Is Looking Back Helpful?

Highway 2 from a rearview mirror

Looking back: Is it helpful?

Do you ever look back at past events in your life and ponder them, perhaps for a minute, an hour or longer? I know that I do so, and I didn’t thinkย negatively of that activity until Iย read these lines on Twitter the other day:

You’re on the right track when you become uninterested in looking back.

Firstly, my apologies that I didn’t write down the name of the Twitter user who shared that line on the social network. I wrote the words on a scrap piece of paper and have been mulling over the line ever since then.

Here’s what struck me about the words. I don’t necessarily agree with them. I mean, isn’t it all about HOW you look back on your life? If you are taking a look at what has happened and are learning from past mistakes, then it is a positive thing to be looking back, in my opinion. It is self-reflection, essentially. If, however, when you look back, you do so primarily with a goal to wallow in negativity and self-loathing, it is not a healthy thing to do. Doing so can take you to a darker place than you already may be in the present day.

As well, what are we without our past? I am certainly not one who has a perfect past, but I do consider the way I am today very much to be a reflection of both happy and awful events in my past. The ways I have grown from those experiences is a major contributor to the Christy I am today. The awful ones, by the way, have strengthened me so much.

According to my views, the original statement I read is not an absolute but is instead conditional. It depends on how you view your past. In other words, it is contingentย on your mindset.

What are your thoughts on the phrase I read on Twitter? Do you think that having an interest in the past is necessarily a bad thing? Or, is it conditional, as I suggest here? I would love to hear your views, as always!

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62 thoughts on “Is Looking Back Helpful?

  1. yes, I agree with Christy.
    Looking back always teaches us to be alert, and focussed on our goals while learning to get up from our fall.

    Great article, Christy ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Those who ignore the mistakes of history are destined to repeat them. Or something to that effect, is a famous quote, as I recall, Christy. I agree with you. We must look back to best plan the road ahead. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I agree with you Christy. In fact, in my profession we are encouraged to reflect on the past so that we can improves the learning experiences of the students in our class. It is only by looking past events (both personal and societal) that we can hope to improve and move forward.

    • Aha, Colline! Looking back and learning how to improve on it is certainly helpful. How interesting that you are encouraged to do so in your profession. Do you look back at the Halloween costume and smile? I hope so as it was beautiful!

  4. I agree, conditional. Some people really benefit from talking with psychologists about their past, in such a way that helps them break through self-defeating patterns of thought they stew in when focusing on the past in ways that are not conducive to forward progress in life. And everyone enjoys a little nostalgia at times, even when the joy may be tinged with sorrow!

    • Oh yes, Ryan, nostalgia is something we can all chew on and enjoy with a side helping of joy. I think your comment here is spot on. Moving forward can ironically mean looking backward first. Thank you for your comment!

  5. Two quotes came to mind. One by the late baseball player Satchel Paige who said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” The other that’s a favorite of mine from the folk singer/writer Paul Simon –
    “Time it was and what a time it was, it was
    A time of innocence, a time of confidences
    Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
    Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

    So I agree with you that it’s conditional.

    • Oh! I really like that quote from Paul Simon (not to mention his music!). Photographs can speak so many words… and it holds the past so well… Thank you for such a thoughtful comment to add to the discussion here!

  6. Great topic Christy! I believe in the wisdom that comes with learning how to live in the moment (itโ€™s difficult), but it can be done with the mindfulness of present actions. so as to precisely not repeat the mistakes of the past. Itโ€™s not easy, but itโ€™s the path to wisdom, learning to be mindful of the present so that our past, which may cause us suffering, does not interfere.

    • Hi Maria,
      Yes, another commenter here also mentioned the concept of mindfulness. Indeed, it can be difficult to shift from thoughts of the past to being mindful in the present. Perhaps a combination of both of these perspectives provides a good balance?

