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Summary: Own Your Past Change Your Future: A Not-So-Complicated Approach to Relationships, Mental Health & Wellness by John Delony

Key Takeaways

  • Do you feel stressed, anxious, depressed, or lonely? Do you struggle with your relationships, your thoughts, or your actions? Do you want to heal from your past and create a better future? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you.
  • This summary offers a clear, five-step plan to help you overcome your past traumas and improve your mental health and wellness.
  • If you want to learn more about how to own your past, change your future, and be well, read on. You will discover how to define what trauma is and how to identify it in your life, how to grieve and heal from past hurt and trauma, how to make friends as an adult, how to change your thoughts, and how to assess and evaluate your actions.
  • You will also find out how to apply the practical and actionable steps and exercises that John Delony provides in his book, and how to benefit from his insights and lessons from his own personal and professional experience.
  • You will also get inspired and empowered by his message of hope and healing, and his challenge to take responsibility and ownership of your life.

Own Your Past Change Your Future (2022) provides a simple five-step plan to overcoming past trauma, changing your thoughts and actions, and healing. It will help you grieve your past hurts, make real friends, and set you on a path to wellness.

Introduction: Own your stories and shape your future

John Delony was certain his house was falling apart. He’d noticed cracks everywhere. He’d called friends and contractors to look at the cracks, but they all told him the same: everything was fine. Experts, friends, and his wife were unable to convince Delony that he was imagining things.

It turns out, he wasn’t seeing cracks just in his house, but everywhere. His life was, as he describes it, a “chaotic blur.” He was unable to say no to anything – whatever it was, he was the guy, from board meetings to additional courses to presentations.

Those “cracks” appeared in friends’ houses and work buildings, too. Then they started appearing in his faith, marriage, the economy, politics, and the list goes on.

One stormy rainy night at 3:00 a.m. Delony realized there was no leaking, and the house wasn’t falling apart. He was. And although he had trusted friends, he found he simply didn’t know what to do next.

Of course, everyone is different, but at some point in your life, you’ve likely experienced your own cracks and trauma, too – it’s part of being human. We’re all bound together by the stories of our lives. None of us is alone in our struggles.

In this summary, you’ll find out what you need to do to confront this trauma, have great relationships, and live a better life. How? By looking at your old stories, learning to heal, and writing new stories which will set the course of your life going forward. And all it takes is following five simple steps.

Summary: Own Your Past Change Your Future: A Not-So-Complicated Approach to Relationships, Mental Health & Wellness by John Delony

Step one: Own your stories

Everyone has their own story, their own life. Perhaps you’ve suffered from neglect, loneliness, or grief. Or maybe you’ve been dumped or cheated on by a loved one, been the target of physical abuse, or been fired from work. You were born into bad circumstances – or good. Or you live in the “wrong” part of the world, or the “right” one.

Whatever your unique set of circumstances, your life is a web of stories of past if-onlys and what-ifs, of present what-is, and of future things that still might come to pass.

You’ve likely been hurt at some point in the past – mildly or tragically – perhaps in ways other people have difficulty imagining or understanding. But the first step in moving forward is to acknowledge that your pain comes from your stories. The second is to understand that the solution also comes from your stories. Your stories help you make sense of the world, organize it, and shape your experience of it. For this reason, you need to take ownership of your stories, and when you do, you’ll also be able to influence what happens next.

In Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, he posits that “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” In practice, this means taking a long hard look at yourself in the mirror, facing your stories, and owning them. Period. This is the first step to overcoming your past and healing.

There are four distinct types of story in your life. First, the stories you’re born into – your cultural background, your faith or church, your family, your traditions. Second, the stories others tell you – your worth, your abilities, and your value – perhaps told to you by your parents and teachers, your enemies and friends, institutions. Then come stories that actually happen. These are stories about your reality – you bought a house, someone died, you had twins, they gave the job to someone else, and so on. Finally, are the stories you tell yourself – who you are, the way you judge yourself.

All these stories have a huge influence on everything about you from the way you walk into a room to what you wear, what you drive, where you live, and how you spend your leisure time. Some stories are fleeting, others longer-lasting. Whatever the case, you need to own them and begin to write new ones. Let’s see how:

Start by grabbing a notebook and then question yourself about each of the four story types. For example, when it comes to relationships, think about your marriage, your parenting skills, your extended family, or your digital relationships.

Remember that everyone’s stories are different. Whole books have been written about the stories we carry with us. But you can think about your stories as bricks you carry around in a rucksack. Perhaps you were born already carrying a ton of these bricks, perhaps fewer.  But you’ll likely find more bricks to carry as you progress through life – and perhaps shed a few along the way, too. One thing is for sure, though, you need to unpack those bricks and deal with them to move forward. Keep writing down stories that come to mind. And own those stories.

