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Mental Health

How to Change the Past Without a Time Machine

We’ve been told it over and over again: You can’t change the past. But in a way, that’s a big fat lie. You can change the past, and I’m not talking about time travel. Our mind is a super computer with power to process and correct any information. We have the ability inside of us to change the past, but it may not be in the ways you think.

Why the Past Matters

When I was younger, I remember learning about the Declaration of Independence in school. I was fascinated by the concept of simply claiming, by way of a statement and signature, that things were no longer to be a certain way. I drafted up my own Declaration of Democratic Independence and turned it in to my teacher, telling her I no longer needed history class.

Not surprisingly, I got a visit from the principal the next day. He looked me straight in the eye and asked: “Why do you think we need history?”

I don’t remember what I said (I think a lot of uhhhs and mmms were involved), but I do remember the response he chimed in with: “When we drive a car, we use a rear view mirror to move forward. History allows us to do the exact same thing. We move forward with the help of the past.”

At the time I still couldn’t really understand why a bunch of wars and dead guys allowed me to live my life any better, but I smiled, nodded, and thanked my principal for his time, running back to class, just grateful for the fact I didn’t get detention.

Change the Past. Change History.

I always find it interesting to watch shows and movies that take place in a time of History that is not our own. I often wonder if the characters would really be like that or if they are simply projections of our current worldviews…

I don’t know for certain. But I think it might be extra satisfying to watch something that rights the wrongs of history and spices up a story with modern ideals. When you think about it, we actually do this exact same thing with our own mind and memories every day, as well.

Memories are lies (and truths), kind of.

Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd wrote an interesting book called The Time Paradox. In it, they explain that memories don’t play out the exact same way every time we bring them up. Memories are reconstructions of the past based on our current understandings of the world. Memories change, little by little. They fluctuate. They are filtered.

So, the way we remember something when we are five is very different than how we remember it at age 50. We see the world differently at different stages in our life.

Our memories are truths only because of the meaning and filters we give to them.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about how our minds don’t experience things in a straightforward manner at all. In our brains we have different selves. We have a memory-self, a remembering-self, and a experience-self They categorize things differently, asking questions like: “How was this event as a whole” vs “How does it feel now?”

As a result of this, our selves are in conflict. Our memories can become faulty or mixed.

The Past Is Today

The mind gives meaning, definition, and reality to our memories in a very powerful way. So much so, that we should be utilizing every opportunity we have to make sure our brain is functioning at peak positivity levels. The way we view our past very literally determines how we live today.

People who view the past in a positive way (even if that means exaggerating circumstances or ignoring pieces and parts of it) are more inclined to be happier, healthier, and more successful. People who view the past negatively, however, tend to have more anger, anxiety/depression, and low self-esteem.

Want to know the good news?

We can change the past simply by changing the way we feel about it! Our brain literally defines the world we live in. If we change our focus, our attitudes, and beliefs, we have the power to change our realities.

New Meanings. New Insights.

It’s not about delusion. It’s not about pretending. We can change the past simply by giving it new definitions and filters.

The only thing we can control in life is the meaning we give to things. And this is magical. Because meaning is everything. When we give positive meaning to events in the past, we get more positivity back, today!

We get to define our story, from past to future, so let’s make it a good one. Today.

Call to Action

The mind is an incredible tool: It’s a time machine, it’s a film screen, it’s a history book, and it has the power to change the world. It has the power to change the past.

Next time you recall a bad event or memory from life, try to look at it through rose-tinted glasses. Ask yourself questions like: “What did I learn?” and “What am I grateful for because this happened?” And so on.

Then watch the past become something different than it was before. Because when we see the world positively, we change it.

The Future. The Past. The Present. They are all what we make them to be.

This post was written by Mandy Chew for Medium. Read more of Chew’s work at

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