How Your Brain Keeps You Stuck in the Past (+ How to Escape)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Becoming Supernatural" by Joe Dispenza. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you stuck in the past? Why is it so difficult to let go of the past and turn a new page?

According to Joe Dispenza, the author of Becoming Supernatural, our brains are literally living in the past because we keep replaying the thought-feeling patterns created by past experiences. In order to break free from this cycle, we need to interrupt our habitual thought-feeling patterns by forcing ourselves to think positively.

Here’s how your thought-feeling patterns keep you stuck in the past and how positive thinking can help you break free from this cycle.

Shift From the Known to the Unknown 

Dispenza says our brains are quite literally stuck in the past. Whether we have trauma or not, most of us are living in a state wherein our past constantly determines our present and our future. This means nothing in our life can change—the status quo is just reinforced day after day. He says in order to make any life change, we must shift from the known to the unknown, thereby allowing for new possibilities. 

Think about your daily routines. It may go something like this: you wake up, have coffee, check your email and social media notifications, take a shower, get dressed, and head to work. At your job, you probably have a regular daily routine, and then you’ll go home and have your evening routine. Dispenza says that by doing things the same way every day, we train our brains to always expect the same things, so the same things will continue to happen. 

For example, if you expect your commute to work to be stressful, you’ll create that stress by anticipating it. And your whole morning routine may be triggering that expectation in advance. By changing your morning routine, or taking a different route to work, you may be able to avoid some of that stressful experience by allowing for the possibility of something new. In other words, if you ever want something different to happen in your life, you’ll need to interrupt those habitual patterns so your brain can start expecting something new. 

Dispenza emphasizes, however, that changing your external circumstances and daily routines is only one step in the process—a deeper internal shift also needs to happen to radically change your life. This is where meditation comes in. 

Tackling Fear of the Unknown

While it’s true that making a life change often involves stepping into the unknown, this can be a source of fear and uncertainty for many. For some people, the fear of the unknown can be so paralyzing that they’re unable to make any changes at all—this is called metathesiophobiaThis fear can be so strong that it prevents individuals from making any kind of changes that could potentially improve their lives. 

Someone trying to make positive changes to address anxiety issues may particularly struggle with this step, as these individuals may find comfort in their familiar routines. Some psychologists suggest dealing with these fears through hypnosis, and some of Dispenza’s methods in Part 2 resemble hypnotic techniques. There are also hypnosis methods you can try out on yourself

Because you can only ever create new possibilities for yourself when you are free from your familiar past and predictable future, Dispenza says you must learn to elevate your thought patterns—meaning, think more positive thoughts. This will then create more positive emotions, and eventually, a better future will follow. 

Dispenza draws on concepts from the law of attraction to explain that a positive life change requires positive intentions. He says your intentions (thoughts) and emotions generate electrical and magnetic charges in your brain. The combination of these, then, becomes your electromagnetic field. In order to attract better things into your life, you must raise the vibration of your electromagnetic field. When you do this, experiences, situations, and people with a similar electromagnetic frequency will gravitate toward you. 

Dispenza stresses that just having the intention is not enough. To turn the unknown (a possibility) into material reality requires intention and sincerely felt emotion. So, if you want to create positive change in your life, you need to generate emotional states that are greater than the ones you typically feel. And you need to maintain those elevated emotional states as much as possible as you go through life. This, of course, is easier said than done. Some techniques for how to do this will be discussed in Part 2. 

The Law of Attraction

While science does support the idea that our bodies have an electromagnetic charge, Dispenza’s idea that this energy attracts similar energy is called the law of attraction, which dates back to the New Thought movement of the early 19th century. This concept is central to the book The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, which says that your thoughts generate a magnetic energy that will pull that same frequency of energy toward you. 
Similar to the Hindu and Buddhist concept of karma,

the law of attraction can affect you negatively or positively, and it happens whether you are conscious of it or not. Byrne argues that you can use this to re-create your life, by consciously directing your thoughts to generate the energy you want to attract. This process is frequently referred to as visualization. If you want to attract a certain kind of partner or friends to your life, for example, you should envision them. Think about every detail of the kinds of qualities they would have, and then believe that they exist and they’ll come to you. Then make space for that person or people in your life, and be open to finding them.
How Your Brain Keeps You Stuck in the Past (+ How to Escape)

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Here's what you'll find in our full Becoming Supernatural summary:

  • How to use the power of your thoughts to transform your physical reality
  • Why you may be trapped in a vicious cycle of negativity
  • A unique meditation method you can use to reprogram your subconscious

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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