Your Past is not Your Future . . .

Consider the following scenario:

Two young ladies come out of a restaurant late at night and start walking towards the parking garage a few blocks up.  Only a few streetlights are working and it is very dark. It has been raining heavily the past few hours.  As they are about half way to their cars, a man emerges out of the alley and staggers towards them.

The first woman screams: “Get away from us! Help! Help! We’re being attacked.”

The second woman asks: “Do you need help?”

Same situation, two very different responses.  What’s really going on here?

Let’s leave the man out of it, since at this point neither woman knows anything about him, his motives, his situation or his condition.  But what is worth looking into are the obviously very different reactions. Obviously one of the women’s thoughts are filled with fear of a mugging, a robbery, or worse.  She was not planning this mode of thinking as she exited the restaurant, the thoughts sprang into her mind the moment she saw the man emerge from the alley.

The other woman happens to be a nurse and her thought patters about staggering strangers are very different.  What first came into her mind was her nursing training and thoughts about helping the injured.

What I am talking about here are the habitual thought patterns that we all have. Most of the time we are not even aware of these recurring thought patters, but they can be seen very clearly in our behaviour.  Different thoughts create different behaviors.

One of the recurring and habitual thought patterns of many people is to continually relive the past and make it real over and over again.  Sometimes that is good, as when we have thoughts that remind us of our inner skills and capabilities.  But more often, people keep reliving, through their thinking, negative aspects of their past.

Thoughts are things.  -Thomas D. Willhite

It’s a very empowering and uplifting principle to learn and internalize.  The past is not your future.  By changing your thinking, you can change your behavior, which goes a long way to changing your circumstances.  I am not talking about standing in front of a mirror and shouting out load how great and wonderful you are.  That form of “positive motivation” disappears very quickly.  I am talking about the on-going subconscious thoughts that we rarely pay attention to, yet which so often drive our daily behavior.

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his thinking.  -William James

Do you openly talk to strangers or move away?  Do you engage others in discussions at a party or do you wait for someone to talk to you?  Do you seek out new things to do or stay at home and watch television?  Check out your habitual thinking and you will begin to see very clearly what drives your decisions and behaviour.

What thoughts occupy your mind most frequently?  Are they helping you build a positive future, or reliving the past?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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4 Responses to Your Past is not Your Future . . .

  1. This reminded me of that psychological game in the 60’s when you’re walking through a forest and a bear approaches – what do you do.? I stunned everyone by saying i’d offer him some honey – which seem logical to me, having grown up on Pooh Bear…. or don’t Americans know about Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear????


  2. Hi John,
    I found you on Mimi’s blog and glad I did! I wanted to say that I wholeheartedly agree about our thought patterns and how they literally create our reality. I wrote a series for children, geared to teach the young ones about this concept as well as an introduction to many universal laws such as ’cause and effect’. If our parents had had some awareness of this when we were little, and nurtured this belief, how different our lives might have been! Great post 🙂


  3. Elyse Pintar says:

    It is such a joy to reconnect (by reading your words anyway) with someone who knew Mr. Willhite. I only had the privilege of being near him when I attended PSI 7 up at Clearlake in the summer of ’83 and one event.. 35 years after I attended my first seminar, the things I learned there have had a profound affect on my entire life. Just yesterday I was pondering the meaning once again of “if it feels good tomorrow, do it today”. In fact the things I learned from that experience are so enmeshed with just about everything I do it would take days to explain it all. My gratitude is immense.

    I remember you, too. I remember your story about the Buick Riviera. “Nice Riviera, John” . I don’t usually comment on people’s blogs – but to be honest I thought just about everyone betrayed him and scattered to the wind. Bless you for being the kind of human being who lives those principles.



    • Elyse: thanks for writing. Tom Willhite was truly a great teacher. I too remember many of his sayings and leadership principles even after all these years. While the person may be gone, the wisdom endures. All the best and hope I can continue to write meaningful blogs that touch people half as much as Tom did.


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