One of the reasons we procrastinate, it is theorized, is that we consistently visualize our future selves as another person. We have no trouble putting off work because that other self will get it done, not really grasping that it will be exactly us who has to make up for this lost time.
There is a reverse to this concept, equally destructive, but rarely investigated.
We view our past self with the same critical eye as if they were the people we turned out to be today.
When we visualize memories either intentionally or unconsciously, we re-ignite a structure of neurons in the brain, essentially reforming the memory from scratch. This is why memories from the distant past are just as vivid as memories from hours ago. What is important to recognize is that this automatic function does not take into account the development one has made throughout their life, or what has happened between the memory’s formation and the present moment. The gap of time is essentially zero.
What remains is the (usually negative) emotion, experienced without context, presented to you as if it is happening this very moment. Bad decisions are re-regretted, without the insight that we would have acted wildly different if who we are now was actually in that position.
I have a few things in my life I regret doing. One painfully acute memory involved calling someone a hurtful name. Many times I have ‘woken up’ into this memory, and realized I was reliving, and arguing with, this terrible past decision. At one point, I decided to consult an old journal to find out when this actually happened.
I was 9 year old.
Can I really hold the Man I am now accountable for this act? I realized at that moment I was causing myself undue, irrational suffering, which was purposeless. I vowed to forgive my past self. My other self. In that way, I hoped I was forgiven in turn by the person I hurt.
Of course living in the world we do, we are subject to a myriad of records and documentation, which follow us through life like a shadow. However, don’t let this make you forget that you are no longer who you were in the past. You should not, within reason, have to answer for things you’ve done or said a decade ago. Especially if this perpetually created trial-of-self is all happening within your mind.