Step two: Acknowledge your reality

Now you’ve owned your stories, the next step is to acknowledge your reality. To do this, examine how far away your present reality is compared with where you hoped your life would be. Be honest about your relationships and about the choices you’ve made. Face the truth about your partner, your kids, and about your own childhood.

This will be tough and it will hurt. You might find you need to grieve because of the gap between where you wanted to be in life and where you actually are.

Grief takes many forms – none of them are wrong. It may be brief such as the disappointment of not being able to walk your kid to school on their first day due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It may last a lifetime such as the grief which follows the death of a loved one. Whatever the cause, grieving is important – it’s an integral part of life. It allows you to acknowledge the loss you’ve suffered and move forward, to begin to heal.

Grief allows you to acknowledge that things won’t go back to “normal” – there’s no going back to what was there before, only moving on. You need to write a new story. You can’t gauge what is to come by what went before. Just as after 9/11 the Twin Towers were gone, remaining only in photos and memories, something new and stronger had to take their place, the same is true for your new stories. Your life will be different – it’s about what comes next.

Step three: Connect

The third step to healing and wellness is connection. Now, you may be thinking that you cope quite well without other people, thank you very much, but life really can’t be done alone. You need human connection – we all do. Humans are social animals – we need that closeness.

Now you might have been hurt by others in the past. Perhaps loneliness has actually served you well – for a season or for most of your life – but if you want to heal and be well, you need to reconnect. And that means with friends, family, work colleagues, church members, whoever.

You need to connect with people who’ll show up when you need them, people who you’ll show up for when they need you. In today’s world that might seem easier said than done, impossible, even. But it’s not.

There are some relationships you simply don’t get to choose – relatives, in-laws, work colleagues, neighbors, or even your kid’s teacher, for instance. But it’s possible for them to also become your friends. What exactly defines friendship, though?

Delony says there are four questions you can ask yourself to determine who is a friend and who is simply an acquaintance:

First, can you tell them the good things in your life? Do you share the big moments in your life with them? Do they celebrate with you? If they’re not interested, they’re simply not your friends.

Second, can you tell them the bad things? Who do you call when you’ve really messed up? Who is going to hold you accountable for your actions? And yes, there are plenty out there who want to hear your bad news, but are they trustworthy? Or are they just after juicy gossip? Your friends are the ones with whom you can be completely honest.

Third, can you tell them about your darkest moments? The bad memories and stories in your life? Times you were hurt? A friend is someone who’ll listen to you and won’t respond with clichés or unsolicited advice. And the next day they’ll come back for more until you’re done.

And fourth, the biggie, will they show up? Will they be there for you at 3.00 a.m. when you have an emergency? Will they help you move house, drop you off at the airport for your early flight, or perhaps even get a tattoo with you? Will you show up for them too?

Here are six ways you can begin to find these real friends:

One: make it a priority – decide to do it and make the effort.

Two: consider shared experiences. Take a class, join a team, go hunting or fishing with someone, watch a concert together, start a club, join a musical group. Whatever it is, share it.

Three: be the one to make the move. Ask people over. Ask them if they want to be your real friend – literally. It might be weird. It might be awkward. But ask anyway.

Four: always say yes to invitations and adventures when you can. Again, it’s all about those shared experiences.

Five: get out of your neck of the woods and be where other people are!

And six: find people to serve. Find somewhere to volunteer, somewhere you can make a difference. Use your skills and talents. Better still, invite people to join you in these activities, too.

Step four: Change your thoughts

You’ve already seen that in order to change your life you need to own your stories, acknowledge your reality, and get connected. Now it’s time to change your thoughts.

What exactly does that mean? Well, you know those voices you hear in your head that never stop commenting, passing judgment, approving of what you do, or otherwise? We all experience that: all day, every day. You might not be able to stop them, but you can control them.

Let’s try a little experiment. Close your eyes. Now picture a purple elephant wearing a yellow hat. Is the elephant sitting or standing in your picture? It’s not important, but you can see that elephant, right? And that clearly demonstrates the power you have over your thoughts.

So whatever thoughts do come into your mind, whether they’re about news of wars, climate change, money woes, faith questions, or whatever else, you have the power to decide whether you meditate on those thoughts or simply let them go.

You also need to be discerning about which thoughts you allow in. Be conscious of the media you consume. You don’t need to pretend the bad and evil in the world don’t exist, but you can stop endlessly doom-scrolling. Instead, listen to good music, watch uplifting films and series, and read more beautiful things.

You should also be intentional. This means examining your thoughts and asking yourself, Is this moving me closer to who I want to be? If not, let those thoughts go. Open yourself up to possibility and opportunity. Stop carrying those negative thoughts – weed them out, don’t give them room to grow. It’ll take time, but practice daily. The same with letting the positive thoughts in and cultivating them.

