Nostalgia-The Way We Were.
“Memories, like the corners of my mind, misty water coloured memories of the way we were.”
Have you ever been accused of living in the past?
Always living in the ‘good old days’?
In previous blogs, I have attempted to tackle the subject of change. However, more and more I am noticing different reactions in people, the most common is nostalgia.
What creates or stimulates nostalgia?
- Positive or negative change in working status
- Positive or negative change in working conditions
- Positive or negative changes in personal and professional relationship status
- Positive or negative changes in living arrangements
- Positive or negative changes in processes, procedures or laws
- Positive or negative changes in sobriety!
See the common thread? Change.
When change is imposed on people, whether at work through restructuring, or changes in family or relationship status, there is a tendency to look back to when we either remembered that things were better, or when we perceived them to be better, even though at the time we didn’t realise it. Why? Because we were probably comparing that with a time before that too, rinse and repeat! That is the thing with nostalgia, like hindsight it really is wonderful. But, it is also poisonous.
When people resist change or face uncertainty it is so easy to look back, often with affection to the way things used to be. As the old song says “Could it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line, if we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we? Could we?” It is so easy to go back to that familiar place, or comfort zone. When people continue to look back, they fill themselves with false hope, negotiating with themselves to make things better, creating a false haven in which to wallow and dwell until the change process has become bearable. It is in essence a coping mechanism, nothing wrong with that, however when sustained it is impossible to look forward, and when people around try to move on, they are infected by the acceptable positive face of living in the past, nostalgia.
Change stimulates the nostalgia gene, it makes us react, turning our head backwards. Natural reactions to imposed change, where there is little control of decision-making, especially if this is perceived as negative or destructive.
How can we combat perceived negative nostalgia?
Time. To each of the afore mentioned stimulants or situations a level of stress, pressure, worry or anxiety will a part. People need time to adjust and if that time is denied or restricted without consent, resistance will continue longer than necessary. In organisations this can have a direct effect on culture, morale, productivity, reputation and profitability. Sometimes this time is not given, as the rate of accelerated change is required for survival. Conversely, give too much time and nothing will get done, in fact things will simply stand still.
In personal situations like relationships, to much time can create overanalysing and mistrust when meeting new people. We pre-judge based on previous experience. Ever heard of people who have been in abusive relationships, moving onto other abusive relationships? it could be suggested that nostalgia, amongst other factors, has created such a comfort zone for them, when they look back, that it becomes a normal expectation, therefore acceptable, part of the package, when clearly it is not, and the individual really doesn’t want it. Yet they almost seek it out, unable to move on.
Presence. Mindfulness teaches us to appreciate he hear and now, this minute, this moment. By focussing on the moment we are able to differentiate between expectations and aspirations, the former being more forced, the latter more fluid. This latter approach allows us to accept and not judge. Judgement, or lack of it plays a big role in Mindfulness. When change comes about, we instantly make a judgement on it, in terms of outcomes and effect. If we remove judgement we have more control, more acceptance on the moment, the now.
An exercise in Mindfulness.
Try it. Sit down, take three deep breaths, and focus on the in and out motion of the breath, the feeling, the sound, the sensation. Do it again for ten counts. Done that? Did your mind wander off, did you lose focus, it happens, try again, let the thoughts happen, just don’t judge them; try to come back to the breath.
By repeating and practicing this over for longer periods, you will be able to lift yourself out of nostalgia, bring yourself without judgement into the present moment. The result is a sensation of calm, more control, less anxiety and the ability to accept change quicker.
Time and Presence are so important when dealing with change and the inevitable nostalgic reaction. Nostalgia should be warm and comfortable, not a poison that creates resentment, anxiety and fear of change. I will let the song end this blog “So it’s the laughter we will remember, whenever we remember. The way we were.”