When contemplating a major change in your life, have you tempered the risky future by offering yourself some variation of a return to the past?

You accept a new job, and you tell yourself, “If it doesn’t work out, I can always get my old job back.”

You’re excited about your impending marriage, but you remind yourself, “If it doesn’t work out, there’s always divorce.”

“If I don’t do well in school, I can always drop out.”

“If I don’t like this new town, I can always move back.”

Do you see a pattern in “if it doesn’t work out...” kind of thinking?

You’re focusing on what you’re leaving behind, not the future. You’re planning to revert before you’ve even gone forward.

The commonality is that you expect your future scenario to fail. Can you set yourself up for failure?

Absolutely. When you make your escape plan center stage, it shows a halfhearted commitment. You’ve looked for the emergency exit doors before you’ve even arrived at your destination. You’re tethered to the past, preventing you from marching resolutely into the future. It’s like pushing off a boat to sail while you’re still anchored; you’re working against yourself. No progress.

You’re stuck in the past if you’re using the same standards of past successes and happiness to measure the new. And when you fail, as measured by the old standards, you’ll regret attempting the new.

To break your tether to the past:

1. Define your realistic expectations for the future. What do you feasibly hope to gain.

For example, with a new job, do you expect higher, new challenges, increased responsibilities? In a new marriage, do you expect the joys and challenges of melding two distinct lives into a unified partnership?

Moving to a new town or different state, are you expecting a more compatible lifestyle without having to undergo the inconvenience of having to find new doctors, new banks, new grocery stores? The key is to explicitly state reasonable expectations.

2. Set a reasonable timeframe to adjust to your new future — six months, one year? You need time to establish a comfort zone of understanding your new job, new partner, new neighborhood. Familiarity is not an overnight concept, and you need familiarity to assess the new reality objectively.

3. Once you’ve reached the end of the reasonable timeframe you’ve set, assess the need for modification to your expectations, priorities, and or goals, and then implement.

Perhaps the new job didn’t offer the new opportunities you had expected, so you can schedule a conference with your employer to discuss the disparity between expectations and reality. Or it’s harder than you expected to coalesce your individualities into a new marriage partnership; work on it together.

The danger in giving up too easily on the new and reverting to the old is your potential regret in making the change at all. That regret can easily rob you of the joys to be found in future changes and can lead to paralysis for doing anything new and different: “it never works out, so I am better off with what I have now.”

You’re either moving forward or backwards. Choose to move forward and grow.