      • Oh yes, it’s conditional, as you say. A combination of perspectives is for me always the best. I have a feeling that quote is probably stemming from some form of “affirmation” that people sometimes practice (based on cognitive psychology) and even write them down in order to “train the mind”. This is why I never liked “cognitive psychology”, because it deals with “reprograming” your brain, and I never liked that. I do like affirmations, but only occasionally, I never take them to heart because I’m not a machine, I’m human, and some of the tenets of cognitive psychology are precisely based on a theory that a person’s psyche can be “reprogrammable” to think a certain way, and for me that’s just impossible. I do like to have daily affirmations of thoughts that might help me to have a more positive attitude during the day, but that’s it. I’m human, and my affirmations can change at any given moment, just as I may, or may not be “mindful” at the present moment.

      • Hi Maria,
        Your reflections on cognitive psychology are interesting in your comment. I don’t think it’s so much concrete thinking that the psychologists would want as it is learning more about how we view the world as altering our thoughts about it (and about ourselves). It really is fascinating to think about. I appreciate your reply and am trying for balance. We can only do our best, as the phrase goes… Although I think “the best” can be such a glorious thing! HUGS

  7. Hi Christy… I do look back at the past, for me each event good or bad has been a milestone of sorts. The measuring stick in my internal clock is the one I use for growth from the not so good times.
    It is when the past starts to eat away at you and leave you vulnerable again then it is time to search out the wrongs in a positive way.
    I often have said and will say it as often as I can with people. If you spend to much time in the past, it will become your present and in some cases your future. The positive characteristic we carry forward are stepping stones in life. Fail to change your way of thinking and you will slowly eliminate the ground you have gained.
    Just remember the road you have travelled has brought you to where you are today. To me that is a kind, loving person… Proud of you

    Hugs from Alberta

    • Rolly, What a generous and valuable comment you have written here. Thank you. Your point that looking at the past keeps you there is such a good one! I do think though that some people do that on purpose as the past is a safe place (they feel) for them to be!

  8. Christy, I agree with every word in your assessment of the Twitter statement. It depends on HOW we look at our past. I hope the author of the Twitter statement reads your post and learns something from you.

  9. I have mixed feelings on that quote. I tend to think about my past too much and pick it apart, which can end up halting forward progress. On the other hand, I’ve tried framing my past experiences in a positive light because even though they were not to great at times, those things also made me who I am today (which on most days I would say is a pretty good person.) Yet… I’ve also been reading a lot about mindfulness and trying to live more in the present. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around not mulling over things, but I suppose that’s the difference. It’s okay to look back on the past in order to put things in perspective, but ultimately it’s better to focus on now.

    • Hi Jeri, I remember when I first started reading about mindfulness and how overwhelming it seemed ironically to try to do something so allegedly simple… It takes time to adjust to that mentality all the time… It is best to start with small periods of time, such as ten minutes in the morning. I think you are a strong woman and, whatever your past consists of, I appreciate the who I know you are today! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. We may modify the observation to read “you are on the right track when you become uninterested in looking back , and staying there”. the operating words here are dwelling on your past to the detriment of your present and , in the process , your future . what we are today is the visible outcome of our past , and what we will be tomorrow is incumbent on our actions and our choices in the present , which ideally should be guided by lessons drawn from ours’ as well as experiences of others’ past . enjoyed your post , christy , and the discussion it has generated….

    • Ah, Raj, how insightful that you point out the connection to the future that you see in the original words. I always appreciate your reflections and this comment is no exception! Thank you for honoring me with this comment!

  11. “According to my views, the original statement I read is not an absolute but is instead conditional. It depends on how you view your past. In other words, it is contingent on your mindset”…

    I agree with you…

    Past can become an ally rather than an enemy if we are able to learn from it… As it is gone but still part of us, that one is a good choice. And that is valid even when teachers teaches, because sometimes they can also act as pupils…

    Hugs to you Christy!, Aquileana ๐Ÿ˜€

    PS: By the way, the image on this post speaks out loud… Sometimes “A picture is worth a thousand words”, as the saying goes!

