Is hindsight helpful or hurtful?

Posted 1/14/20

Dear Dr. Ted:

As I move into 2020, I notice myself looking back into my past, [and] I reflect on the last year and my life. My guess is this is common for many people with something like the coming of a new year. What are your thoughts - is this a good or bad thing?

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Is hindsight helpful or hurtful?

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This weekly column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

Dear Dr. Ted:

As I move into 2020, I notice myself looking back into my past, [and] I reflect on the last year and my life. My guess is this is common for many people with something like the coming of a new year. What are your thoughts - is this a good or bad thing?

Thanks, Jacob

Dear Jacob:

What a great question and the timing is perfect as people have a tendency to reflect on the past during benchmark moments like New Year's, or other prominent dates that bring up memories.

This is not a good or bad thing; it is normal and natural to move into a contemplative space. It is almost like you are moving through a gateway as you step into another chapter of your life.

When you take a moment and recognize this gateway, your mind will take the opportunity to look at the past and glean information to help your present actions and decisions, with the hope to improve your future. Most people will miss these opportunities as we have a tendency to not pause and gather the data of our historical experiences - then we continuously repeat old habits rather than discern what worked, and what did not, in order to make healthier decisions.

Your taking the time to write this question shows you are taking a moment to think about the past, which can be very healthy. The key is to review your history, not with blame toward others or to negatively attack yourself, but to gently examine what served you in a positive way and what experiences and behaviors did not serve you.

Allowing this contemplative process can allow for healing opportunities and help transform you from being confined and defined by the past to gleaning wisdom to help you in your present actions and decisions - while building new opportunities as you step into your future.

I once heard someone say, "It's OK to look at the past - just don't stare!" This statement makes a lot of sense, if we are continuously looking at the past, we are tripping over the present and falling recklessly into the future. Another saying that seems to fit is, "Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, is the definition of insanity." Taking the time to pause, review, assess your experiences, choices and behaviors will help you in making decisions that will allow you to add a higher level of quality in your life as you move into this new year.

As you review your past, please do this with empathy and love so that you glean the wisdom while releasing blame and guilt.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com.

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