“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better, especially when it comes to saving life, or some pain!” William Blake
Looking at situations in retrospect without introspection opens the door for some serious emotional backlash. Even with introspection, dwelling on the idea that something in the past should have been obvious can be detrimental. Using hindsight to evaluate experiences must be used judiciously, with large doses of logic and even larger doses of introspection. Here’s why hindsight’s oft-linked word, “If” can be troublesome, if not myopic:
- Hindsight does not equal perfection – It is important to look back at pivotal situations and see what could have been done differently. It can provide foresight to make different or better choices in the future. But leaning heavily on the perceived perfection of hindsight can be emotionally taxing. It swings wide the door of “IF I had…” and that alone can lead to self-doubt and paralyzing guilt.
- “If I had known…” – Decisions made in good faith were made with information you had at the time. Looking back and wishing you had been smarter, wiser or more logical may be asking for something impossible. If you believe your decisions were made with the best of intentions and ability at that time, then you have to abide in yourself.
- “If you had…” – If you look back and start assigning blame to others, you have to be willing to work with the fallout. If you begin evaluating others’ behavior, you also have to look at your role in the situation. You can only control your behavior, not others’, and hindsight can trick you into thinking that someone else is completely to blame. While you may be the victim, do not let hindsight without introspection and forgiveness hold you back.
- “If I had only…” – This is another phrase that can invite retrospect and hindsight to be your negative current companions. It also encourages a lot of guesswork. If you had made different choices, can you absolutely guarantee a different outcome? There was no crystal ball then and there is no crystal ball now. If you acted in good faith, be confident you did the best you could at the time.
- “If I could go back…” – You can’t. Extreme wishing to go back in time keeps you from realizing the beauty of the present. It is very easy to keep one foot in the past and one in the present, even without realizing it. While you may have mostly negative memories of a certain situation, there may have been some good mixed in. When we are hurt, the good memories seem to melt away, which often makes the past seem even worse.
Working toward a positive present and future makes the most of the redeemable quality of hindsight, which is that it can encourage foresight. With foresight, it’s possible to turn the word “if” into an ally. A counselor is often able to show how using hindsight, along with healthy perspectives and a practical, hopeful outlook can turn your past into positive foresight for the future.