    • Aqui, You say it so well when you explain that the past is gone but still part of us… It is like when you are not beside me but still in my mind… my Hotel Heart! Cheers and send you much love, my BGP! Also, glad you understood the significance of the photo here! xx

  12. I positively agree with you, but I do think that when looking back on the past we are more likely to look at the good things because those things are very empowering. But I also agree, that sometimes we look at the bad and, since I believe we learn from the negatives in our lives, that can be a good thing. ๐Ÿ™‚ โค ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Wow Christy, that’s a loaded question. I think I’m with you. There are definitely two sides to this coin. Looking back can remind us of how far we’ve come, for others it may be a reminder of a past they’d rather not remember. I’ll agree with you and say it’s not an absolute. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do look back often and see both. xo
    Deb

  14. Hi Christy,

    The image you chose speaks volumes about your topic! We can’t detach ourselves from past, it gives us our present and makes us prudent to move forward with greater confidence. Past may be distressing for some but the experiences of life that it endows us with, make us what we want to be in future. The cultures of the past have enriched our lives, all progress is based on the past efforts of learned men who carry forward the legacy.

    At the individual level too, we look back fondly at loving memories and try to reconcile with the hurts, which taught us the values of life, which made us understand how to deal with various kinds of people and what strategies we need to follow to accomplish our goals ๐Ÿ™‚

    I often look back and am filled with gratitude for those who made this journey of life worth living and forgive those who gave me life skills to face tribulations successfully.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.
    -Balroop

    • Balroop,
      Your comment here is precious! Thank you. I am glad you look back with gratitude at your past and think personally that it is a blessing to do so. That makes you even more grateful for what is to come your way ๐Ÿ™‚

      You have such a richness to the way you write about life and I always learn from what you say, both in your comments on posts and on your blog. Thank you for making time here!

      HUGS

  15. Hi Christy,

    I think it is always good look back to remember special moments that you have shared with family and friends. Even when the pathway has been rocky, there is always something you can learn about yourself and hopefully move forward as a much wiser person.

    Thank you for the though-provoking post.

    Best wishes,
    Linnea

    • Linnea, Thank you for your thoughtful comment here. I think that a rocky pathway certainly gives us more details to look back on… You are right that there are opportunities to learn more about ourselves by doing so… provided we keep that as a our goal, that is. Take care!

  16. It is a matter of personal choice. Some want to forget the past for various reasons and some look back in reflection to learn and grow from the past. I look back ocassionally to remember good times and experiences and also to reflect on how I’ve change. Thanks Christy, inspiring post!

  17. I think like you I have mixed feelings about the quote, though I suspect that it was referring to letting go of negativity, not dwelling on what might have been or what was better than now. Generally speaking I think yes we need to learn from our mistakes and move forward, and looking to the future is generally a good idea. But there’s nothing wrong with remembering a good thing that happened. or for that matter a bad thing & say thank goodness life isn’t like that anymore. Good thought provoking post. Thanks Christy:-)

    • Rebecca, that statement is precise and truth! Interestingly it looks like Val also thought of Kierkegaard’s quote as she read my post as she mentioned it in her comment here. Great minds think alike ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. I think Clanmother and I are on the same path, I was thinking of the the Soren Kierkegaard statement as I was reading you blog post. Then got to the bottom of the comments, there was her comment!

    We cannot entirely disregard our past, it is what forms us. I am in the midst of writing about this week (no not the elections) and this is part of my exploration.

  19. Definitely conditional. In order to make better choices for our present and future, looking at our pasts is absolutely necessary, but like you said, we must not get caught up with guilt or other negative aspects of what we have experienced. However, sometimes negative feelings can also bring us to a point where we are determined to never travel that road again, so it can all work out in the end according to our present thoughts and reactions. Great thought Christy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. I disagree with the statement. It is only the writer’s opinion and not a true hard fact.

    Being stuck in the past will prevent us from embracing the present and moving forward but sometimes we need to go back and deal with the past in order to move forward.

    • Thanks Susan for adding your opinion here. Absolutely, these are all perceptions of the value on the past, present and future. I am so glad you have found a way to balance the concepts of time to continue to grow. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  21. Pingback: Can You Smile Too Much? | When Women Inspire

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