Here’s an exercise that can help you control your thoughts. Start by writing them down. Keep a small notebook. Write every day. Notice how your thoughts also relate to your stories. When you write them down, you’ll gain more control over them. Think about what you feel, too. Is there any truth in your thoughts or are they simply fakes? Look for the evidence to support them. Dismiss the lies, and confront the truths. Take control of those thoughts.

Step five: Change your actions

And now we’re on to the fifth and final step – change your actions. This can be tricky. You see, your brain prefers the familiar – it thinks of these as being “safe.” This is why you’re destined to repeat the same things again and again. Unless you change, that is.

Better the devil you know? Definitely not. Rattle your cage and take action! Here’s how:

First, stop with the “I’m not an exercise person” and “I’ve never been a reader” and the myriad other excuses you tell yourself. Even if some of those things are true, you’re never too old, too poor, or too whatever to take action.

Even not taking an action is an action in itself. But is not taking action getting you closer or further away from the person you want to be? So become disciplined. Make that decision now and don’t let the excuses get in the way of your achievements.

Take a look at what you’re already doing. Write an inventory. This gives you a point of reference. Think about how you treat your body from how often you go to the doctor and dentist to whether you’re getting enough sleep. Then think about your family, friends, and community. Are you making enough time for them? When you’ve done that, think about your work. How do you feel about it? Are you making enough money? Is it fulfilling? Next, what about your faith? Your home environment? The way you treat others?

Then think about the person you are and compare it with the person you want to be. What is the identity of that person? What actions do you need to take in order to get there? For example, if you’re not happy with your job, what will you do to get a new one? Look for the “little wins” too – things that will move you forward to your desired identity. Always late? Then set an action never to be late again. Get a watch. Plan. Set your watch. Set your alarm clock. Get your clothes ready for work the night before. Consider ignoring your social media until later in the day!

Take time to evaluate the actions you take, too. Check which new actions are working toward the goal of the new you. Stop doing some things. Start doing some new ones. Small steps are the way ahead.

Keep repeating these five steps and continue to heal and improve.


There are five incredibly simple steps you can take to regain control of your past and write your future. First, take ownership of your stories. Second, acknowledge your reality. Third, get connected. Fourth, change the way you think. And fifth, change the way you act. That’s it!

But remember although they sound simple, it’s a hard path to take. Most people won’t even set out on this path. Some may, but will give up. But if you do take this route, it will change your life.

Be strong. You can do it. Start now!

About the Author

John Delony


Psychology, Mindfulness, Happiness, Personal Development, Self-help, Nonfiction, Health, Audiobook, Leadership, Spirituality, Motivation


The book is a self-help guide that aims to help readers overcome their past traumas and improve their mental health and wellness. The author, John Delony, is a psychologist, podcaster, and national bestselling author who works with Dave Ramsey, a popular financial guru.

Delony argues that many people are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and other mental health issues because they are carrying the weight of their past experiences and the stories they tell themselves about them. He proposes a five-step plan to help readers heal from their past and change their future. The steps are:

  • Define what trauma is and how to identify it in your life. Delony explains that trauma is not only caused by extreme events like abuse, violence, or war, but also by everyday experiences like rejection, criticism, or neglect. He also shows how trauma affects our brain, body, and behavior, and how to recognize the signs of trauma in ourselves and others.
  • Grieve and heal from past hurt and trauma. Delony teaches how to process and release the emotions and memories that are associated with trauma, and how to forgive ourselves and others. He also shares practical tools and exercises to help readers cope with grief and heal from their wounds.
  • Make friends as an adult. Delony emphasizes the importance of having meaningful and supportive relationships in our lives, and how they can improve our mental and physical health. He also gives tips and advice on how to make new friends, maintain existing friendships, and deal with toxic or unhealthy relationships.
  • Change your thoughts. Delony reveals how our thoughts shape our reality, and how we can change our negative or limiting beliefs into positive and empowering ones. He also explains how to use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to challenge and reframe our thoughts, and how to practice gratitude and mindfulness to enhance our well-being.
  • Assess and evaluate your actions. Delony encourages readers to take action and make changes in their lives that align with their values and goals. He also helps readers identify and overcome the barriers and obstacles that prevent them from taking action, such as fear, procrastination, or perfectionism. He also suggests ways to create healthy habits and routines, and to celebrate and reward our progress and achievements.

The book is a helpful and inspiring resource for anyone who wants to improve their mental health and wellness, and to live a more fulfilling and purposeful life. Delony writes in a clear, conversational, and humorous style, using anecdotes, examples, and research to illustrate his points and keep the reader’s attention.

He also shows empathy and compassion for his readers, and shares his own personal stories and struggles to relate to them. He does not offer quick fixes or easy solutions, but rather challenges and guides his readers to take responsibility and ownership of their lives, and to make positive and lasting changes. He also provides practical and actionable steps and exercises that readers can apply to their own situations, and that can help them achieve their desired outcomes.

The book is not only informative, but also motivating and empowering. Delony’s message is that we can own our past, change our future, and be well.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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