I recently wrote about seven essential perspectives, proposing that hindsight is the first of these. As the first ‘sightline’ that we all need to operate in, hindsight is where our journey begins. Hindsight is the act of looking back at what has passed. The old adage is that ‘hindsight is 20/20’, meaning that we see history with perfect sight; we always see the past clearly because it has happened and so there is no mystery. But seeing the past is only the first step; how we see it is another thing entirely. Here are some thoughts on how we can leverage the power of healthy hindsight:
1. Healthy hindsight understands that there is a difference between objective and subjective reflection.
Understand that hindsight asks the key question “where have I come from?” and to be truly effective, needs to be as objective as possible. If we have pain from the past, looking back may be difficult for us! Our subjective thinking will colour what and how we see, which means we may lose out on the benefits reflection could bring. It isn’t just seeing our past, it is about how we see our past.
2. Healthy hindsight recognizes that when our history hurts, we develop coping mechanisms.
Coping mechanisms are fortresses in our thoughts and emotions, built to protect those pain points that our emotional trauma has wounded us in. Some of these strongholds are subtle, whilst others are more evident. Denial, for example, is an outright choosing to omit details or events from the past. The logic of denial is that denying the occurrence or memory of an event means we never have to revisit it because revisiting brings back feelings and thoughts that are just too painful to endure again.
3. Healthy hindsight realizes that all experience is a powerful teacher.
Hindsight can be a powerful source of growth. We can say experience is a great teacher, but only if it is experience partnered with hindsight. It is a wise person who considers the past – good or bad, pleasant or painful – and learns from it. This attitude will always provide us with information to grow and develop, and not just for ourselves but for those around us. Hindsight allows us to develop a redemptive perspective which sees some kind of value in all things, even dark and painful occurrences that should never have happened.
4. Healthy hindsight focuses our emotional energy on asking the right questions.
To truly leverage the power of hindsight, it is less about asking why something took place – because some things are unexplainable – and instead asks what benefit or good for me or others, no matter how small, came out of this? Healthy hindsight is the ability to look back over our history and draw value from the past. In effect, hindsight has both eyes wide open and asks the question “where have I come from?” We are shaped by our journey, and hindsight chooses to remember how.
5. Healthy hindsight cultivates the ‘growth principle of review’ in our lives
It is a universal law that if we want to grow, we have to review. If we learn to consistently review the years, months and days, then the lessons available to us from our own life are myriad and can be captured to be acted upon rather than lost to time. Conversely, if we do not develop this attitude and skill of review then we will miss out on key information and therefore opportunities for growth.
6. Healthy hindsight propels us on a journey of healing
Another risk that comes from failing to develop healthy hindsight is that our pain is never identified and treated; it never heals and instead festers. The coping mechanisms we create to bring temporary pain relief build upon and around the wound, but all that happens is that the source of the pain becomes foundational in our mentality, consciously or unconsciously. This results in our perceptions, actions, and reactions being fundamentally shaped by trauma. Bluntly, everything we see is seen through a lens of hurt and we respond accordingly. Our growth, our lives, and any influence we have on those around us will be filtered through a dysfunction of woundedness. Hurting people hurt people.
So, to summarize:
- Hindsight is looking back at our history and drawing value from it – this is called a redemptive perspective.
- Hindsight is less about explaining ‘why did this happen?’ and more about ‘what benefit came out of it for me or others, no matter how small?’
- Hindsight asks the question “where have I come from?”
- Hindsight teaches us to develop the growth principle of review.
- Failure to embrace hindsight means we never deal with our coping mechanisms and will live with a dysfunction of woundedness.
What are your thoughts or experiences with this concept of hindsight?