify as a victim whenever we remember something with regret.

That was then; this is now.
The past is gone.
We’re choosing the future we want
and creating it, one smart choice at a time.

Clearly, if we don’t change habits, we’ll keep creating today what we created yesterday, and our past will become our future. But when we prioritize being true to ourselves, our changed behaviors create a different future. This enables us to reflect back on our past with a more mature understanding. That’s how we can change our past from the future.

Copyright ©2023. All Rights Reserved.
Adapted with permission.
Publisher: Forbes Books.

Article Source: The Success Paradox

The Success Paradox: How to Surrender & Win in Business and in Life
by Gary C. Cooper with Will T. Wilkinson.

bok cover: The Success Paradox by Gary C. Cooper.The Success Paradox is the improbable story of a life and business transformed, told in a warmly authentic style that says: “I hit rock bottom, I surrendered, I began doing the opposite of what I’d been doing before, miracles happened, and here’s what you can learn from my journey.”

With riveting personal details that illuminate his discoveries, Gary details how he defied the odds – not just to survive but to thrive - by implementing a series of paradoxical strategies, fundamentally opposite to anything he’d ever done before. The result is an inspiring book about what happened to him and a blueprint for readers to experience how to surrender and win in business and life.

Click here for more info and/or to order this hardback book. Also available as a Kindle edition and as an Audiobook.

About the Author

photo of GARY C. COOPERGARY C. COOPER was 28 when his father died suddenly, making him CEO of a South Carolina health care business with 500 employees, $25M in revenue, and ten partners much older than him. Two months after his father’s funeral the bank called all their loans, demanding $30M in 30 days. So began Gary’s roller coaster ride into workaholism, alcoholism, near bankruptcy, and family strife, culminating in a doctor’s grim diagnosis: “You have less than a month to live.”

But Gary turned everything around. Today he is sober, healthy, happy, his family is reunited, and his company, Palmetto Infusion Inc., is valued at $400M. How he did it reveals three astounding secrets that turn best business practices upside down.

For more info about Gary, visit For info on the non-profit organization he co-founded with Will Wilkinson, visit