Digital clock set to 12 o'clock, 2018.
history pragmatic historian

Using History to Motivate Change

While the title of this post may not exactly match the language at the top of History’s Hierarchy of Purpose … Using the Past to Shape the Future … the sentiment is the same. There is a lot you can do with history to shape the future, which is why I am now on blog post #3 regarding the subject.

When I got the initial idea for this post, I was thinking about how our personal histories help motivate us to change things for future results.

History Can Keep Us Safe

At the most basic level, our inborn historians help keep us safe. Touch a hot stove once and you are not likely to touch a stove top again for fear of the consequences.

Bump your head often enough on a low doorway and soon you’ll automatically be ducking.

Simple stuff, right? While we don’t typically think of this as using history, we most certainly are and to very good effect. History helps us survive.

But, it can also help us thrive if we are intentional about using it.

History Breeds Success

When you have success at an endeavor, whether it’s writing your first essay, cooking your first meal, driving a car, or tying your shoelaces, your internal historian remembers those successes and allows you to build on them, both through remembered experience and through the confidence they produce.

The more automatic these processes become, the less they feel like history. They become just part of who you are. When these are good habits and activities, ones that lead to a fulfilled life, that’s a fabulous thing. When they are destructive or unfulfilling habits and activities, that’s not so good.

History Can Help Improve Our Lives

At this point, it’s time to become conscious of your internal historian so that you can intentionally change what you are doing for a better future.

This may mean recalling how bad a negative behavior makes you feel in order to stop yourself before engaging in it again. What were the ramifications the last time you did this?

It may mean digging deeply into your past to figure out why you keep repeating negative behaviors. Did you have an awful experience with someone close to you as a young child and the fear caused emotional effects that have rippled throughout your life? Unpacking that history (with a qualified professional, if needed) may provide the breakthrough you need to move toward more productive relationships.

If you are currently feeling unfulfilled in some aspect of your life in a way that is not necessarily awful but kind of blah, revisiting your past interests may lift you out of the doldrums.

Perhaps there was a goal you set for yourself that you never had a chance to see to completion and it’s been niggling at you for ages. Uncover it as a historian would, first by examining it with curiosity, then by comparing your original goal and situation with how you and your situation have changed over time. Maybe you have since accumulated the skills and resources you need to accomplish that goal now.

Use history to motivate personal change. That’s why it is encoded into our bodies.

However, we can also use history to motivate us on a larger, societal level. When we see our nations following dangerous paths that have previously led to poor outcomes, we can use those past examples to propel us toward a future that is better for us all. History provides us roadmaps to the positive outcomes that can guide us on our journey.

History's Hierarchy of Purpose infographic by Mary Warner, 2017.
History’s Hierarchy of Purpose infographic by Mary Warner, 2017.